Ever since I became a parent, I've tried to get my children to eat tasty food that is good for them. I'm hardly alone in this quest. At cocktail parties, other parents have come up to me and asked, upon hearing about this blog, how I get my kids to eat what I cook. I told one father that my eldest likes mussels and clams. "That'll change." he said. Then he asked me for advice.
I didn't have any to give him, other than the old saw about putting a new food in front of a child a dozen times before giving up. Not that that's ever worked. I didn't tell him about some of the other techniques that I had witnessed. I once saw a friend tip his screaming toddler's mouth back and force him to eat whatever it was that we had at the table at that moment. That didn't work, either.
I've always thought that what children eat or don't eat has less to do with the flavor of a given food than it does to do with the social dimensions of their lives. Children have very few opportunities to fully exert their power. The dinner table is a rare chance for them to control what goes into their mouths, if not what goes on around them. Ever have to sit through a dinner while parents exhorted their children to eat their vegetables? It can take the air out of the whole evening.
Tonight, the mystery deepened. The children ate quesadillas and broccoli with their babysitter, a fine dinner by any standard. I whipped up a mini-Mexican feast of black beans, rice, pan-fried chicken thighs, spinach, and sliced avocado for Santa Maria and myself. I love this dinner. Most of it is cooked ahead of time (the beans freeze well; the rice I cooked this morning while eating breakfast), and can be on the table in about ten minutes.
We sat down to eat while the children played at the table beside us. Then, Nina asked for chicken. Pinta requested black beans. Suddenly, Nina, too, wanted black beans. I raised an eyebrow. The black beans are certifiably delicious. I would take them anywhere and serve them to anyone and challenge them to resist their rich and savory flavor (I make them with bacon), but Nina has spurned them on so many occasions that I've stopped offering them to her.
Here was further evidence of the social dynamic at play. Nina and Pinta both knew that after eating their snack, they would have to go to bed. The longer they spent at the table, the longer they could stay up. They would never say as much, but I wonder if this influenced their hunger. They each had two small bowls of black beans and rice. Promises were made to serve them more of it for lunch tomorrow. I'll be curious to see how that goes. In the meantime, I was thrilled to have them eating it. It verified my belief that the beans taste good, and that's always a relief.
More practical advice on how to get kids to eat healthily is available here.