Friday, October 3, 2008

Smart Mom: Belinda

I'm introducing a new feature on MM: interviews with smart moms. I'm always quizzing people on what they feed their kids, how they pack lunches, how they deal with pickiness, etc, so I thought I'd start sharing some of the bounty.

Smart Mom #1 is, fittingly enough, my mom. At 68, my mom, Belinda, is changing what life in your late 60's looks like. She's a yoga teacher who hikes every morning with her two dogs and still fires up a storm in the kitchen, cooking favorite dishes like black bean chili, butternut babaghanoush and sushi bowl.

As you'll see, her views on feeding kids are a bit unorthodox. She raised us in an extremely lax household, in which we were given free rein to figure out our eating preferences, and to cook and prepare food for ourselves from a very young age.

It was very 70's: everything was whole wheat, we produced our own eggs and honey, our cookies were healthy enough to eat for breakfast, and we always read labels so we could avoid the devil: hydrogenated oil. (But we weren't all good: we also indulged in Mallomars and Fluffernutter sandwiches.) Okay, so we didn't have regular family dinners or get pressured to eat things we didn't like. Somehow we all turned out okay.

Today I called up my mom and asked her to share some of her thoughts about feeding kids.

L: Your kids are all grown up now, and all three of us turned out to be good cooks and great eaters. Do you remember us being picky?

B: Oh sure, I couldn’t get you to eat any of the foods that I loved. Soups and stews and casseroles. But I don’t think you were picky. You were discriminating. It’s not a disorder. I don't know very many adults who eat everything.

L: I still don't really like stews and casseroles.

B: See?

L: What do you remember feeding us?

B: Mostly I focused on protein. Hot dogs, beans and franks, fish sticks. Tuna fish salad, which I made with half mayonnaise and half plain yogurt. Spaghetti with meat sauce, and I would sneak in lots of vegetables and mix it up. I also would sneak things into chocolate chip cookies, like raisins and soy flour and whole wheat flour...

You guys liked molasses mixed into milk. That was for the iron..

And we used to mix ketchup and mayonnaise --

L: Russian dressing!

B: That’s right. We used that as a dip for carrots and celery. I can’t remember what else. You must have eaten something good! Taco salad, chili…

L: What about the garden? We always had a huge garden.

B: You two, the girls, loved tomatoes. One year we had 72 tomato plants, just for the three of us. We grew raspberries and grapes, those were fun to pick.

L: Do you think that helped us eat more vegetables?

B: My father always said, “If you want kids to eat vegetables, have them grow vegetables.”

L: Back then there were some brutal methods for getting kids to eat, like making them sit at the table until they finished their plate, or spanking them. Did you have any particular method for getting us to eat?

B: No. I didn’t worry about it. My mother always made me wait until my father got home to eat, and I was always hungry. I was determined not to have you guys be hungry, so I let you snack. By the time you got to dinner you weren’t hungry. But it was good stuff you were eating: peanut butter, hummus, leftovers. It wasn’t just, “Have a carrot”. Who wants a carrot when you’re hungry? I made sure all the goodies and snacks were nutritious, so if you weren’t hungry at dinner, so what?

It was a philosophical thing, a decision not to push food, not to make food into an issue. The pediatrician told me, “Do not worry about food. They will eat when they need to grow.”

L: What do you think you did right?

B: I always let you help with the cooking. We made bread and pretzels and all that kind of thing.
And I always made sure you got enough protein.
And I didn’t keep sweets and empty calories in the house. We didn’t have soda. We may have had juice but we watered it down. You never acquired the taste for all that sweet stuff. If there’s one thing I’m pleased about, it’s how you guys eat and that you don’t have weight problems.

L: What would you do differently?

B: It was a little sloppy sometimes. I regret not having you sit down a little more.

L: What feeding advice would you give to all of us current moms and dads who are still in the trenches with our picky eaters?

B: Don’t worry about it so much. Always have good food available. It’s like on that show, "Jon and Kate Plus 8". I can't stop watching that show. And she is always bringing food, everywhere they go. Then you don’t have to buy the unhealthy food.
And relax!

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