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To Your Health

Raising A Child (Part 4)

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04/01/2007 - This month we are going to deviate a little from our past format and discuss a topic that, of course, involves children. I had this conversation with somebody and it was both funny and sad. The topic of discussion involved diet and, more important, what happens at the table between parents and children.

For some innate reason, a gene in a child expresses itself resulting in the child becoming a "table terrorist". If the child does not like what's being served, either because it involves foods that aren't chemically enhanced or does not come in a kid's meal bag, he/she will scream, whine or complain. We've all seen this. The sad part is that the parent falls into a (for lack of a better term) "hostage-like" attitude.

When we begin introducing foods to our children, it's with two objectives: one is to expand their diet and the other is to provide healthy nutrients for their ever growing bodies. Some foods can seem less than inviting by their appearance, but children just seem to be convinced that every item on their plate that doesn't taste of look good is up for negotiation. They want to make deals. "Mommy, I'll eat more crescent rolls with butter on them but no broccoli; otherwise, you're fired!" Heck, look at Dennis the Menace. He's always trying to negotiate on carrots.

Parents have to be like Samuel L. Jackson in "The Negotiator". Get that look and attitude when kids want to negotiate with you over their food. My kids don't want to negotiate with me; they want to negotiate with Mom. Their favorite line, and I'm sure you've heard this one, is "How many bites?" I can imagine my "late-depression" raised dad asking his dad how many bites. I'm sure the response would have been, "Eat it all or starve!"

I tried this as a child with my parents over a baked potato. (Remember years ago when a baked potato was still considered a vegetable?) I didn't like them. There was not much taste unless you put a bunch of junk on them as did my parents and older siblings. So my mom put liberal amounts of salt on it and proclaimed, "That will make it more tasty." So now I have this lump of starch, all salted up, just inviting me to partake. My reaction: "I'm not going to eat this!"

My parent's reactions (with my dad's evil-eye glare like Clint Eastwood's): "You will sit at this table and not get up until your plate is cleaned. Five hours later, with my siblings and Dad in bed and Mom waiting patiently in the other room to paddle (loose term) me if I slipped away or slid the potato into the trash and butied it, I held my breath and ate the potato (yuck) and showed my mom, who then said, "Good. That wasn't so bad, was it?" My lesson learned was that whenever Mom served a baked potato, I ate it first.

Don't negotiate but do use common sense. Don't ladle up a plate full of cooked spinach for a child and say "bon appetite". Start with the (small) amount that he/she will be able to finish. Otherwise, you may have to camouflage it in with mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese until the child finally figures it out. By that time, of course, it's too late because it didn't taste that bad. But don't negotiate. You may have to plan on camping out at the table with them until they're finished. (Balance your checkbook, write a novel, etc.) Don't let them go to the bathroom with their mouth full.

My children will tell you that, at our house, if there is something being served which they are not too enthusiastic about (usually salad or vegetables) there is a choice: (A) Put enough on your plate yourself or, (B) I will put what I think you should have and, yes, you will eat it. Guess who wins every time ME! We need to show our children that health is not a negotiable item. If they complain, show them the insurance premiums with "the look". See ya!

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