When Popeye Doesn’t Quite Help Them Eat Spinach!

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Posted by Aparna Balasubramanian

Getting one’s children to eat what’s good for them must be one of the most difficult exercises in life, perhaps. I think every person who has ever put in this kind of effort deserves a special star on a walk of fame!

Our daughter proved quite early on, that she had very strong ideas about what she would and would not do. Despite this, we didn’t really have too much of difficulty getting her to eat as a toddler. We just faced the usual “I don’t want this!” or “I’m not hungry!”
Akshaya never was a fussy eater, but as she grew older she started developing strong dislikes for certain foods. While this was perfectly understandable, we had to ensure that these dislikes became the exception rather than the norm.

She didn’t (and still doesn’t) like many fruits. She will eat most vegetables but will not eat most types of salads. When told vegetables in their raw form in salads are healthy, her stock answer always has been “……but I’m not a cow!”
When we were growing up, things were different. We didn’t have a wide variety of foods/ cuisines to choose from and mostly ate whatever was cooked and served without too many questions. Our parents didn’t really have the time or inclination to hold too many discussions on matters regarding our food likes and dislikes.

A lot of us would have grown up being told how Popeye was strong because he ate his spinach and lots of it. If I had told my daughter about Popeye, she would probably asked me “Pop-who???”
Then I would have had to contend with the following kind of questions:
hy did she need to eat spinach just because someone else (who she had never heard of) did so?
Did I honestly think she would want to do something that was done by someone who looked like Popeye? And what was the deal with Popeye and spinach anyways?

As it turns out, it seems stories of Popeye and spinach are attributed to the publication in 1870 of a study by Dr. E von Wolf which mistakenly attributed to spinach ten times its actual iron content.

Children need all the nutrition they can get during their growing years and in amounts much greater than an adult does. It seems a bit of a paradox that most of these nutrients seem to be in foods that children need to be persuaded to eat!
So how does one get children to eat what’s good for them, without too much of a fight on one’s hands?

There is no “one fits all” solution to this question but we have, over the years, found some ways to get our daughter to eat healthier. We’ve won some and lost some.
Children being the fickle creatures they are, will tell you they love some particular food one day and then tell you that they don’t like it anymore, a couple of weeks later!
What is important is to start laying the foundation to healthy eating choices as early in childhood as possible, so that it becomes a habit. Here are some things that worked for us.

It is important to lead by example, because children pick up all our habits (especially the undesirable ones!) very easily. So if we tell our kids to eat up their vegetables, we have to do it too!!

In our home, we have certain mealtime rules and they apply equally to adults and child. One is that everyone at the table has to have a portion of whatever is cooked for that meal, even if we don’t really like it very much. This rule is something I grew up with and even though I fought it as a child, it has held me in good stead as an adult.

I used to take my daughter along when I went shopping for groceries, vegetables and fruit. She would help me pick out things and has learnt much that way. She is now quite adept at reading the small print on packaged foods.
She would also help me when I used to bake or cook dinner. She was always very happy to eat whatever she had “cooked/ baked”. This I found, along with the innate curiosity in children, was a great way to introduce her to a lot of foods.

Introduce your child to whatever tastes your chosen diet includes or allows, as early as possible. Once a child’s taste patterns and habits are set, it is not easy to break them. At the same time, it is important to recognize they have some definite foods they don’t like.
Variety at the table also helps, since a lot of times I find my daughter complaining that the food I cook is boring! This is where my blogging has helped as there’s more variety in my cooking now, though she insists that I now am more interested in feeding my blog than her!!!

Keeping them away from “undesirable” foods is a sure way to ensure that they always choose junk food as the taste of this is addictive! When Akshaya discovered junk food, that’s what she liked (and still does a lot of the time) more than home-cooked food.

So we make allowances for this when we eat out and then she gets to choose what she wants to eat. It has now come to the point where she does like home-made versions of many of these too. However, more often than not, the lure of a Pizza Hut/ Dominoes Pizza or a McDonalds proves too much to resist.
I have finally arrived at two largely fool-proof strategies that work for me. What strategists do in boardrooms isn’t a patch on our strategizing, as they don’t have to contend with unpredictable teenagers!

The first one is deviousness.
My daughter does not like fruits very much. So what I do is hide them or dress them up in foods she likes. So I turn fruit into fruit milkshakes, gelatos and ice-creams. I bake them into cakes and muffins.
Cakes have butter and sugar, but I can control how much of it goes into them and younger children and teenagers do need this in adequate amounts for healthy growth. I put oats in her cookies and bread.

Akshaya will not eat tomatoes, but loves pizza and pastas with my home-made tomato sauce. She loves macaroni and cheese so I make a version that’s full of vegetables! She doesn’t like spinach (yeah, Popeye wouldn’t work with her!), so I add the puree to chapathi dough to make “green” chappathis.
And the list goes on………………..

The other one is that I let Akshaya make some of her food decisions. She prefers to carry home-made lunch rather than eat at the school canteen. So I let her decide what she wants for lunch and this ensures she eats what she takes to school.
On many weekends, she decides what we should have for Sunday lunch and I cook it up as “healthy” as I can without “spoiling” it for her. (Though she feels I haven’t been very successful on this count.)
Of course, it is a wise mother who doesn’t use the “H” word in front of her kids!

I think I’ve rambled on long enough for now. I would love to hear how you all handle your children’s food dislikes and maybe learn a thing or two or three. As far as I’m concerned, mothers can never have enough “weapons” in their armoury!

This post was written by Aparna

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Mothers can never have enough weapons:)...usually I made my children eat everything thu the week and then have a chosen sunday:)..but still today when they have grown up they have their own liking and choices, but because of mydiscipline, they were better off in their hostel life thatn their counterparts who couldnt adjust.

Renu said...
March 5, 2010 at 6:19:00 AM GMT+1  

I didn't really like spinach until I discovered Pop eye at age 8 in the US. I love it now and can't have enough of it.

But you're right... I never brought food back home in my box nor did I say I want this and don't want that... never realized back then that I might have had as much as a choice!

Raaga said...
March 5, 2010 at 7:03:00 AM GMT+1  

Agree that the best way to get children to not be fussy eaters is to make sure you introduce them to all kinds of vegetables and fruits as early as possible. I, along with some other friends, made sure the kids didnt get to the sweet stuff before they were about 2 and as a result , though they do like the usual hchocolates etc, they definitely tend to prefer a lot of the more "grown up" food that we eat.K loves porials, rotis, omelets and pasta with vegetables.

And then there are phases - which I am now learning to be cool about - the bored phase, the "too full" phase, the 'chattering" phase - as long as it isnt about the food, I know there isn't anything to worry about.

Miri said...
March 6, 2010 at 5:52:00 PM GMT+1  

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