I think it is important to preface today’s post with a declaration, I am NOT a parent, I have no real idea what it entails and the knowledge I do possess is that which can be gleaned by being ‘parented’. By no means am I dictating how you should raise your child?
That being said.
My parents made me eat my broccoli. We tried as often as possible to sit down together to eat and as soon as we (my brothers and I) pulled our chairs up to the table we had 2 options. One, make a big zero (as my beautiful mother would say) or two, finish it for breakfast. To be clear ‘finish it’ always meant the vegetable portion, I wasn’t struggling to polish off the last slice of pizza. I don’t think my parents ever followed through on the threat (I should ask) but the idea of pouring milk over a bowl of last night’s Brussel Sprouts was all the motivation my adolescent-self needed to finish the meal.
The idea for this post came to me recently during a conversation with a close friend, a father of a 2 –year old, he was commenting on the horrible food choices that are provided to children. This led to an afternoon of research, during which I noticed that in addition to eating horrible food at restaurants a large number of families are cooking two meals for dinner, one for the adults and another for the children.
A 2013 survey out of Scotland showed that nearly 30% of the households surveyed cooked separate meals for their children, a surprising number even accounting for allergy related differences but consistent with our personal observations. I would assume, and again I am not a parent, that it is easier to cook a second meal then argue with the 8-year-old on the nutritional value of broccoli. Which is understandable, unfortunately, the child’s palette, future relationship with food and its surrounding culture will become severely handcuffed.
We require 12-15 exposures to a food before developing a taste/enjoyment for it, meaning we have to ‘not like’ it quite a few times before we decide we love it.
Our North American society has decided that children wish only to eat fried food and pizza, clearly illustrated in the menu options at restaurants which is translating into an unwillingness to eat anything else at home. I had to call my beautiful Mother to find out what we ate growing up, apparently if it was beef stew with roast potato and green bean night I was eating the blended version. I am sure that I put up resistance, fought, cried and pouted but ultimately I would eat it. In retrospect, I am so grateful my parents didn’t cave, being able to participate in whatever meal is out in front of me is amazing. Food brings those sharing it closer together and connects you with the history of a country.
Sylvie and I love diving into new culinary experiences and I am confident walking into a restaurant that I will enjoy whatever is put on my plate, so much so that I rarely order instead of asking them to bring me whatever the chef would eat.
I can remember as a child sitting at the Christmas table, my Vova (Portuguese grandmother) setting down a dish full of octopus in front of me. I wrinkled my nose, turned my face away and tried to push it down to the next person but I was urged to eat it again and again and again. As an adult, I love octopus (it reminds me of my Vova) and it is now a delicious dish instead of a disgusting sea creature.
I believe that as adults we would do well to remember the 12-15 exposure rule and treat our own adventures with food as we do our children. We should aim to expose ourselves to new dishes and experiences rather than staying boxed into a familiar ‘diet’. If we are willing to grant ourselves the time to truly appreciate the new food, we will quite likely enjoy it and in doing so enter an entirely new place of culinary exploration. So eat your broccoli, explore food and stay childish.