Not So Happy Meals

I detest kids’ menus.  There, I said it.  I can’t stand them.  I’m also completely baffled by them.  Why do they exist?  At first glance, you might think this is a trivial topic, but I disagree.  I think it points to a fundamental flaw in this country’s way of viewing its youngest citizens.

Why is there a notion in this country that kids should eat anything other than what the adults in their lives are eating?  Where did this idea come from?  With the possible exception of super spicy chile peppers, I can’t think why we wouldn’t just assume that our kids would sample whatever’s on our plates.  I can speak from experience on this, as Queenie has always eaten what I eat other than when she was nursing.  She started with breast milk, and then we began adding the usual suspects:  simple, one-ingredient purees.  But she always had a natural curiosity about what was on our plates, so I let her have it, whether it was chunks of steamed broccoli, pieces of fruit, beans, whatever.  Most of it ended up on her face or the floor, but some of it ended up in her mouth and helped inform her blossoming palate.  She loved hummus, kiwi, sweet potatoes, avocado… all sorts of fun and tasty things.  Ten years later, she’s a very adventurous eater with a healthy appetite.  She eats salads.  She eats fresh fruit and veggies.  She eats sprouts.  She eats cuisine from all over the world.  She knows that sugary foods make her feel lousy (but she occasionally opts to have them anyway).  I happen to eat a relatively healthy, whole foods-laden vegan diet, so that’s what she eats.  If I ate steak and scalloped potatoes, I would expect that she’d be eating steak and scalloped potatoes.  Is Queenie some kind of mutant?  I don’t think so.  I think she’s a product of her early experiences.  She was exposed to lots of different kinds of tasty, healthy foods from an early age, and that’s (not surprisingly) what she knows and loves.Image

(Typical Queenie lunch.)

A recent article in the New York Times seems to support my thesis:  http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/04/13/why-french-parents-are-superior-in-one-way/ .  The article talks about how French kids eat the same things as their parents and is worth reading. They all sit down to meals together and eat the same stuff.  These French kids were raised with some of the same assumptions that informed Queenie’s early eating experiences, namely, the idea that kids can and will eat what their adult counterparts eat.  They can handle it.

So why the separate treatment in this country?  It seems that Americans have managed to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in this case.  By assuming that their kids won’t eat anything but… (fill in the blank:  white food, Cheetos, Twinkies, paste, whatever), and then serving them only said limited food, they’ve ensured that that is, in fact, all their kids will eat. I can feel some of you bristling at the suggestion that this is a problem created by someone other than the kid, but I’m standing by my position.  Where did they get their first taste of white food, Cheetos or paste?  Parents are the gate-keepers of those innocent little palates for at least the first few years.  If your kid will only eat Twinkies, it’s time to look your enabling self in the mirror and think about it.  Sorry if this sounds harsh, but I think we’re way past time for some tough love.  How did your kid get here?  Is this in her best interest?  Unfortunately, by the time the kids are adolescents, these habits are quite entrenched and additional factors are also present having to do with things other than food, such as power and control.  It definitely gets complicated.  But it didn’t have to.  And it’s never too late to do something about it.  Just own the fact that things have gotten off track, you’ve learned a thing or two and it’s time for the WHOLE FAMILY to eat better.  Together.

And if there’s going to be a separate menu in this country, why does it have to suck?  For people eating a Standard American Diet (the acronym for which is SAD, by the way), I could actually support the idea of a kids menu containing healthier options.  While the parents ate burgers and fries, the kids could order healthy soups and salads and fruit.  But it doesn’t work that way.  The kids menus are, if anything, less healthy than the regular ones.  The standard kids’ menu items tend to be chicken nuggets, mac & cheese, fries, pizza, and pasta with either meat sauce or just butter, for those who won’t even eat a tomato in a liquefied state.  How can this make sense?  How can we think that growing bodies and minds and spirits should be fueled with processed crap?  It doesn’t and we shouldn’t.Image

(Actual tomatoes.)

It’s sad and it’s cause for concern.  This is serious.  We’re seeing the unhealthiest generation of young people in this country’s history.  You know the statistics… skyrocketing obesity rates.  Adult-onset diabetes striking kids.  All created by lifestyle choices and all avoidable.

Parents, the buck stops with us.  Kids learn from what we say and even more from what we do.  If we’re eating junk, they’re going to eat junk.  And if we’re managing to eat reasonably healthy foods but think they should eat something else, something inferior, they will eat that something else.  And here, I think, lies the most interesting and important question in this whole scenario.  Why view children as something else?  They’re not adults but they are people, not toys or pets or chattel.  They deserve to be fed and spoken to and respected and loved and listened to and enjoyed as the unique, fabulous individuals that they are, not relegated to the lesser status of kids’ menu-eating, talked-down-to, inferior beings that seems to be pervading our culture right now.

Food for thought.

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