Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Parent or short order cook?

Which do you find more boring … this …

Or this?

Time and time again, I have heard parents complaining about how their kids are so picky about food – that they WILL NOT eat this or that or the other, or that they will only eat a select few foods that they trust and are not willing to experiment with anything beyond their range of familiarity. So, the parents moan, when the family goes out to eat, they have to go only to places that will serve what their kids like, and when the family is eating at home, the mom becomes a short-order cook, preparing one thing for one kid, another thing for another kid, separate from what the family as a whole is eating.

Pat and I never allowed Gerald to get picky – if he didn’t want to eat what we were eating, he didn’t eat. Funny thing is, he never really went through a picky stage, ever, and he has since taken not only to eating but also to cooking all sorts of intriguing foods. The gifted program at his elementary school ran a mini-restaurant that prepared a gourmet lunch every Wednesday as an alternative to the school cafeteria. He has also always enjoyed the cooking shows on television and been excited about the cooking techniques he has observed on them – at one point, he even considered being a chef as a career choice. Recently, he has become an expert on Vietnamese cuisine; one of his close friends is Vietnamese, and he’s now dating that friend’s kid sister.

Some years ago, my cousin, his wife and their two boys (then ages 9 and 5) came to visit us at Five O’Clock Somewhere. I tried to get the boys interested in helping in the kitchen – I was preparing chicken Kiev, (baked, not fried) so there were a lot of fun things to do such as pounding the chicken breasts with a mallet and using a rolling pin to smash crackers into crumbs. But they thought that whole idea was boring, especially the older one, opting instead to go to the living room and switch the television from the news that I was listening to, to an episode of Spongebob Squarepants that they had seen so often that they could recite all of the dialog in unison with the characters on the screen. Gerald and I ended up doing most of the work.

Then when we sat down to eat, the boys didn’t want to eat what was served, so their mother went into the kitchen to fix what they wanted – grilled cheese for one, a hot dog for the other. I was astonished that she caved in to their demands and that she would allow them to be so blatantly impolite to their hosts – as well as being somewhat impolite herself by presuming to go to the kitchen without checking in with me first (although that’s a gray area since I welcome people coming into my kitchen to help, and I enjoy what goes on when people who love each other are all cooking together. I have fond memories of Thanksgivings and Christmases when my mom, my aunt, Gerald, and I have all been cooking in harmony.)

Now, maybe my cousin’s wife decided that because we were family, she could go to the kitchen to do the short-order cook thing, and maybe in a more formal situation she would not allow her kids to snub the food that was served or presume to take over the kitchen herself. But I’m not so sure.

But then, I can’t really make my cousin and his wife (now ex, but still close to the family) out to be ultra-lenient, at least in today’s world. It seems that the vast majority of parents cater to their kids’ whims. At least daily, I encounter a parent who expresses frustration about her (or his) kid’s pickiness and laments all the time and trouble she has to go through to keep the kid satisfied. Usually it’s in an impersonal situation, such as a supermarket check-out line, where I can’t reasonably berate the parent for being so much of a wimp that she lets her kids walk all over her.

There was a television commercial that used to run often, featuring a mother and super-cute preschool-age daughter in a supermarket. The girl objected to everything the mother put into the shopping cart: “I don’t like chicken,” “I don’t like broccoli,” and so forth. In the end, the girl’s mother buys a sweet, vitamin-enriched milkshake-type product to make up for the nutrition the girl would miss by refusing to eat broccoli or chicken or anything else she doesn’t like. To me, that’s the ultimate cop-out. It provides a way for parents to say that they are making sure their kids’ nutritional needs are being met without having to make their kids angry with them, and it puts the kids in control of the family’s food-buying decisions.

Bullshit. Study after study has proved that the best way for the human body to absorb nutrients is to eat foods containing those nutrients, not to take a supplement that contains extracts of those nutrients or synthetic versions of them. Essentially, the nutritional milkshakes are simply a vitamin pill in liquid form. Kids may love them because of the flavor, and parents may love them because it keeps them from having to be the bad guy enforcing consumption of broccoli. Sorry, bad idea. Kids need to eat healthful food. It’s not just about the vitamins and minerals – which seems to be where parental concerns seem to reside. It’s about the overall healthfulness of the diet. A really caring parent will make sure his kid consumes healthful foods, no matter how much she protests.

Really, it’s simple. So long as the kid doesn’t have some underlying medical issue, it’s fine to let him refuse to eat what’s served. Eventually, he’s going to get hungry enough that he WILL eat it. Yeah, some highly principled individuals (such as Mahatma Ghandi) will go on hunger strike and risk death to make their point. But that sort of idealism is not what drives the average 9-year-old, so the kid’s determination will fade as the hunger increases. Refusing any food whatsoever may be child abuse, but offering only food that the child finds unpalatable is not.

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Blogger Baydog said...

Dinner time somewhere? If I didn't know any better, I'd think this is turning into a food blog.
No complaints.

For the most part, my kids eat what we eat. My younger daughter is not fond of salad really, or turnips let's say, so I'll cut her some peppers and cucumbers. Strangely enough she loves sauteed spinach.

I suppose I do cater to them to an
extent because I want them to eat and I naturally love to cook. But hot dogs and grilled cheese don't happen unless we're all having them.

Sat Jan 22, 07:51:00 AM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

These are very unpopular points of view today that I happen to share almost completely. But we don't have kids so I'm usually not allowed to comment.

