Admittedly, we live in a bit of a bubble. We have our own family culture, our own family standards, and our own way of looking at the world. So when we see advertisements indicating that kids need to be tricked into eating any food that could potentially be labeled as “good for you,” we feel a little out of the loop.
I (Mr. AJ) take the free market at face value and assume that consumers actually WANT chicken nuggets on kids’ menus, and that they assume that salad is “adult food.”
We’ve watched kids eat chicken nuggets, french fries, and pepperoni pizza in a single sitting. On the other hand, we’ve also witnessed a toddler cry for more cabbage, eat raw greens by the fistful, and eat a baked potato’s skin out of preference.
Every Result Has a Cause
Where does this taste for bad-for-us foods come from?
We often assume that the reason is obvious: we have taste receptors for fat, sweet, salt, sour, bitter, and “umami” paired built-in preferences for the first three. See graphic below(note: umami means savory, and the sixth taste, fat, is too new a discovery to have been mapped).
Is that really all there is to it? The sheer fact that “grown-up” tastes are different than “kids” tastes is a testament to the obvious: our taste preferences can change. They are heavily influenced by external factors.
Another reason for kids’ stubbornness in avoiding new foods is that they are living in a state of constant change. They need to feel like they are in control of something, and often times, this manifests itself in refusing to eat certain foods. The result is often frustrated parents who are now more concerned with getting their kid(s) to actually eat than with what they eat. Add to this the fact that children imitate their parents, and you start to get the full picture of what will henceforth be referred to as the “kids menu dilemma.”
Kids are Extraordinarily Perceptive
Have you ever heard a child say something… out of character? Have you immediately recognized the original source of the word, phrase, or figure of speech? Not only do children imitate what they see their parents (or other primary/secondary caregivers) do, but they perceive more than we often give them credit for.
Which leads us to our next question…
What are YOUR Food Choices Like?
This question assumes, of course, that you are a parent or other direct influencer of a child. Children are humans with the same dietary needs and physiological wants as their adult counterparts. They may need more nutrients by proportion to their weight, but they are growing and we adults are merely (hopefully) cruising at our respective ideal mass.
Does eating fatty, sugary, salty foods make you happy? Then guess what you can expect… Yup. Your child(ren) will imitate that. If you try to get them to eat veggies and they refuse, have you ever considered whether you are leading by example? It’s not enough just to consume healthy foods. The parent must visibly enjoy these foods.
Teenie Tiny(TT) asks for chard. TT asks for kale. TT will only eat a baked potato with its skin. TT eats raw mint, raw purslane (it was the favorite last summer), and spit out the first bite of birthday cake ever tasted at TT’s first birthday.
Does your kid’s plate look like this?
The key is to CHANGE YOUR OWN HABITS EARLY. Remember what I said about kids and control? Once a pattern of preference is established, it is very difficult to break. New foods become increasingly tricky as they get older. Getting a good solid foundation established will make your life substantially easier.
We will write on how to introduce dietary changes if an unhealthy pattern is already established in another post.
The takeaway, however, is applicable to almost every aspect of life with a kid: they will imitate you, so lead by example.