Raising Kids to Enjoy Real Food

Want to get your kids to like healthy food?

Want to get your kids to like healthy food?

Thankfully, my children are young. I haven’t yet had to fight them over food because they’ll gladly eat just about anything I put in front of them.

And, thanks to clever, nifty, and fun ideas in cookbooks like Raw Recipes for Kids, my kids are happy eating Real Food.

I don’t know how much longer it will last. They will visit friends’ houses. They will be served libations of fructose-heavy soda pop. Their friends will gorge on donuts and candy, corn dogs and fish sticks.

That said, all is not lost. I’ve not given up before I’ve begun. I am heartened by this story from the mother of a seven year old girl who begged to go to Dunkin’ Donuts, just to see what her friends were fussing about.

An excerpt:

Merrie ate her donut. At the first taste of sugar, her eyes rolled back in her head happily. “Mmm…” she said, grinning. She gobbled the first several bites.

Then, about halfway through her donut, she slowed down. She looked up at me and surprised me by saying, “Maybe this isn’t the right Dunkin’ Donuts. Maybe other ones are better.”

“You don’t like your donut?”

“Well, I do. I just thought it would be….better. Maybe other Dunkin’ Donuts are better.”

“Actually, they’re all the same,” I said. “That’s the whole idea of chain restaurants. They have the exact same food, everywhere you go. It’s all prepared the same way, too. Everything about the place is the same — the menu, the colors of the tables, the uniforms that the employees wear, all of it. The food isn’t special, but it tastes the same everywhere.”

She thought about that for a moment, and then asked, “Then why do people like it? I mean, Grandma J. eats here all the time.”

“Well, some people — like Grandma J. — find sameness comforting. It makes them nervous to try new things. They feel safe when they know exactly what they’ll order, and what it will taste like, no matter whether they’re in Florida, or California…”

“…or Vermont,” she finished.

“Right.” I said. “But me? I like when things are different. I like that the cheese from Cricket Creek Farm tastes different from cheese that we find anywhere else. I like eating kale one day, and squash the next day. And if I go to a restaurant, I’d prefer one that isn’t quite like any other, so that everything we see and smell and taste and hear is a little different from what we’d find anywhere else. Then the whole experience becomes a kind of adventure.”

She nodded. “Yeah, I like adventures.”

Go and read the whole thing. It’s amazingly insightful.


  1. says

    This reminds me of an incident with my mother in law when I suggested that we go to a new restaurant. “I’ve never eaten there, I don’t know what’s on the menu!” was her argument against going.

    Have people lost their minds?

  2. says

    That reminds me of, and explains, a similar experience I had growing up. My mom and dad always cooked pancakes with whole wheat batter and added berries. The flavor was a little bland since they dictated my maple syrup serving size to be about a thimble full. In contrast I remember eating breakfasts at a friends house where they made the standard white flower pancakes which were then smothered with maple flavored high fructose corn syrup. I distinctly remember loving how sweet the first bite was, but not loving how it ran out of flavor after the first few chews. I think that that food wasn’t designed to be chewed…just swallowed. After years of fleeing from my mom’s cooking habits, I am prodigally turning back. Thanks to you Kristen and the participants of FoodRenegade.com I have a hand to hold.

  3. says

    Genie — Thankfully, I’ve never been in the same boat. My family and extended family all like a bit of adventure in our food. That said, I am a lone culture warrior in my family when it comes to my raging against “The Geography of Nowhere.” They all find comfort in the fact that large box stores are in every town, carrying the same items. I, on the other hand, am deeply disturbed that an average freeway/highway intersection in Texas looks the same as one in North Carolina (which looks the same as one in Washington State, etc.).

    Rigel — thanks for sharing!

  4. says

    Love your phrase, “geography of nowhere”. Having now lived in the northeast while growing up, a decade in the southeast once out of college, and now raising my family in So California, completely agree that our regional distinctions are quickly being replaced with the same or similar “concept franchises” everywhere. It’s sad. I try harder now to resist the “sameness” and to support the remaining vestiges of uniqueness.

    While my son likes sweets and “treat” foods as much as any kid, he seems to be growing past the desire to eat at franchise chains he sees advertised and from packaged food sources, so my efforts to serve real food seem to be finally sinking in with him. It’s really gratifying to see his maturity level increasing in this aspect.

    Sometimes circumstance (like traveling or visiting) means making different food decisions than our norm, and he is noting that the conventional offerings often leave a lot to be desired and are far less appetizing or enjoyable than the advertisements lead one to believe. All I have to do is mention Chili’s and he’ll start groaning with the memory of the awful “free” meal he ate there, earned through a school reading program. But I don’t think that he would come to that same realization if he wasn’t getting real food at home along with our message that those manufactured foods aren’t the same (as good as) as real food.

  5. says

    Hi Anna,

    There’s actually a book by that name by James Howard Kunstler about the rise of the automobile and suburban sprawl and their affect on the American public. If the idea or concept interests you at all, you should consider reading the book.

  6. says

    Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll look into it, though my “pile of books to read” is getting a bit too high at the moment (3 new books for Christmas plus the existing POBTR).

    But this is a subject that has long been familiar to me. I grew up in an old industrial town in a historical district in the NE, a location my parents purposefully chose because it allowed for walking downtown to shops and the bank, to the library & parks, to school, and to church. Later I took a city bus to high school and to “the mall”. My dad was often self-employed and worked from home or within walking distance, so we used to be able to go a month on a single tank of gas for our single automobile (my parents always chose fuel efficient cars); my mother used the car to grocery shop or we drove to visit my grandmother each week, a half hour away. It was quite a different way to grow up in the 60s and 70s. My parents didn’t get a second car until long after I was out of the house (same for cable TV :-).

    My dad was an architect and later involved with urban planning, so our family vacation trips always including see what was new in the urban and suburban landscapes. Consequently I never went to Disney until I was 30 yo ( Epcot Center, actually, and I really hated the synthetic quality of the place). My dad describes moving as a young man from an upstate NY city to Ohio in 1960 as sort of like moving to California because of the “car culture” and all that went with it (fast food developed in the MidWest simultaneously to So Cal, too). I didn’t really appreciate this as a young kid, but I now can see why he was studying “buildings”.

    I spent some years (in the early 90s) in a job that required travel around the country quite a bit, noting that “sameness” was increasing at a rapid rate. And now I live in So Cal in a suburban tract housing development with an attached garage in front (“snout house”), the epitome of car culture and bad housing planning. Ironic, huh? I did get rid of the grass lawn, however :-).

  7. says

    My daughter is 8 and still likes broccoli, bananas and apples. :-) So does my four-year old.

    They are given candy and other junk at Sunday School, and they like it. They also like McDonald’s :rolls eyes. But I still don’t let my kids drink too much soda; they don’t drink it at home, and I limit their sodas to Sprite or fruit flavors. We only rarely eat out.

    They’re not perfect, but they will eat decent food… mostly. There are some things that my kids don’t like, but if they don’t like it, they don’t get seconds of the other things.

  8. says

    I’ve always cooked for my family, avoided fast-food as much as possible, and in the past few years eliminated it completely. We cook together often, talk about the food we are eating as well as the decisions we are making, and I often shop for food with my kids. You’ll be glad to hear that now when my teenage kids sleep over friends’ houses where processed food is served, they do snack but come home starving and craving good real food! Their little taste buds adapt and the efforts we make pay off I guess!

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