Teaching Kids About Food: The Lesson that Turned My Twins Into Spinach Lovers
|November 15, 2012||Posted by Stacy under Food education|
I know that it’s typical kid behavior, but I’m really tired of hearing my children say “I don’t like that!” about certain foods. At ages 7 and 4, I feel like it’s high time for them to start expanding their palates. Toddlers are naturally fearful of trying new foods–a built-in protective mechanism. But we’re out of the toddler years now and they’re still resisting a lot of stuff, particularly anything green. Enough is enough!
Overall, I think I’ve done a good job at providing them with the right kind of food. I serve fruits and veggies at every meal and snack. I constantly vary the menu–from day to day and meal to meal. I try to challenge them with their eating and never short-order cook. Oh, and I’ve learned my lesson about pressuring them to eat (READ: Confessions of a Former Food Pusher). But there’s one thing that I haven’t always been so good about, and that’s educating them about food.
Putting good food on the table is an important part of raising a healthy eater. But oftentimes, it isn’t enough. Reading the book French Kids Eat Everything really highlighted that I should be doing more to teach them how to love it, too. Unfortunately, I’m getting a late start (as author Karen Le Billon noted in our recent Q&A, it’s best to begin when they are babies). But as they say, better late than never.
An Edible Lesson: Food Three Ways
This is a lesson that I came up with myself, and I use it as a way to talk about food–where it comes from and all the different ways that it can be eaten. I call it “Food Three Ways.” The idea is to provide one food in three different forms.
A few days ago, I decided to try it with spinach–one of the foods that my kids claim to not like. I’ve served it in pasta, sauteed with garlic and in a salad. Each time, they’ve refused to eat it. They do like the Spinach-Walnut Pesto that I make. However, I’m not sure that I’ve ever told them that it contains spinach. Let the challenge begin!
On the day of the lesson, my oldest son was off at a sleepover party. That left me down to two kids–4-year-old twins Jamie and Reese. Reese is a good eater; she likes everything from mixed green salad to roasted red pepper hummus. Jamie is trickier; he”s more of a mac ‘n cheese guy and has a major sweet tooth. Veggies are not his strong suit.
I prepared a green smoothie with a large handful of spinach, a sliced banana, a couple spoonfuls of vanilla yogurt (I used Stonyfield Organic French Vanilla), whole milk and crushed ice. (I tend to just throw things in the blender; if you want the exact recipe, let me know by leaving a comment.). Next, I sliced pieces of baguette (locally made with only a few high-quality ingredients) and spread them with Spinach-Walnut Pesto (something that they like on pasta but I’ve never tried serving on bread before). On each plate, I placed one fresh spinach leaf. I also added a second piece of baguette with real butter (I wanted to make sure that there was one item that they would be happy about).
When I called the twins to come to the table for a food tasting, Jamie was the first to arrive. He looked at his plate and said, “Oh, yummy!” (Not kidding!). Reese, who was trailing behind, sat down without saying anything positive or negative. I took it as a good sign.
Jamie started by picking up the spinach leaf and asking, “What’s this? Salad?” I said, “It’s spinach.” Then I explained that we were having a food tasting. He proceeded to pop the spinach leaf in his mouth. Reese followed his lead.
Next came the smoothies. They didn’t say much as they sipped but seemed happy. I then explained the gist of the lesson: I had served them spinach in three different ways–a plain leaf, pureed in pesto, and blended up in a drink. I said, “See how the smoothie is green? That’s spinach!” “See,” I added, looking straight at Jamie. “You say you don’t like spinach. But you do!” He said, “Yeah, you’re right!”
Finally, the baguette with the pesto. This was the one that I was most skeptical about. Even though they eat the pesto on pasta all the time, I wondered whether they would reject it this way. Nope–wrong again.
While they ate, I sat across the table and talked to them about how spinach grows.
If you’re thinking that this all seemed to go a little too well, I’ll confess that I thought so, too. But I did have a few things going in my favor. Big brother was gone for the afternoon, which meant they had a temporary reprieve from his teasing. I did the lesson at 3:45 p.m., when they were hungry but not too hungry. I didn’t talk it up beforehand–I just put the plates down on the table. And I think they liked the “experiment” aspect of it, too. There wasn’t any pressure to eat it.
Obviously, this food lesson worked out really well for us. But when doing it yourself, don’t get hung up on whether or not they actually eat the food. Encourage them to taste each item, but don’t insist. If they refuse, have them hold it, smell it and talk about it. If they do taste it, ask them to describe it (if they can’t come up with words, tell them to make a face). Whatever you do, don’t ask if they like it. Because you’ll be setting yourself up for a “No!”
Every time that I’ve done “Food Three Ways,” it’s been a success. My kids don’t always eat everything, but they almost always taste it with no prodding. Here are some of the other foods that would work well (plus, some ideas of how to prepare them):
Apricots: fresh whole; dried (unsweetened and unsulphered); and apricot jam
Cranberries: Whole (raw or cooked); dried; cranberry bread
Cheese: fontina; goat; brie
Nuts: raw almonds; almond butter; no-bake brownie balls
How do you go about educating your kids about food? Do you have a backyard garden or talk to them about where it comes from? I’m really interested to hear–please leave any comments down below!