Eating Like My Kids

A few minutes ago,  I got up from my desk and walked down the hallway, noticing that as I walked, a few stray Cheerios dropped out of my clothing and hit the floor.

This is the kind of moment most parents of young children become pretty familiar with, once solid foods hit the menu.  In fact, Cheerios are so rampant in our lives that I’m never surprised to find them in the oddest places — inside one of my shoes, for example, or underneath our bed (nobody is allowed to eat Cheerios in our bedroom, so that’s not a particularly logical place for them to show up).  I’m also generally unfazed by phone calls from my mother in which she mentions that, fully two months after our last visit to her house, she’s unearthed a secret coven of Cheerios gathering underneath some article of furniture in her home.  Stray Cheerios don’t give me much pause these days.

I had to smile, though, as the little devils escaped from my sweater on my journey down the hall, because for once, they weren’t stowaways from my kids’ breakfast.  They were mine — the product of a quickie breakfast taken on the run, including a smoothie I hastily gulped at the kitchen counter and a bag of dry cereal.  And it occurred to me that in most instances, on most days, I eat like my kids.

As I pondered that thought, I recalled a moment, almost five years ago now, when I was sitting at the lunch table with some coworkers talking about pregnancy and baby weight.  I was several months along with L. at the time, and everybody I knew was constantly sharing their cautionary tales about the inevitable decline of my figure (on a side note: what is it about pregnancy that makes other people feel free to offer their most intimate, dire, and sometimes ridiculous advice?).  On that particular day, the major theme was eating like your kids.

“That’s how it happens,” one of the women said sagely, as the others nodded their unison agreement.  “You think you’re going to do so well with taking off all that weight, but even if you manage it at first, once the kids are eating real food it all comes back on.”

“You just get busy,” another person chimed in.  “And you don’t feel like dealing with your own food, or you don’t have time, so you just eat whatever the kids are eating.  And you know what that means.”

They went on to detail the “kid foods” that had led to their various demises: macaroni and cheese, pizza, cookies, crackers, ice cream.  There wasn’t a single voice of dissent at the table.  “You buy what they like to eat, and then it’s in the house, and what are you going to do?” one of them sighed.

What was I going to do?  Absolutely nothing.  I was going to eat like my kids.  And I still do, with few, if any, truly deleterious effects to my figure.

I was pretty much predisposed to the idea that I wasn’t going to be dishing out the kids’ meals before L. was born, but one of the “a-ha” moments that really solidified the whole plan was at one of his Well Baby checkups, right around the time that we were thinking about starting him on proteins.  His pediatrician had a very firm take on jarred baby meats.  “They look and taste like dog food,” she said.  “Would you eat that?”

I laughed.  She was right.  “Look,” she said, leveling her gaze at me.  “If you wouldn’t eat something, then there’s no sense in giving it to your kids.”

How simple.  And yet, how brilliant.

How many times do we adults wistfully say, “None for me, thanks — I can’t eat like a kid anymore!”  How many times do we watch our children chowing down on pizzas and burgers and cake and ice cream, as we refrain, citing our weight, our health, our cholesterol, our sodium?  How many times do we pick at a salad while ordering the fried chicken basket for the little ones?

Yup, we’re all guilty, at one time or another, and some of us more than others.  But when you make a conscious decision that you will EAT LIKE YOUR KIDS, it’s amazing how much better your kids end up eating.

If every one of us planned, each day, to eat what our kids ate, it wouldn’t take long before the whole state of child nutrition in this country would vastly improve.  The problem is, most of us don’t make that choice.  And we don’t think about the fact that our kids don’t have much of a say in what they consume.

We don’t think about the fact that our decision to abstain from the burger and fries at the fast-food place is an informed, adult choice to prioritize wellness; we don’t think about the fact that it will also probably result in us feeling a whole lot better, after eating the salad we ordered instead, than our kids will feel after eating the Happy Meal they asked for.  We don’t think about how bored and disillusioned with eating we might feel after weeks of the same PB&J, grilled cheese, and nuggets for lunch, because we happily have a range of options available to us.  We don’t have to put ourselves at the kids’ table, so we don’t.  And our kids’ eating habits suffer for it.

J. and I, with rare exceptions, eat pretty much exactly what the kids eat.  If, coming home from church on a Sunday, L. asks for pizza quesadillas — as he did this past weekend — I’ll make a whole batch and feed them to everyone in the family.  If there are whole-wheat waffles in the house, we’re all toasting them up for breakfast.  And lunches are often doled out from portions of the leftovers from our dinners.  There’s no divide between “kid” food and “grown-up” food in our fridge or pantry — there’s just food.  The only distinction exists with some of the items we give to P., because he’s still young enough to be on whole milk and whole-milk yogurt, but otherwise the principle remains.

You know what eating like my kids has done?  It’s made us ALL better, healthier, more conscious eaters.  The kids have to try a wider variety of foods, because J. and I would riot if we were restricted to their ingrained preferences.  And J. and I can’t cop out on fruits and vegetables very often, because we’re not going to serve the boys very many meals that don’t include produce.  We actually have to think before we put food on everyone’s plates.  I say: Go ahead, folks.  Eat like a kid.  Because kids should be eating like people, too.


