For Pure Pleasure: Assume the Best

Feb 9, 2009 by

N-healthyeatingkids135x170 “Wouldn’t it be great if kids came into the world with the innate desire to eat the right foods?” asks Jessica Seinfeld, author of Deceptively Delicious, one of two recent books filled with techniques to smuggle vegetables into a child’s stomach by way of the foods kids willingly eat.

“Getting a child to enjoy healthy food is next to impossible, but there is no harm in trying,” says a website that advocates “making” kids eat healthy foods by piling them in amusing structures on the plate.

A baby’s inborn appetite leads her through pure pleasure to the nourishment she needs to grow, mentally and physically. How would our race have survived this long otherwise? Or brought forth the ingenious developments in today’s world? But somehow, after a year or two of school, children stop wondering why. They seem to lose the delight in discovery. Even before that, they lose much of their appetite for foods that will nourish them.

So what goes wrong? Could parents’ assumptions be feeding their resistance?

In our educational system, as in our culture of feeding children, we often function as if the design of a child is a colossal farce, a big joke on us. We work on the assumption that kids lack any appetite for what they need to thrive. We expect them to resist what’s good for them and desire what is harmful. We adults often see ourselves the same way; adults just have more will power and foresight to eat or do what we should. Until kids develop their own will power, it’s up to us to compensate for their lack.  We reward ourselves and our children for learning, for eating, for “doing what’s right,” often with an indulgence in a little guilty pleasure.

Missy Chase Lupine, author of The Sneaky Chef, provides a list of “in” foods that kids “are known to shovel in without an argument”: gooey candy, all white carbs (sugar and white flour), pizza, hamburgers, hotdogs, cookies and chips. These foods can provide the vehicle to covertly transport down the unsuspecting child’s gorge those foods that Lupine can just tell you right now that you’re going to have to disguise: most vegetables (especially green ones), whole grains, beans, fish, nuts, and even some fruits.

Whether it’s dry, boring facts or bland vegetables, children do indeed need plenty of external lubricators to choke them down.

Enticements, compensations, camouflage, praise and spoonfuls of sugar can make repulsive healthy foods go down. Grades, competition, acceptance, videos, games, entertainment, fun and rewards can all be the big drink of water needed to swallow the academic pill.

“We need to trick our minds into thinking we’re eating sinful foods, when in reality we are consuming something with all of the nutritional benefits of a bowl of vegetables,” notes Lupine.

“Why should healthy food feel like a punishment?” she asks. Just hide the spinach in chocolate pudding.

And so it goes.

One of the central tenants in the educational philosophy of Charlotte Mason is that as other appetites are stimulated, the more the appetite for learning—or healthy foods—atrophies. For example, stimulating the desire for a dessert by offering it as a reward suppresses the desire for the vegetable you have to eat to get it.

We teach children in word and deed that what we want them to ingest is not desirable but a duty. We present vegetables fearfully, apologetically, expecting the worst, or as the means to an end, with little thought of making them delicious in their own right.

If we parents don’t like vegetables (maybe we don’t know that they can be delicious), we assume that our children won’t like vegetables. We can’t pass on what we don’t have. We have little expectation that healthy foods can be delicious or learning delectable if that has not been our experience.

But with an open mind, we can all rediscover our original pleasure in genuine nourishment through inspiring and thought-provoking ideas, well written books, and beautiful art and music, along with flavorful, varied, well prepared real foods.

© Sacred Appetite / Anna Migeon / 9 February 2009 / All rights reserved

This post is featured on the Charlotte Mason blog carnival on Oct. 12, 2010.

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