Adventures in Eating
You’re fried from work, your child is cranky, you’re both starved and looking at imminent meal meltdown. This is not the kind of eating adventure you’d imagined having with your child. You wave the white flag, take the path of least resistance, and go for quick and kid-pleasing or what author Matthew Amster-Burton calls “the McNugget route.”
“We assume the worst about kids,” says Susan Levin of Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. “We say, my kid won’t eat anything but chicken fingers, French fries and pizza. We aren’t giving them a chance to taste healthy foods.”
Amster-Burton doesn’t demand his daughter eat anything, healthful or otherwise, but he exposes her to new and varied foods, foods from every culture. “As a parent, it’s my responsibility to make sure Iris gets food. Any amount of it that goes down her is up to her,” says the author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater.
Iris Amster-Burton, now seven, has eaten chili enchiladas, mushroom frittatas and pad thai. She helps make blueberry buckwheat pancakes and homemade pretzels. At the moment, her favorite dishes include fried rice, gyoza (Japanese dumplings) and cake. Her father is not interested in raising a vegetarian, he is raising his daughter to have an adventurous and informed palate.
Hungry Monkey shows how giving your child a whole range of foods offers opportunities for great eats and for what the parenting blogs call bonding. Amster-Burton is a big proponent of the shared family meal.“The whole family eating the same dinner, that makes me happy as a cook and as an eater,” he says.
Caving and going the McNugget route may keep the peace at dinnertime, but there’s a difference, Amster-Burton notes, between a peaceful meal and a pleasurable one.
Sometimes the path of least resistance turns out to take you where you don’t want to go. Going the McNugget route also means you’re helping to keep the industrial food system – the same system behind the recent egg and beef recalls – run smoother than ever. Industrial food is about churning out maximum product at minimal cost. It’s good business. It is not, however, good – or safe – food policy.
Salmonella and its toxic bro E. coli existed before industrial food. But now, with food both centralized and mass-produced, by the time we determine the source of contamination, whoops, it’s too late, it’s national, it’s everywhere. It can be fatal for us and it’s never good for the animals. The chickens that go into those McNuggets are raised in ways that might make your child cry. It might make you cry, too. This is not the most ethical food out there. Nor is the the only food.
You have parent creds, use ‘em. “It’s up to you to give your child the best possible options,” says Levin.
Amster-Burton prefers doing that in the most hedonistic way, by taking Iris on food safaris as close as their local farmers market and as far-flung as Japan – that’s where she developed her gyoza weakness. It’s a happy instance when being a (groan) responsible parent is a good time, too. Not every food will be a winner. Iris is, at the moment, anti-carrot. That still leaves a world of flavors and foods to discover without going the McNugget route.
“We eat more vegetables now than before Iris was born,”says Amster-Burton. “She’s helped me reacquaint with food as an adventure.”
- Here’s Ellen’s recipe for Korean Japchae.
- See more of Ellen’s Meatless Monday Musings on VegKitchen.
Ellen Kanner is the Huffington Post’s Meatless Monday blogger, the syndicated columnist The Edgy Veggie, and contributor to publications including Culinate, Bon Appetit, and Every Day With Rachael Ray as well as her own blog.