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7 Responses to Eating Like My Kids

  1. Kim W says:

    LOL re eating off the floor. I knew my standards had changed when I had to explain to my then 3 yr old that eating a Cheerio off the floor at home was OK, but that one shouldn’t do it at the NJ Turnpike Rest Area McDonalds!
    We also ate (and still eat) what our kids eat. When we transitioned to regular food, the husband and I also ate somewhat plain, somewhat mushy veggies. We don’t cook special meals. My kids will eat curry lentils with spinach over rice because that’s what we have for dinner regularly. If they don’t like it, they can eat a bit more rice and a bit less curry lentils.

  2. Line says:

    My parents always put the same food on my plates as they ate, and it was “eat at least some of it or don’t eat at all”. Of course, after I had tried it multiple (as in dozens of) times, and still did not fancy food “x”, I was allowed to take more of the other options and just a bit of “x”.

    The result? Today I would say that I cook 95% of all meals from scratch. I can eat anything, I might not love it, but I can be polite about it. And I owe all of this to a mom who was an avid home-chef. And a father who didn’t take the standard “don’t like it!” from a very stubborn kid.

    I must say that reading your blog gives me flash-backs to my childhood. But I can’t help but wonder if the state of good food and nutrition, or rather lack thereof, is really as extreme in the US as I get the impression of from your writing? I live in The Netherlands and to me it seams that we do not have the same issues. This might only be my impression as most of my friends and family all cook though. It fascinates me, but also scares me, as Europe has a tendency to follow the trends from the US to a great extent…

    • Hi Line! Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts. I’m sure that in some ways, all bloggers with opinions, like myself, tend to view things through their own lenses, so to speak. But I sort of hate to break it to you that I don’t think I’m being particularly extreme about the general state of food and nutrition in the U.S. There are many, many other blogs and websites, as well as almost-daily news articles and studies, that show that the food culture in our country is spiraling downhill. Many sources say that the average American family now eats dinner together 3 or fewer times per week, and in many cases, they’re not all eating the same food — and most of it is not cooked at home. And the state of school lunches and other away-from-home meals is pretty dire as well. Our children are getting lots of chemicals, preservatives, and additives, but not a lot of real food, sadly. Even the lunches they eat at school, if they are bought in the cafeteria, are often pre-packaged — think of a little box with a reheated hamburger, another little pouch full of fried potatoes, a sealed container of red-dyed applesauce…
      It’s rare that families cook and eat together, and even more rare that the “cooking” is done from whole ingredients and doesn’t contain things that were just pulled out of the freezer and heated up, or poured out of boxes or pouches, with milk or water or some other thing added to them to make it seem like “cooking.” My kids’ classmates, children ages 2-5, are regularly eating hot dogs, chips, chewy “fruit snacks” (which are really just candy), and dyed yogurt tubes for lunch, among other things. I’ve had other parents laugh in disbelief when I say that I try to include a vegetable in the boys’ lunches. It’s really epidemic.
      I’m sorry — I didn’t mean to get off on a rant — but I’m really glad you asked the question, and both pleased and flattered that you’re reading the blog from where you are in the Netherlands! Please feel free to comment any time, ask questions, or share perspectives from your own culture. It’s great to have different experiences and points of view as part of the larger discussion.

  3. Mike B. says:

    My wife and I are expecting our first child, and this is an issue that I’ve been thinking alot about myself. We have recently started to re-examine the food that we eat, and as a result we are eating better. Not just for our impending child, but because we realized that we could do so much better (both in terms of quality and taste) with our food dollar, and our time. We both love to cook, so we figured, why not cook something worth eating? Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and your recepies!

    • No problem — I’m happy to share! I think that the more people take charge of learning about the food they eat, and consider the message they’re sending when they spend their food dollars, the more we’ll start to see a tide turning in the way that Americans cook and eat and relate to food. Those of us who are already somewhere on that path owe it to ourselves and others to share our thoughts and start the conversations, so that ultimately, we stop the trend towards declining health and well-being. Congratulations on your first child, and keep reading!

  4. Jamie says:

    Brilliant! I think this is why Pascal is such a good eater. He’s always eaten what I’ve eaten. I never bought a jar of baby food. I used a Magic Bullet (of the infomercial fame, not the vibrating variety) and simply pureed whatever it was I was eating.

    On a funny note: I remember 2 distinct instances of motherhood that completely grossed out 2 separate childless friends.
    1. Pascal was at the “throwing food” stage and my (childless) friend and I were eating lunch with him. Completely unaware that I had done something wrong, my friend was staring in horror at me. “Dude, you just ate food off the floor.” Yeah. Well. It happens.
    2. Pascal semi-chewed something and spit it out. Another (childless) friend, again, stared at me in horror. “You just ate something he chewed and spit out.” Yeah. Well.

    I’ve also been known to find Whole Food Samples at the bottom of my purse, a week or so later. More flavor is all I’m sayin’.

    • Jamie, that’s it exactly. You can’t guarantee that feeding your kids the things you eat will make them like everything, but it certainly can’t hurt. We did the same thing with our kids that you did with yours — pureed our foods and served them up right alongside our meal — and it helped us to set the stage, not only for the boys, but in our own minds that This Is Family Dinnertime.
      And yup, yup, yup — eating off the floor, having to eat something that was already in their mouths, constantly having a fistful of partially chewed food as your toddler dissects his dinner — aren’t those the little moments parenthood is really made of? 🙂

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