Want Kids To Eat Their Dinner? Try This.
This is a guest post from Lynn Brunelle, mom of two, author, and Emmy Award-winning writer for Bill Nye the Science Guy. It's an excerpt from her new book Mama Gone Geek: Calling on My Inner Science Nerd to Help Navigate the Ups and Downs of Parenthood.
Are you prepared? I wasn't. These questions caught me off guard and each one made my antiperspirant fail. But an old friend bailed me out again and again. My old friend, science.
For others, like me, re-discovering science has been a game-changer. And when it comes to parenting, it can be magical. When I brought my geeky passion for science into my parenting, it began to make all the difference to me and my kids.
I've found this can be especially helpful at dinner when my kids ask: "Wait a minute, I'm eating what?"
My illuminated geeky parent answer: "You are eating sunshine!"
When our two boys were little, they ate everything. They loved salmon and avocado and broccoli, kale, mango, squash, and quinoa. I had my momentary feeling of smugness and superiority as a mama-of-the-year.
My lesson (the one I keep learning): Don't ever feel smug or superior when it comes to anything, because the tide always turns. Always! Was he three or four when Kai suddenly stopped eating cold sesame noodles, seaweed, kiwi and blueberries? I can't remember. What I recall is the sudden change. He began to notice color and pick out molecules of the offending pigment, hold them up to me like an accusation.
I decided to turn it into a color game. "Eat your rainbow!" I warbled. "RedOrangeYellowBlueGreenViolet! ROY G. BIV is coming for dinner! Rainbow Roy! Let's eat him up!"
This so didn't even begin to work. Kai cried and said he'd never eat a rainbow because that would make him sad. I tried to tell him the happiness of the rainbow would get inside and make him happy if he ate it. He asked if he could eat crayons instead.
We tried the whole get-the-kids-interested-in-gardening-and-they-will-learn-to-love-real-food-because-they're-invested thing. Nope. We planted everything from kohlrabi and rutabagas to carrots and lettuce. They liked growing things. It was fun. They loved the seeds, the sprouts and the watering. But when it came to harvest time, both of them expressed horror that carrots were actually down there in the dirt, next to worms and bugs. They handily put two and two together and deduced that soil was also probably where worms and bugs pooped. Therefore, carrots were actually worm poop.
When they discovered where eggs actually came out of in a chicken that was the end of morning scrambles. What would they do when they learned that chicken was actually chicken?
Leo, our youngest, asked one day when we were eating chicken enchiladas.
"Where does chicken come from?"
"It's actually a chicken."
His eyes grew huge. "What?!"
"Yup. The chickens that walk around and lay eggs and cluck and all that are raised by humans and cared for and when it's time, they are eaten."
"Wait just a minute! I'm eating what!? I am actually eating the body of a chicken?!"
I held firm. "It lived a good life . . ."
"Oh Mom, don't! I can't know about this chicken! Was his name Fred? Did he have friends? Did he do tricks?"
Both Kai and Leo spit out their enchiladas. They looked at me in horror.
"OK, boys. I understand what you're feeling. It's kind of weird. But as human beings, we depend on other species for food, so our bodies can grow and stay healthy. Everything is made up of molecules, and we need to keep putting molecules in our bodies to survive. We're just reorganizing the molecules. It's a fact of life. Every animal eats something."
"Like what? What did this poor chicken eat?"
"Truthfully? Scraps and grains and bugs . . ."
I pressed on. I ate my enchilada as an example. I believed I could weather this if I stayed calm.
"Mmmm, this is good."
They both yelled, "Mom!"
"Some animals eat only meat—only the flesh of other animals. Like the dogs and the cats. They're carnivores."
"Mom they eat pellets. Brown pellets." "I know, love. Those pellets are made of meat."
"I will never look at Oggy the same way again," Kai sighed and glanced at Oggy, who wagged his tail.
"And some animals eat plants."
"And worm poop."
"And what do plants eat?"
"Good question. They make their own food. They use the sun and the soil and they make sugars."
"So plants eat sunshine?"
"In a way, yes. I kind of like that idea."
"Well, that's what I want to eat, too."
OK, now we were getting somewhere.
"I can? How?"
"By eating your veggies and fruits and chicken and grains and all the yummy stuff I put in front of you every day. Everything comes from sunshine."
"How about ice cream?"
"Yup. Sunshine. Made of milk which comes from cows that eat grass which makes its food from sunshine."
A game. This could work.
"M&Ms!" Leo burst out, a grin on his face. Kai smiled, too.
"Chocolate comes from cacao, which is a tree. The tree uses sun to make sugars."
"Tricky. The crust comes from wheat, which is a plant—the plant uses sun. Tomato sauce—tomatoes are plants. Cheese, milk, cow, grass, sun."
"How about pepperoni?"
"Comes from a pig . . ."
"The pig eats corn and the corn is a plant and the plant gets energy from sunshine. See?"
They were silent.
"We eat stuff. We eat plants and animals. We're not heartless about it, boys. If we feel thankful to the plants and animals, that's good, right?"
"Come on—who wants a bowl of sunshine?"
"Heath Bar Crunch?"
Try this—Trace it back. Next time you're at the dinner table play "Trace it Back" and see if you can trace everything on their plates back to the Sun.
From Mama Gone Geek by Lynn Brunelle, © 2014 by Lynn Brunelle. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, MA. www.roostbooks.com