Fix Me A Snack

A blog created by a mom who got sick of feeding her kids crackers and ice cream

Once or twice a year I am overcome by a mounting sense of desperation over what to feed my family. I just start coming up blank more often than I’d like. (I probably should just be keeping a dinner journal to help myself remember what has and hasn’t worked. That would be a good idea. It would be fun to use a 5-year journal.)

Last Spring I bought a copy of The Family Dinner while I was looking for answers. I ended up getting a lot more than I hoped for. While the recipes are great, I hadn’t counted on such a serious dose of inspiration and guidance for staging family dinner.

Family dinner sounds easy. Make dinner. Eat together. But the book opened up a new world of possibilities to me. We’ve always actively avoided after-school activities that cut into the dinner hour. But we still needed an extra push to make family dinner a strong part of our family’s routine where we would eat together but also linger afterwards. The book showed me how it’s done. It reminded me how inspired parenting and building a family can be. Along with her own examples, David shares stories from the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mario Batali about what their family dinners were like as children.

As a result of my reading the book, we started memorizing poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. Along with the list of recommended reading from the book, we have some general and nature reference books. These are kept by our dinner table at arm’s length and have proved useful when my kids started asking crazy questions like “What is electricity?”.

When I first read the book I was on a mission to make family dinner happen every night of the week. Now I just go with the flow and am happy if it happens more nights than not. We’ve become slackers in the poem memorizing department too. But the bottom line is that the book has had a huge impact on the health and happiness of my family. We’ve started building memories at the dinner table. Hats off to Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt!

On a recent afternoon I heard, “Mama, can I have a Hershey Kiss?”

More often than not lately, I’ve been giving her a thumbs up. What harm can it do? But this time, more out of crankiness than anything else, I denied her request. I’ve been slacking lately. The junk has been creeping into our diet with increasing regularity.

My girl’s response was not a happy one to say the least. I dreaded having to listen to her protests.  But the pestering for sugar has gotten out of hand. And her diet has been dominated by beige foods for the past week or so. Instead of gently and lovingly parenting her back into a place of health and well-being, I quickly reached into the crisper drawer and dug out a neglected bag of carrots.

Despite her extreme displeasure with my decision, she was happily munching on carrots 10 minutes later. She’s not one to let go of a fight so easily. It seems that hunger got the best of her. And she actually ate a colorful food! Lots of it actually.

At dinner I was a lot more relaxed about her eating. The carrots had injected some much needed variety into the kid’s diet and there wasn’t as much pressure to make sure she consumed something resembling a square meal. I realized that I really missed being able to relax at the dinner table. The confrontation was worth it.

I guess my point is that even when you’re writing a flipin’ blog about healthy snacks for children, you’re not always bringing your A game. My new life rule is to stop buying little chocolate treats the minute they become routine or anyone in the family seems to be leaning a little too hard on the stash. After some moderately painful readjustments the family will see the light of day. And as long as there’s some fresh produce in the house, everything’s going to be okay!

It has recently become commonplace for my 4-year-old to say at snack time, “I want something new that I’ve never had before!”

Really. I’m not kidding. She says it all the time. It started several months ago after she had become accustomed to being subjected to my snack experiments on a regular basis.

I started blogging in March of 2009. Save a few favorites that have made repeat appearances, my kids have been continuously exposed to new foods for a year and a half. During this time, I’ve become increasingly daring and have gathered a vast arsenal of secret weapons.

My kids are an integral part of the snack development process. They are learning to appreciate new (and old) foods just like I am. And it seems like once we established our own little kitchen subculture, they have become delighted to try new foods. Granted, the level of delight increases exponentially when sprinkles or marshmallows are involved and it also helps if they’re starving…but still.

The trick is that I started preparing snacks with the blog in mind as much as my kids. Experimentation is the rule of the day. Good or bad, I keep moving, learning, and thinking about new ways to make happy and healthy snacks. The end result is that my kids are being exposed to new foods and preparations all the time. And more importantly, I’m not necessarily catering to what I believe to be their likes and dislikes. Occasionally, their reaction to a snack is nowhere near what I would have predicted.

I don’t think my kids’ taste buds are much different than most. Before I started bombarding her with all kinds of new snacks, my four-year-old was well on her way to being labeled as “picky”. Even now only beige or white foods will cross her lips for what seems like days. Even so, she’s willing to try new foods.

If you’re wishing your kids were more open to trying new foods, you could turn your snack regime on its head for a week or preferably a month. Try not to repeat the same thing twice in a week. Make novelty the rule and banish predictability and monotony. It sounds like a lot of work, but aside from the intial adjustment to your routine, it doesn’t have to be. Watching my own children get excited about preparing and tasting new foods has been extremely rewarding.

If you asked my kids directly, they’d probably tell you that they sometimes wish their mom would let them eat a bunch of cookies or potato chips for snack. And to that I say, “Sure, we’ll do that sometime soon…but first let’s taste this thing I made today…”

Recently, I read Peggy Orenstein’s article The Fat Trap on the New York Times’ website. Here’s part of the opening paragraph of The Fat Trap:

Food is never just food. Food is love. Food is solace. It is politics. It is religion. And if that’s not enough to heap on your dinner plate each night, food is also, especially for mothers, the instant-read measure of our parenting. We are not only what we eat, we are what we feed our children.

Not only what we feed them, but how much we feed them. According to the article, ‘good’ parents these days are expected to have normal-weight kids. An overweight child, especially a girl, is viewed as a failure. Reading this floors me. It’s true, but I don’t want it to be, especially in my own psyche. I hate hate hate to admit it, but a lot of the worry I have over my daughter’s health is centered around how others see her and me as a result. I never wanted to be this kind of parent. But is it possible not to be?

Another thing about the article that hit home for me was the unrelenting internal dialogue Orenstein describes that includes eating, social pressures to grow your own organic carrots, body image, and being a model for her daughter. Just reading about the fact that someone else is conducting this balancing act blew my mind.

I’ve never put it into words before, but I try to be thoughtful about the way I approach food in front of my girls in a lot of the same ways Orenstein does. I never talk about growing food organically, but I do make it a point to enjoy my broccoli as well as my ice cream. I try to stay away from my own body image completely. But with the girls I soak up and point out their beauty and strength as often as I can.

Have any of you out there read Orenstein’s article? Reactions? Thoughts?