Editor's note: Fairfield resident Linda Soper-Kolton is the owner and chef of GreenGourmetToG o,a vegetarian catering and educational center in Bridgeport.
I'm a chef, trained to prepare delicious, health-supportive food. I'm pretty sure most of what I make is generally good and yet, the way my son reacts to the meals I prepare, you would think I was presenting him with a plateful of liver, which I despised from my childhood. There are bitter looks of disappointment, gasps of horror, breathless sobbing and on one occasion, when I served him vegetable soup, I'm quite certain I heard him speaking in tongues when I left the room.
With so much working against us parents today, it can be tough to get a good meal down. Advertising, toys, catchy songs...why only just the other day, I heard my son playing the music to the insidious catchphrase, "I'm lovin' it" on his keyboard. McDonald's marketing geniuses win again. Who ARE these people?
Well, I'm not giving up. I hope if you have picky eaters at home that you aren't giving up either. If you struggle with making change on your family's dinner plates, here are a few things I've learned from the culinary school of hard knocks that might help, I give you, Linda's Top 10 List for Creating Healthy Eaters:
10. Be flexible. If I can get at least one or two good meals in a day, I'm ok with lightening up. I'll never set foot in McDonald's, but I've come to realize that even pizza a couple of times a week won't cause irreparable harm.
9. Be patient. My son may not eat soup today or tomorrow, but if I continue to introduce different foods to him, eventually I'll catch him on a good day when he's willing to at least give something new a try.
8. Let them think they're winning. We have this rather silly negotiating that goes on where I'll put, let's say, eight cucumber slices on my son's plate. He'll groan..."Do I have to eat them all?" My response allows him to feel like he has some control. I say, "You can either eat five or eight." Seems silly, but I feel good if he eats five and he feels like he chose his own fate.
7. Ketchup works wonders. Organic is so easy to find now and doesn't contain high fructose corn syrup like many of the familiar brands.
6. Be persistent. Doctors have said that it can take anywhere between six and 11 tries of a new food to decide that you like it. Forget what President Bush said, be a trooper and keep bringing that broccoli to the table. Hey, you never know.
5. For goodness sake, make it taste good. Do you want to eat string beans dumped out of a tin can? Think fresh, real food and try some simple preparations that won't task your patience or abilities but that will showcase what good food should taste like. (You can always join one of our upcoming cooking classes this fall to help take the pressure off!)
4. Be sneaky sometimes. I know my son is onto me and he is a little too suspicious at this point, but it still works sometimes. Find a way to work some power foods into a dish without it being obvious. For example, using sweet potatoes in place of some of the fat in a baking recipe works wonders. I blend hemp seeds (a complete protein and a wonderful source of important fatty acids for developing brains) into smoothies and baked goods. I put them in almond butter and jelly cracker sandwiches. Putting lentils, carrots and celery into a simple pureed tomato sauce provides antioxidants, fiber and iron.
3. Be loving and enthusiastic. I'm still working on this particular one. We want food to be a source of pleasure, not pain and mealtime should be something we look forward to, not dread. No amount of demanding or forcing is going to accomplish healthy eating objectives or create happy memories.
2. Be a good example. They might not mimic you today, but what you do leaves an important imprint.
1. And the number one thing you can do to help create a healthy eater is... Remember, it's just food, not love! We can nourish our families in so many ways, food is just one of them. An important one, but not the only one!
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