It’s a Kids Eat Dogs World

Hot dogs.  Yuck.

Oh, I know.  Everything in moderation, as is my major mission in the RRG house; and certainly, not all dogs are created equal.  Just as we managed to find some utterly delicious, nitrate-free, un-junked-up pepperoni in the deli case at Whole Foods this week (which was sliced up thinly and scattered sparingly on our whole-wheat pizza), there are equally artisanal, “purified” hot dogs on the market that are made without many of the nasty things that I generally equate with the things.  I’m sure there are plenty of you who could tell me about a great, all-natural, all-beef or all-pork option without byproducts, fillers, nitrates, nitrites, anitbiotics, hormones, rat particles, or styrofoam packing peanuts.

But the fact remains that, frankly, I’m just not a hot dog fan, and I never have been.  The whole idea is sort of unappetizing to me; and once J. started informing himself about food and really thinking about the making of the conventional hot dog, he also turned his back on them.  With the exception of a very rare, carefully considered kielbasa or the Swedish potato sausages we sometimes eat at Christmastime, there is in fact very little consumption in our house of anything even resembling a hot dog.  P.’s only had something of that ilk once, I think; and for L., it’s a grand total that can be counted, probably, on one hand.

Unless I can be absolutely sure there’s no actual dog in the dogs, we’re not having them; and the same goes for, well, anything we eat, which is one of the thousands of reasons we don’t eat at fast food restaurants (and never have; in the 13 years J. and I have known one another, I can recall exactly one instance in which we ate fast food together, and that was out of sheer desperation).  Naively, I somehow thought that our general practice of leading by example and just not exposing the kids to these items would buy us some time, during which they’d be pure and innocent and not realize that their eating habits were so radically different from those of many of the other kids they know.

Snort.

Yes, fine, those of you who are wiser and more seasoned parents are by now laughing at me and my dewy-eyed idealism.  No need.  I’ve experienced the ice water dousing that is reality, and it comes in the form of Pre-Kindergarten.

Three instances this week (THREE!  In one week alone!) have convinced me that L. is now firmly planted in the world of the big kids, where peers hold more sway than Mom and Dad would like, and where he’s suddenly achieved the recognition that not everybody brings roasted broccoli and unsweetened banana chips in their lunchboxes.  First, as if by some fated act of revenge for my constant mocking of them over the years, came the chicken nuggets.

“So-and-so had chicken nuggets in her lunch today,” he announced to me, wide-eyed.
“Did she?” I asked. 
“I didn’t,” he replied, with the look I’ve come to recognize means he’s feeling out his territory before making a request he thinks I may not like.
“No,” I said.  “You didn’t.  But you had chicken FINGERS, right?  That’s almost the same thing.”  (He’d brought some of our ever-popular No Fuss chicken fingers to school that day.)
Pause.  “But Mommy,” he said.  “Chicken nuggets could be really yummy too, right?”

Sigh.  Enter Mommy’s handy talking points about how some kids eat chicken nuggets, and some kids eat chicken fingers; and some kids eat ones that are made at home, while other kids eat ones that come from boxes or from fast-food restaurants.  How our chicken fingers are a yummy choice that’s also good for your body, and Mommy and Daddy don’t think chicken nuggets are a very good healthy choice.  (The whole time, by the way, I was just praying that he doesn’t repeat all of this to his friends, offending them and their parents and alienating the entire lunch table.)

“Kid Food” crisis #1 averted.  Round Two was only 24 hours later, however, and came when I least expected it.  I was sitting in the living room with L. after dinner and asking him what kind of special activity we should do with Daddy for Father’s Day.  Where, I asked, did L. think we might go together?

“How about McDonald’s?” my beautiful, loving, undoctrinated, un-Mcbrainwashed child suggested.
WHAT?
I was actually speechless for a second.  Seeing my face, L. continued, “McDonald’s is a kind of restaurant where you go to get treat foods, right, Mom?”
Um.  Yes.  Clearing of throat.  “Yes,” I said.  “But not really GOOD treat foods.  Not treat foods like we like to eat.”
J., having heard L. utter the dreaded McWord, came in and rescued me.  “L.,” he said, quite reasonably. “McDonald’s sells things like cheeseburgers and french fries.  But their cheeseburgers are not the kind that taste very good or are good for your body, and Mommy and Daddy would much rather give you good cheeseburgers.  If that’s something you’d like to do, we will be happy to take you to another restaurant and eat burgers with you.”
L., pacified by the prospect of a cheeseburger in any case, subsided; but I knew he was puzzled.  Surely he has heard about McDonald’s from his friends (possibly the same ones who handed out the Killer Valentines), and obviously at age 4 his understanding of our general food values does not yet extend to issues like meat sourcing and the takeover of the American food system by the fast-food industry giants.  Yet.

