Children & Food
Do you have a favorite story about J and food?
We went on vacation over Thanksgiving and stayed at an all-inclusive resort at the beach that was very kid-friendly. Every restaurant on site had a kid’s menu with the usual, i.e. chicken tenders, pasta, pizza, etc. When we would go out for dinner, we just didn’t mention the kid’s menu and had J order from the regular menu. He discovered some new favorites!
There was a sushi restaurant that we loved and they would make him seared salmon with sushi rice, seaweed salad and a cucumber roll and he devoured it! One evening we went to a Mediterranean restaurant and J ordered another salmon dish that came with soft boiled quail eggs and risotto. He loved it and ate every bite. We were the only people in the restaurant and the chef got such a kick out of how much J loved the food that he made him a special dessert that wasn’t even on the menu. It was such a great experience and really encouraged J to try a variety of new things!
What family values relating to food and its consumption are you hoping to pass on to J?
There are two main things I want to pass on to him. The first is around food itself and that it’s important that the food you put in your body is good food! He’s very aware of what I consider to be ‘good food’ vs. ‘bad food’. ☺ We talk about how it’s important to know where your food comes from and we try to eat organic as much as we can. It’s important to me that he understands that food has a purpose to fuel your body and if you’re putting a bunch of junk food in, it will impact how you feel and perform. I don’t expect him to eat a perfect diet all the time (none of us do!), but I want him to know the difference and recognize the importance of eating good, whole foods.
The second value I want to pass on around food is that it’s an important part of our lives to be enjoyed and shared. I grew up in the kitchen and have favorite family recipes that I remember from when I was a kid. To me, cooking and sharing meals is a way of showing love and relating to other people. Some of my favorite childhood memories are about holiday celebrations and most of them somehow revolve around food! I want him to understand the significance and importance of that.
How did your food choices for J differ from those of other parents in various food scenarios? At six years old, how do J’s food habits differ from those of his peers?
I think we might encourage J to try new things more than other parents. I think it’s very easy to fall in a trap of feeding your child the same things they always eat because you know they’ll like it. Trust me, we do this as well, but we always ask J just to try a bite of something new. We don’t force him to eat it, but just ask him to try it and he always will. If he knows he doesn’t like something, we still ask him to try one bite because I tell him that someday, chances are he’ll change his mind! I think as a result, he’s willing to eat more things that are outside of what would be considered ‘normal’ kid fare.
Do you think J’s primary Montessori experience played a role in his eating habits, and if so, what?
I’m a firm believer that the more kids are involved in meal preparation, the more willing they will be to try different foods. If they’ve put the work in, then they’re going to want to reap the rewards! I loved that in Montessori the children helped to prepare the snacks and help set up for meals. I think it gave him exposure to a variety of different foods.
I especially liked that the Montessori school he attended had a warm lunch brought in each day. I think that it is easy to get into a rut when packing lunches and like that he was offered something different every day and that was his only option. He either ate it or was hungry. He got more variety than he would have if I’d been packing his lunch.
Could you describe your routines for family meals? How often and which meals do you share?
As a family, we share breakfast and dinner together every day. Breakfast preparation is usually a family affair with all of us in the kitchen taking different roles. We typically have the same breakfast on school mornings, which is scrambled (or boiled eggs), turkey bacon or sausage, toast and fresh berries. J usually either washes the fruit or makes the toast (or prepares lattes!), while Matt and I do the eggs and meat.
I usually cook dinner in the evening while J starts his homework after we get home. He likes to help, but sometimes it’s a bit of a timing issue between homework, dinner prep and getting everything on the table so we’re not eating dinner at 8pm! I like to make family decisions on what we have for dinner, so will usually ask M and J on the weekend what kind of dinners they might like to have the following week before I do grocery shopping on Sunday. I like to take J shopping with me so he takes part in getting the ingredients and we talk about what ingredients are for which recipes.
Do you have a snack routine?
Not much of one. J is usually hungry when he gets home from school. His first option for a snack is whatever was left over from his lunch that he didn’t eat. Other options are fresh veggies or fruit, but we try to keep snacking before dinner to a minimum. When I’m cooking I sometimes like to have out a block of cheese and will cut off some pieces to nibble on…J loves that. ☺ Overall, we are not big snackers and I would prefer to have fewer snacks so he eats more at meal time.
What role does Jack play in the set-up and clean-up of meals?
J sets the table for meals and as different parts of the meal are ready, I put them on serving dishes on the kitchen island and he is responsible for taking them to the table. Since he was little, I’ve referred to the end of the kitchen island as the ‘loading dock’. That’s where I put the food that is ready to go to the table and he knows that anything there is waiting for him to put it on the table. After meals everyone is expected to clear their own dishes and put them in the dishwasher.
What role does Jack play in the preparation of food?
It depends on the day and it depends on what I’m making. There are a few things that Jack really likes to help out with. He loves making pancakes and can do everything from mixing the batter to pouring and even flipping them. He loves any kind of baking and is very careful measuring the ingredients. He also loves lasagna so any time that is on the menu, I have him help me. He loves any time there is a ‘pattern’ to a recipe, for example the layering of lasagna. He likes to sample the ingredients as we’re cooking, whether it’s eating a spoonful of dry oats when we make pancakes or crunching on dried pasta when we’re cooking dinner! He likes to touch and taste most everything.
How have you supported J’s development of independence in relation to food?
We never force him to eat anything he doesn’t like. We just ask him to try it. He gets to choose what goes in his lunch each day as long as we both agree on it. Out of habit, I was packing him a sandwich most days when he first started school and I noticed, as time went by, more and more of the sandwich was coming back home at the end of the day. I asked him why and he said he didn’t really want a sandwich. We talked about what he’d like instead and came up with the idea of ‘snack lunch’. It’s basically different fruit and veggies (apple, carrots, orange), seaweed, cheese and crackers. At school they offer chocolate milk and juice for drinks. I told him I would put money on his school account in case he occasionally wanted to get a chocolate milk (he takes water every day). I’ve been surprised how infrequently he actually does it. I think having the independence and knowing he can do it whenever he wants takes a little bit of the excitement out of it!
How has J’s relationship to food changed between the ages of three and six?
I would say he gets excited about food more. He eats a much larger variety of food and enjoys taking part in the planning and preparation of the food. He’s also exposed to a lot more of what I would consider to be junk food since starting elementary school. It was an interesting transition at the beginning of the year when he saw what other kids packed in their lunches. We had to have some talks about the food that’s good for our bodies and the food that isn’t. After he started taking a more active role in planning his lunch, he didn’t seem to worry about that as much.
What are your expectations for J in relation to food in the coming year?
He’s recently started helping to pack his lunch in the morning. I would like to see that continue to the point where he is the one doing most of the work with it. I would also like to see him work on planning and making a meal in the next year. From selecting the recipe to shopping and preparing the meal.
What do you hope that he can do as an older elementary child? What do you hope he can do as an adolescent?
As an older elementary child, I would expect he would pack his lunch each day and I would like him to help more with meal planning and preparation. As an adolescent, I hope he enjoys seeking out new recipes in cookbooks or online for us to make together or for him to make on his own.