14 August 2023
I want to talk about “kid-friendly food”. It’s my last week working at a local day camp, and many years ago, I worked at Camp Wayne for Boys for six years. In both cases, I donned my nutritionist cap when developing recipes for the cooking program. Yes, the recipes were FUN, AND they were ALSO nourishing, at least in some small way. Because let’s face it...healthy people have more fun!
Even though the kids rush to cooking in search of cookies and cupcakes, they remained enthusiastic when we instead made yogurt parfaits, banana pancakes or veggie “sushi”. The fun is in the doing and the eating. Once they’ve made it themselves, most kids enjoyed eating it as well.
I’m not going to lie. There were definitely a few kids who couldn’t bring themselves to consume the “healthy treats”, but even I was surprised at how few there were.
As a sidenote, when we made edible aquariums with blue Jello and gummy fish (an adorable idea, but not mine), there were similar numbers of rejection.
How did chicken fingers, hot dogs and Lucky Charms become “kid friendly food”? There’s nothing friendly at all about cultivating a taste for ultra processed food and alarming (and addictive) amounts of fat, sugar and salt. We have a window when our kids are young to help them develop acceptance of a wide range of flavors. It seems a shame to squander that.
If you think I could never understand because I’m a Registered Dietitian raising perfect eaters, you should know that my eldest son stopped eating vegetables when we moved back to the US from England. I tried everything from using dips, to hiding veggies (before Jessica Seinfeld, but don’t try it – breeds mistrust!), to regular baking of my famous zucchini muffins, yet it remained challenging. Still, I don’t believe in pandering to the lowest common denominator. We need to keep trying (without pressuring) for the sake of our children’s future health!
We have a cultural problem. We expect kids to NOT like vegetables. What if we were to treat kids as unique and discerning eaters who can try a new food (healthy or not) without assumptions? I must admit, even I was surprised when kids asked me to scoop out the super-sweet Jello from their “aquariums”. But perhaps children’s tastebuds are smarter than we think.