Sunday, March 20, 2011

We are what we feed? Kids, Taste, Nutrition, et al…

Back when we were growing up, whenever my mom wanted to steal some of our food with impunity (I guess she was above the “Because I’m your mom” defense…), she would always tell us she wanted to test our food to see if it was poisoned. My nephew, while attending an affluent nursery school in Manhattan, routinely tried the same trick on his hapless peers who regularly brought their chef -parents’ sushi and other delicacies in their lunchboxes. Only, unfortunately, the teachers in charge didn’t quite have my family’s sense of humor and mistook his grubbing tendencies for an actual fear of death. We all got some good laughs out of that one.

But I am easily provoked by food. Last month’s “Anti-Foodie” article in The Atlantic and recent comments by a friend have raised some big questions for me about what we feed our kids: at home, and in their lunchboxes. While the Atlantic article focused on our cultural fixation with upscale food I can witness to the fact that “trash food” is equally kicking in other circles that I am equally likely to frequent (By trash I mean processed things that have, in all likelihood, need never have been touched by human hands directly). My friend Maria works in a VERY upscale private school with a clear educational mission and a program for 2-year olds. She noted that the kids whose parents are foreign always have such “nice food” while the American kids tend to have bad stuff in their lunchboxes. Pressed further by Inquiring Mom, she explained that the foreigners tend to have leftovers for lunch: fish, meat, rice and so forth, while the Americans are more likely to have Lunchables. What’s striking to me about this is that it betrays a fundamental question of importance: the majority of the moms at this school are not financially challenged. And while they may be pressed for time, their financial situation generally means that they have nannies or other helpers who could assist them with making food for their kids if that were a priority on any level. But clearly, it’s not.

Why don’t they—we—care? And what should we care about when it comes to our kids’ food? For those of us with more than one child, and whose resources are more seriously limited than the parents at my friend’s school, there are competing interests:

1) Speed (Food that’s quick and easy to prepare)

2) Appeal (Food that kids will eat happily)

3) Affordability (Food that, uh, we can afford)

4) Healthy choices (Food that’s good for kids)

5) Affection (Food that shows love --this may sound dumb and peripheral as a category, but how else do you explain sandwiches cut into heart shapes?)

What’s absent from this list, naturally, is “sophisticated” food, though I am definitely in favor of trying to expands our kids’ horizons with food. It’s good to teach them to be open to life via their mouths as well as their hearts and minds. I’m torn on how to prioritize the list, though. I want to show my children that I love them in the kind of food I give them, both in quality and kind, but the realities of time and money put some serious constraints on all of us.

Here’s where I’ve come down on lunchbox food: I try to give a) something decent but easy and affordable: chicken noodle soup/ simple sandwich/pasta with butter and cheese b) some easy fruit or veggie (baby carrots/applesauce/Clementine orange and c) some small treat: “fruit” snacks/ small chocolate bar/ pudding.

At home, my mission is bigger…but more on that later!


  1. My mother made me a "butter sandwich" (really just a buttered potato roll) and put a pack of gushers in my ninja turtle lunch box every day from kindergarten to 5th grade. After that, she gave me around 10$ a week (sometimes more, sometimes less) from 6th grade through 12th grade. During that time, I pocketed around 80-90% of it and put it straight into a bank account. I rarely treated myself to any special gifts -- besides the occasional "Yankees ****" shirt on ebay.

    When I walked onto Villanova's campus, after getting my hands dirty in a few different jobs and not eating lunch for most of my life, I had a nice beer fund freshmen and sophomore year. Probably explains why I have gained more than 40 pounds in college.

    So you can cut your daughters' sandwiches anyway you like, but hopefully PDC is thinking towards the future and makes a quick buck off those lunchables and snackpacks.

    For a guy that enjoys living in the moment, curbing my appetite for a few extra hours paid off huge.

  2. Hey I like your new springtime look!

    This posting makes me think of how much I like 'Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution.'
    Have you seen it? I've long been a fan of his but I especially admire this new one-chef battle he's launched regarding just what you speak of here--children's relationship to good food.
    I admire the fact that Oliver's had an enormous impact on the nutritional value of school lunches all over England in addition to his willingness to face adversity (and sometimes hostility) when he first comes into contact with a new community. I find him very respectful and compassionate in his mission. Of course I realize that he likely gets a hefty paycheck for his efforts but he could just easily continue to make a very good living with more cookbooks and regular cooking shows and not bother with the headaches he must experience with this current program.
    If you haven't already seen, check it out!