Monday, August 22, 2005

Unless you'd rather have carrot cake

In some parts of the world, and parts of South Africa too, if a child doesn’t like what mother makes for dinner, he doesn’t have to eat it. Mother will get to her aching feet and make his majesty whatever he wants to eat no matter that it’s the nutritional equivalent of spam for breakfast, spam for lunch, spam for dinner. Apparently just getting something down the kid’s throat is enough for mother to feel her job is done, never mind the fact that the cherub looks like a stick insect or a mini Buddha sitting slack jawed in front of the TV.

A study by The Journal of the American Dietetic Association* claims that among children aged 19 to 24 months, one-third didn’t eat any fruit servings on a given day, and 18 percent didn’t eat any vegetables at all. Since chips and tomato sauce are now considered to be vegetables, faced with a humble spud or a tomato, your modern kid is going to say “Like what’s that?” The article says children are getting their nutrition from fruit juice and presumably their dentists are laughing all the way to the bank.

Apparently the tendency to be picky is something evolution gave us, kids foraged on their own 10 000 years ago and a preference for bland foods prevented them from eating anything toxic. Allow the average kid to forage for his own food in the supermarket is asking for a trolley-full of chips, Coke and Twinkies.

What happened? Choice happened, choice and manipulation of parental units is what happened, and the vast snack-food fast-food complex that churns out food with all the nutrition of wood shavings. Since parents want to be their children’s buddies, they don’t dare refuse them anything, let alone the giant economy size pack of Cheetos.

My mother had a simple answer to five children’s judgment on her cooking skills “If you don’t like it you can eat bread”. That’s a good one, try it on the kids of today, starve them until they eat what you put in front of them and they’ll like as not sue you for child abuse.

But here’s the answer right here, it seems that a child will willingly eat broccoli as long as it doesn’t look like broccoli, but is cunningly secreted into something else. Oh yes, The Art of Hiding Vegetables, by Karen Bali and Sally Child explains just how to do it. The objective is to never let on that they’re actually eating vegetables and some of it is quite ingenious, like stirring blended prunes into chocolate milk and grating vegetables into everything. Start slow, they advise, and stick to similar colours, so you can forget about hiding the beetroot in the mashed potatoes. If all else fails you can buy veggie ice cream in the flavours of red cabbage; apple and sultana; minty pea; and broccoli and apple from these people .

I once went out with a guy who had three children, and I cooked dinner for them. They took one look at my steamed highly nutritious chicken kebabs and crunchy fresh, gaily coloured vegetables and their faces took on expressions of pure panic. He gave them a bowl each of salt and vinegar chips and their Ritalin pills and they toddled off happily.

He didn’t seem to have any bread in the house.

*(New York Times 21 June) unfortunately they want money for it.

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