Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Kids Are Allright

Yesterday's post seems to have stirred up a lot of memories, feelings, insights in my readers. I am loving the conversation that is starting to unfold in the comments every day! This is one of the things that I have been hoping to stimulate (and haven't even written about sex yet!)--who knew that GAPS Intro would do that, too?

The last part of Gina's comment made me think about a really common issue, and not just in GAPS families:

Another big change from "Grandmas way" that has happened is when Grandma cooked, you ate it. There was no requesting what to eat as kids. Nowadays, moms are always making what their kids want to eat. I'm trying to change that in our house also. My job is to put healthy food on the table, it's their job to eat it.

I couldn't agree more. 

And yet, I, too, struggle with this. Like many moms, I have had my moments of taking the easy way out, of catering to kids--just so I don't have to hear the complaints. Usually that means avoiding a certain ingredient or dishing up a slightly "edited" version of the family dish to a picky kid. As any mega-mom, or mom-of-many, will tell you, this is unsustainable for long. With 7, 8, 9 people at the table, I would go absolutely bonkers trying to keep everyone happy.

It's The Captain who shores me up in those moments, when the lips are curling and the whining starts. "More for us" he says. Cap'n Gary adds his two cents: "Mais fica" (Portuguese for "more for me"). Never mind that a mother is always worrying that her kid(s) will starve if they don't like the meal. The guys know what to do: Eat. 

Then let the kids eat or not. Don't struggle. Struggling, catering, worrying--these all create weird energy around the dinner table. And that's not conducive to a warm family meal, is it? Eventually, the consistency of family meals will set the tone, and the kids will try things. Maybe. If you can find it in you not to care to much about whether they do or not.

(Bribing creates strange energy at the table too, though it might be necessary in extreme situations, especially with non-verbal kids, or ones whose behavior is so out of control that the bribe is the lesser of evils. But it should be a temporary measure, until enough broth and probiotics have worked their magic).

I know. It feels like defeat to let the kids opt out of the meal (or parts of it). But catering to picky tastes is much worse. It creates a veritable monster, one where the kids are in charge (you've heard the one about the inmates running the asylum, right? Never a good idea!) This is one of those situations where we get to exercise our parental wisdom and stand fast. Make great food, offer it up, and let go of the ultimate result.

Which will be, from my experience: the kids will pick at the food, make every attempt to get out of the meal, and when they are teens they will arrange to eat their meals at friends' houses. You think I am kidding? This is the news from the trenches! My teens live for junk food. What's here in my kitchen, all of my grass-fed this, local that, and the organic other things? Yeah, right. My teens are in rebellion and junk food is the battle cry.

How do I deal with this? I am learning to ignore it, for the most part. No junk is allowed on the boat. Which is not to say that it's never been here, because I have found disgusting things under bunks and in hanging lockers (closets) belonging to the kids. I pitch what I find, no comments necessary. And I go on making the food I believe in. If they want to buy their own food and cook it, well, I am not going to struggle anymore.

I have been there, with a sick kid. It was no fun to hear her comments to the effect that I was "ruining her life" when I was trying to adjust our diet to help her. She was sourcing the junk anyway, so I am not sure if I was accomplishing anything except bruising our relationship. In the end, she has become a healthy young woman, fairly sensitive to what she eats. Maybe not how I would be, but a big change from where she was in her younger teen years. And she's a fabulous cook.

And that's the way it has been with all of the older kids, six of whom are now adults (19-30+). They have found their way to healthier diets that probably owe a lot to the foundation they were given at home (two have never lived with me, but they have still learned from the way we eat, and often ask questions, share discoveries, etc). They are (spread among the six) gardening, fishing, wildcrafting herbs, experimenting with new preparations, fermenting, sourcing things like raw milk and duck eggs, and more. And they are becoming the Wise Ones in their communities! They relish sharing good food with others! They are not subsisting on Dairy Queen! They are all amazing cooks, and food is important to them (one even sports a tattoo to that effect!)

Will this work with all kids? I am not sure really. If I had a kid with an autism spectrum disorder, one who was not at all cooperative with the dietary changes, I might proceed differently (see above comment about bribes). Had I started earlier with these changes I might not have had issues at all, because it would have been all the kids knew.  All I know is that struggling over food is counter-productive (read any of Ellyn Satter's work to understand what I mean, though I don't agree with her dietary recommendations).