Finally, just as I was wiping the sweat from my brow and feeling grateful that we’d handled — at least for the moment — these sticky subjects of Why L. and P. Do Not Eat Like Other Folk, there came the mention of the class party.  I’m fuzzy on the details, but my Pre-K informant tells me that the class is working on kindness to others in exchange for stickers on a chart; when they earn 10 stickers, they’ll get to have a party together.  There was a vote taken: Pizza Party, Ice Cream Party, or Hot Dog Party.

Setting aside the general issues that could be raised about such a reward being offered in the first place, I was at least hoping that the ice cream party had won.  Call me crazy, but I sort of feel like it’s the least of the evils — sugary, yes, but I’ve seen the brands the school has purchased in the past, and they’re likely to have somewhat less garbage in them than take-out pizza or (shudder) hot dogs.  Plus, whereas the pizza or dogs would overtake L.’s entire lunch, with the ice cream party, I can at least send something extra-healthy for him to eat to try to balance out the dessert.

“Which party won?” I asked him, mentally crossing my fingers.
“Ice cream,” he said.  “But you know what?  N. voted for pizza.”
“That’s too bad that her vote lost,” I said.  “But she’ll have pizza another time, don’t you think?”
“And know what, Mommy?  S. voted for ice cream.”
“Oh, good,” I said.  “How many people voted for ice cream?”
“Eleven.  But I voted for hot dogs.”

That THUNK you just heard was the bottom dropping out of my reality.  J. and I caught each others’ eyes across the kitchen; his expression was probably a good mirror of my own, given the mixture of confusion and horror on his face.

Yes, my child — my non-dog-eating child — voted for hot dogs.  No, I don’t know why.  Obviously I’m just thrilled that the democratic process took care of the issue for me.  L., upon questioning, didn’t even seem to know why he’d voted for the dogs; he didn’t, frankly, seem concerned about the outcome either way.

J. and I have a theory, though, or rather two theories.  The first is that on the rare occasions when we’ve cooked up some kielbasa or some other hot-dog-like meat, L. has called it “hot dogs,” and we have not corrected him.  He may have been voting for the dogs because he was thinking of the food he’s had at home, in which case, it’s probably time for us to move towards more Truth In Advertising at mealtimes.  The other theory, which I’m less crazy about (but which seems plausible) is that L. has recognized the fact that he gets to eat pizza at home; he gets to have ice cream on special occasions; but he almost NEVER gets anywhere close to a hot dog. 

Did he vote that way because he was interested in having a food experience at school that he knows won’t likely be offered at home?  Did he vote that way because perhaps a little friend’s choice also influenced his?  Or did he, like many 4-year-olds, just act on a whim and not really think about it?  I can’t be sure.  And while it doesn’t really bother me, no matter what the underlying truth is — if he’s going to start to try to assert his autonomy as an eater this way, then it’s a developmental stage we’ll have to live with — it does bring to mind the larger issue.

His world, both food-related and otherwise, is rapidly becoming less and less within our influence, and more and more within the influence of the rest of society.  And out there, it’s a Kids Eat Dogs World, whether we like it or not.  I knew this day was coming.  I just didn’t think — darn it all — that was going to come quite so soon, nor in an artificial casing.

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8 Responses to It’s a Kids Eat Dogs World

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  3. TB says:

    Aaahhh, I just want to stop and be thankful that you are blazing this trail ahead of me. I will be tucking this away for when my time comes (my little guy is only 19 months). I also want to commend you for not wanting to rub it in the faces of the other children/parents.

    • Glad I can be of service! 😉 Yeah, there’s no sense in my book in wanting to make a big fuss about what other people are eating or feeding their kids, other than in the abstract, cultural sense. I know we all make choices, and the fact that other peoples’ choices are different from mine is part of what makes the world go ’round. i just wish fewer of the really junky food options were available, overall; and I wish more people would find the opportunity to become more educated about our food supply. That’s all. I’ll do what I can to further that effort, but hopefully without judging or mocking people or making them feel bad just so I can prove a point.

  4. James says:

    Ahem… *steps up on a handy soap box*

    Seeing as how everybody always badgers me about the fact that I don’t like fish, even as a grown adult, but that despite my food decision we’ve been introducing our boys to fish when the opportunity present itself, I think this is a moment where you can stretch yourself as a parent.

    YOU don’t like hot dogs, in whatever form they may come in (healthy or not), and from this post it seems that you generally avoid most sausage-esque meat products. Perhaps you need to bend a little, expand your healthy foods research to include some new food items. So you don’t like hot dogs? Maybe you buy some Whole Food organic-grassfed-no-preservative-low-salt-filler-free-etc-et-al brats or grilling sausages, as well as some frankfurters (the original hot dog). Make it a summertime grilling treat or something, and let the boys decide whether they like the fancier sausages or the still-relatively-healthy-but-ordinary hot dogs.

