Teaching kids to love what they eat

We all know feeding kids junk food is bad; one Baltimore mom is trying to do something about it

July 02, 2013|Marta H. Mossburg

I don't think about food, except in the sense that when my kids are hungry, they need it fast. I know that's bad.

My poor planning often means running to the freezer to dig out chicken nuggets or fish sticks or a pizza to pop into the oven or turning to a box of macaroni and cheese to anchor a meal in 15 minutes or less. I frequently feel guilty about this Pavlovian response both from a bad nutrition standpoint and from the voice in the back of my head coming from my stepmother who thinks feeding children anything but organic everything borders on child abuse and banishes to the back of her pantry the food we bring for the duration of our visits.

I don't need any more information on why processed food is bad. I've read David Kessler's excellent 2009 book, "The End of Overeating" and Michael Moss' 2013 "Salt Sugar Fat," which shows how science has been used to turn human beings into guinea pigs for the processed food industry. It's impossible to read it and not cringe when walking by a package of hot dogs or box of cereal or a hunk of cheese in the grocery store, knowing that the ingredients in those items are fine tuned to hit every "bliss" point and make us come back over and over again like drug addicts.

But I still buy those items because of their convenience. As my husband Dave said last weekend, offering cheese crackers to a cranky kid in a car is sometimes "a matter of survival."

This is where Anne Myer steps in. (Full disclosure, Anne and I attend the same church.) The Baltimore mother started a food blog last year after deciding that she could not make one more last minute rush hour trip in traffic to the grocery store for the Annie's Cheddar Bunnies that her now two-year-old daughter Hallie ate at the expense of regular meals.

At the same time she and her husband were getting more curious about food, so starting teacheatlove.com became a way for her family to investigate more wholesome ways they could eat together, she said. Since then, the blog, whose mission is "teaching kids to love what they eat" has become so popular that Food Network star Jamie Oliver, known for his passion for eating local, is featuring it as his blog of the month in July. Ms. Myer had more than 4,100 Facebook likes when I checked earlier this week.

The former English major does not claim to be a food expert but says she wants to share the things that worked for Hallie with others — like no snacks closer to an hour and a half before a meal and insisting that she take at least one bite of any food — along with kid-friendly recipes. Many recipes are simple makeovers of things that most everyone loves, including fried fish, peanut butter cups and cheddar crackers, and they don't necessarily require a ton of time in the kitchen. Pasta with chickpeas and a classic Caprese salad on skewers are two recent dishes she featured — all beautifully photographed and staged.

One of the things she hopes to impart through Teach. Eat. Love. is the importance of using seasonal ingredients because those are the ones that taste the best. "It's amazing that so many people have no idea what is in season, when," she said. Her style is non-confrontational — a boon for those like me who feel guilty about what they have fed their children in the past and want to start over.

My three children already love fruit, so our household challenge is going to be working with meat and vegetables over the summer. I know it is worth it on many levels. Fixing two or three separate meals is time consuming and creates selfish kids who will miss out on amazing tastes and adventures. And trekking up the Inca Trail in Peru, as I hope we will do as a family someday, requires leaving the cheeseburger-hot dog orbit to survive, for example.

But their learning to love wholesome food, as my mother taught me, will more importantly inoculate them from craving fast food and other processed food except on occasion, and it will doubtless fend off the extra pounds plaguing so many Americans. How to do that en masse in a country where both parents work or where families are headed by a single parent with even less time is no easy feat. But I know it has to start in the home.

Marta H. Mossburg is a Baltimore-area writer whose work appears regularly in The Sun. Her email is marta@martamossburg.com. Follow her on Twitter at @mmossburg.

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