Children eat the stuff they like regardless of advice

HAPPY EATER

February 17, 1993|By ROB KASPER

The other day I read about a plan to help train kids' taste buds.

It was one of many such theories floating around these days on how to teach kids to eat well.

When this particular plan, which was the combined effort of a pediatrician and a New York ad agency, jibed with my parental experience, I thought it was on target.

The first tip, for instance, of involving kids in meal preparation, made sense to me. When carrots need cutting in our kitchen, we know who we're gonna call: The Chopper. The Chopper is our 8-year-old. When he recently demonstrated to us that he could peel and cut carrots without peeling and cutting himself, The Chopper got the job.

Now, when The Chopper has finished making short work of carrots, he actually eats a few. Provided, of course, they are doused in a pool of salad dressing.

Another point in the plan was that parents should trust their child's appetite. Children are more likely than adults to eat when they are hungry and to stop when they're full. For this reason, the authors wrote, parents should not worry if their child eats more at snack time than at the supper table.

Again this rang true. After several years of trying to "dine" with my kids,I have figured out that parents and children have different views of what is supposed to happen at the dinner table.

For parents, the time at table is a chance to pause from the hectic pace of life. Show adults a supper table and most want to pull over and stop a while. But for most kids, the table is a place to make pit stops -- a spot to grab a snack, then speed away to another adventure.

I had some trouble accepting another tip. This one said that parents who are introducing new food to children should be persistent. The idea was that if you just keep putting the food out there, eventually the child will eat it.

This made sense to me, but only if "eventually" was defined as 20 years or more. That, for instance, is about how long it took me to cozy up to a jar of horseradish that resided on my dad's supper table. And despite years of parental effort, relations between brussels sprouts and me have remained forever frigid.

But the real problem I had with the plan came when it recommended that parents take their children with them to the grocery store and also discouraged parents from using food as a reward for good behavior.

To me, these two points seemed contradictory.

Grocery store bribery is a tradition in our family. The kids know how it works. They know that as a reward for accompanying their dad to the grocery store, each kid gets "one thing" that is not on the grocery list. This "one thing" is usually something sickeningly sweet. It often has no nutritional value, no seal of parental approval. The kids, of course, love it. Or think they do.

Usually the chosen "one thing" changes as we work our way through the store. The bag of juice-gushing reptile look-alikes that seemed so appealing back in Aisle 2 fades when compared to the overstuffed delights of fudge cookies. The process of replacing old bribes with new ones continues until we reach the check-out line and begin reading the headlines of the tabloids. It gets us through the store.

Not every family shops this way. One woman I know told me that when she takes her kids to the store, she gives the kids the price-cutting coupons and lets the children, 9- and 7-year-olds, fetch the discounted items. At check-out time, if mom has cut the total bill by $5 with the coupons, the two kids get half of the savings, $1.25 each. The kids learn about how much things cost, and since they helped with the shopping, have less footing to complain when something is forgotten, the woman said.

It was an idea I may try out with my kids.

But I am not going to try, as was suggested by the plan, to get my kids to go through the store reading the nutritional information on package labels.

My kids have an interest in labeling, but more for reasons o possession than nutrition. As soon as we get home from the grocery store, the bags are pawed through until the two identical boxes of Pop Tarts are found.

Each kid puts his name on one box. Once the label is on the box, there is no excuse for eating your brother's treat. Or, I like to tell the kids, "Thou Shall Not Covet Thy Brother's Pop Tart."

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