    Besides, it’s baseball season and nothing goes better with baseball than a good hot dog or grilled sausage…

    • Hi James — thanks for bringing your soapbox! Respectfully, however, I must disagree with you that your dislike of fish and my disdain for hot dogs are comparable or should be treated the same way.
      Fish is a healthy food item; if you don’t like it and you don’t want to eat it, that’s fine, but it’s on the spectrum of things that could be beneficial for your kids to eat. It’s got a lot of health benefits and is worth letting them taste for that reason alone. Hot dogs, however, are junk food. I don’t dislike them because of their TASTE; while I don’t love the taste of hot dogs, I don’t object to it, either, and I’d eat one if it were served to me at a barbecue. My objection to the hot dog is its general composition. And there is NO redeeming health or nutritional value to a conventional hot dog, so unlike your fish analogy, there’s no reason for me to give one to my kids. If I said I didn’t like Cool Ranch Doritos and therefore didn’t plan to give them to my boys, you’d probably not give that a second thought, because there’s not good reason to feel like a child has to be exposed to Cool Ranch Doritos. This is a CULTURAL perspective shift that needs to be made; and you’ve neatly proven my point that we give hot dogs to children because we expect that children should eat hot dogs, not because we think they’re a good choice.
      This is not about letting him try one, either. As I mentioned in the post, we do occasionally eat kielbasa or something similar; we’ve even had brats once or twice. So as far as the kids are concerned, they’ve had hot dogs. And if they want to eat a hot dog at someone else’s house, or at a party, that’s fine. I’ll let them try hot dogs elsewhere. I just don’t feel the need to be their junk food supplier, whereas in your case, you’re talking about finding opportunities to expose your children to a food item that is potentially quite good for them. That’s the distinction I see.

  5. Justin says:

    It sounds a lot to me like L. is maybe just at that age where he’s wanting to: a) Experience different types of foods that he’s heard about but not tried and; b) Maybe…just a touch…wanting to do what the other kids are doing. But probably more A than B. From what you’ve been telling us, he’s been asking lots of food questions and experimenting with his taste buds lately. Unfortunately, while you may approve of his request to try something like borscht, you may not approve of his request to try an average hot dog or a McBurger.

    Personally, I don’t think I’d choose to deny the request outright if I were in your shoes. My thought is that if you outright withhold bad foods from him, he’s more likely to rebel and try them when he has the chance to and you’re not around. Instead, I think I’d try to use it as a teaching moment as best as I could. I’d find some kid-friendly way to compare the good choice with the bad choice, explaining why one is better than the other. I’d then offer the chance to sample it–maybe even side-by side. If you’ve trained his taste buds as well as I suspect you have, he’ll immediately be able to see and taste the difference between a Big Mac and Mom’s grass-fed quarter pounder with artisan cheese.

    The hot dog is an odd one, I’ll admit. Maybe your best bet is to compare it to an “artisan” smoked sausage (it IS a sausage, after all) but explain that hot dogs are not always made with the best ingredients and that it takes harmful chemicals to keep them that rosy pink color.

    To me, it’s important to teach kids as early as possible that we all get to make choices in life and that choices have consequences (in this case, health consequences). You set a good example by making good choices for you and for them, but at some point, when they start trying to make their own choices or start questioning yours, I think you have to sort of experiment with letting them make their own choices when it’s safe enough to do so–arming them with the info you had when you made the choice. Do you say, “Fine. Eat whatever you want…??” Absolutely not. But saying, “Here’s why our family chooses not to eat that, and then allowing them to have the same experience themselves, at least once, is a good educational experience, IMHO. The chances are that he’ll probably come to the same conclusion you have–that the food doesn’t taste very good and isn’t worth the health risks. If he doesn’t, then you pull out the, “because I’m your parent and I said so,” card and hope he gets over it by the time he’s old enough to drive his own butt through the golden arches. 😉

    • Hi Justin. Thanks for commenting!
      I think you’re right — he is experimenting right now, not just with food, but with a lot of things. He’s really trying to become an individual and make his own decisions about preferences and so forth, so this is not totally surprising. And while I agree with you about denying kids things outright and causing a later rebellion, I have to say that I’m not sure this is the moment (nor the battle to choose).
      As far as the hot dogs go, I’m fairly sure he’ll have plenty of opportunities, possibly even soon (with summer and barbecues coming), to try a conventional hot dog, and if that is something he wants to do, I will certainly not stand in his way. We will continue to discuss with him at home why we don’t really eat hot dogs in our house, but I know they’ll be served to him plenty of times in his life, and I’m not going to jump in front of that particular train. However, as far as the McDonald’s request goes, I don’t think we’ll be doing a side-by-side taste test anytime soon. I suspect he was more trying to feel me out as to what McDonald’s really IS and what all the fuss is about amongst his friends; unless it comes up again, I’m planning to let the matter drop until he’s older and can really appreciate the lesson.

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