In general, kids are looking for guidance--despite all of their loud protests to the contrary--and this is another area where we can provide it. They will look back on family meals fondly if we can take the contention out of the eating part. One thing Ellyn Satter says that I do heartily agree with is to make sure there is one thing on the table we know they like. She gives bread as an example, but why be so uninspired? The choices are endless--just pick something that you know they accept and put it out with the iffier dishes. 

And make some meals they love! Food shouldn't be torture, even if it is healing. Tonight I made a dish inspired by something Baden mentioned, a sort of ratatouille with ground beef. Mine turned out like a mild chili so I marketed it that way--and it got eaten! I just didn't mention things like eggplant and zucchini... (shh! don't tell them!) Steak is a favorite around here, so we have it at least once a week. Soup goes over better if it doesn't show up every night (they are not doing Intro. And if you are, remember, Intro is temporary).

Ultimately, as Gina said, it's our job to serve good food and theirs to eat it. Satter's twist, and my suggestion as well, is to let them decide exactly what and how much they will eat. You may not have The Captain there to bolster your courage, but trust me, the kids will be all right.

 How are meals going at your house? Any tips to share with us about inspiring kids to eat (well)?


OK ladies, I did not know pheromones worked through blog posts, but I too have gotten my period today! It's a stealth attack, no forewarning--and that's saying something, because (as a perimenopausal woman) I haven't cycled in months! How odd. I really have no idea what to expect, but I can see that Intro is normalizing my hormones. I guess it's a good thing, though how long this will go on, I have no clue (I will be 50 in July).  Any older women want to give me the lay of the land?


Magda said...

Interesting - Aunt Flo showed up at my house this morning. Unexpectedly. I've been irregular for months and this is my 2nd regular 'visit'. I hope it continues! I have a picky almost 7 year old and it doesn't help that DH is picky, too, and likes junk food and no veggies and... you get the drift. I do the best I can, I rant and rave, I compromise, I put my foot down - all of the above. And I explain and teach. A lot. It does actually sink in. I hope my son will grow up and learn to eat many foods that he doesn't like now. I know I did. My 15 month old has no such problems - he eats everything. I mean that. I hope to keep him going this way!!

Justine Raphael said...

Magda--It is difficult if your partner isn't on the same page. I am lucky that my husband feels that with this diet he's "died and gone to heaven".

Can you get your husband to agree to a couple of things: no junk in the house (what he does out side of the house will then be his business) and no negative comments about your food. He gets extra points for an effort to eat his veggies (with no complaints, of course! But make sure you put lots of butter or cheese on them so he'll want to eat them)

If he can do those things, you will have better luck with the 7 year old, and the little one will keep on with his great habits.

Annie said...

I feel super lucky that my 21-month-old has been eating anything I put in front of her while we've been on intro. Reading about your teens revolting with junk food ... oh my gosh I think that would break my heart if my little one did that someday, after all the work we're putting in to learning how to eat healthy. But of course the most important thing is that she'll have something to come back to, because I will have taught her how to take care of herself with nourishing food - something I didn't get as a child.

Justine Raphael said...

Annie--revolting is a good word for it! Yes, it breaks my heart a little every time I see it, but to struggle with them is damaging on many levels, so I am learning to let go... remember, though, that none of my kids was tiny when we started to eat this way, so they don't have the same foundation you are giving to your daughter. Just keep after it--you are doing the right thing!

Nan said...

I am writing this quite late, but wanted to say that my 15 year old has always been picky, and eats some junk food when out of the house. He told me once that the snack he had eaten at a friend's house consisted of cookies and coca cola. He thought "This is great!", but when he came home he was ravenous for "real food". The junk was "so unsatisfying" was how he put it. These are good experiments for teens so that they can feel the value in eating healthfully.

Justine Raphael said...

Nan, that's so true, about the junk being unsatisfying. I remember hearing Sally Fallon say we (as a culture) drink soda with a sort of "body memory" (my words) about what a lacto-fermented soda would have supplied (think root beer or ginger beer, kombucha and more). Our bodies are craving what they are not getting, and the mimics are well-placed to entice us. I got to the laundromat today and Sammy was attempting to hide a soda she had bought while I was away. The lure is STRONG! She quickly became hyper and we played "connect-the-dots", but the lesson can take a long time to sink in--so I expect there will be more experiments!

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