I think the degree to which parents indulge their kids has led to a self-absorbed, egocentric generation that feels it is entitled to all of life's goodies without having to do any work to earn them - a generation frighteningly unable to see things from someone else's point of view or even to recognize that there might be someone else in the room.

Wow, doesn't that make me sound like a cranky, old man?

I also agree with the points about nutrition. Our supermarkets are almost overwhelmingly filled with 'products' to which the nutrients may or may not be added as just some more of the chemicals that make up the mix. It is getting harder and harder to find anything to eat there that has any real nutritive value.

Wow, doesn't that make me sound like a cranky, old man?

I'm going to bed now.

Sun Jan 23, 11:44:00 AM MST  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Babicka would love this post. Z eats what we eat, never had a choice, so he never balks. Biggest point of contention these days is how long it takes for Z to eat (he's just under 3). Babi has a plan for that too...the food is gone after a certain amount of time. It's not child abuse, it's reality!

Sun Jan 23, 03:28:00 PM MST  
Anonymous another grumpy old man said...

Just buy the stuff on the outer lane of the supermarket. Everything down the aisles is processed junk.

Sun Jan 23, 09:06:00 PM MST  
Blogger Baydog said...

Grumpy: For the most part, you are correct. But, the canned and frozen vegetables are actually very good for you as well. They may not be as vibrant in color, but the nutrients are usually there and much cheaper for those watching the wallet.

Sun Jan 23, 09:29:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Baydog, the accommodations you make for your daughter sound reasonable, in part because they are made during the preparation of the meal, sort of like making accommodations ahead of time for guests who are vegetarians or who have special dietary needs. I would assume that you don't allow her, when a guest of someone else, to snub the food that is served and send you into that other person's kitchen to serve up what she does want.

O Docker, if you're a cranky old man, then I'm a cranky old woman.

Anonymous, good for you and Babicka. Z is getting a good start on good eating.

Baydog, yes, I especially find frozen veggies to be a great convenience. OTOH, Pat didn't really learn about frozen veggies when he was growing up. You may have heard about Texas cattle barons; Pat's dad was a Texas vegetable baron. He owned a vegetable packing company that bought vegetables from farmers in the southernmost tip of Texas during the times of year that veggies can't be grown in most of the rest of the country, and shipped them northward so that people in, say, Chicago, could have fresh broccoli in the middle of winter. Growing up, Pat's family always had all of the fresh veggies they wanted, so frozen and canned vegetables were a mystery to him when we first met.

Mon Jan 24, 12:11:00 AM MST  
Anonymous grumpy old man said...

Frozen and canned veggies? Ugh.

Fresh is best. Grow as much as you can yourself. Give the surplus away to neighbors. Buy fresh at local markets if you can't grow your own. Buy fresh at a supermarket as a last resort.

Bah! Humbug!

Mon Jan 24, 08:22:00 AM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

Grumpy, I've got to go down the aisles.

That's where the beer is.

Mon Jan 24, 08:40:00 AM MST  
Blogger Baydog said...

And the Alka-Seltzer.

Of course fresh is best, G.O.M.
Not everyone has the resources all of the time to buy local or fresh though. And God bless California for selling beer in the grocery store.

Mon Jan 24, 06:17:00 PM MST  
Blogger Carol Anne said...

Interesting dilemma. What do people in the frigid North do when local fresh produce isn't available? Which is better, buying frozen broccoli, or buying fresh broccoli that has traveled 2000 miles by train from South Texas? Buying canned asparagus, or buying fresh asparagus that has been shipped in from Peru?

For one of our earliest Thanksgivings together, I sent Pat to the store to get food. In my family, asparagus with Hollandaise sauce is the vegetable of choice for that holiday. I put "asparagus" on the shopping list, assuming Pat would get canned, because that was all that (I thought) would be available at that time of year. Pat, on the other hand, assumed all vegetables on the shopping list were to be fresh. He bought Peruvian asparagus at nearly $4 a pound. We spent more on the asparagus than we did on the turkey. And it wasn't particularly good asparagus either -- it was tough and stringy, if not out-and-out woody.

So, yeah, there are times when frozen or canned beats out fresh.

Wed Jan 26, 01:20:00 AM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

When fresh veggies aren't available, I often supplement my diet with bottled grains. These are available in a wide variety of tempting flavors.

And in recent years a thriving industry has grown up here in California bottling grapes, too.

Some even prefer them to fresh.

I was saddened to learn that, after many years on the endangered species list, the American prune is now extinct.

Biologists and marketing people are trying to repopulate wild areas with a new species, the Madison Avenue Dried Plum, with limited success.

Wed Jan 26, 09:39:00 AM MST  
Blogger Tillerman said...

I know that President Reagan declared ketchup to be a vegetable but I haven't been able to find it fresh in any of out local supermarkets. So I do buy bottled ketchup to put on my grilled cheese and hot dogs. Does that make me a bad person?

What was the question again?

Wed Jan 26, 09:02:00 PM MST  
Blogger Pat said...

I shudder to think what Chinese Tiger Mom would do with ultra-picky, rude children.

Wed Jan 26, 10:48:00 PM MST  
Blogger O Docker said...

Sorry, grumpy old man here again.

Here's a Philadelphia area high school teacher who seems to agree with me, had the audacity to say so in her blog, and is now fighting for her job because of it.

Wed Feb 16, 09:35:00 AM MST  

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