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Beets for preschoolers and other good vegetable-y things

It was Citymama herself who cooked up the fresh goodies at the preschool where Everett began his tenure (until she, sadly, moved away to California). Watching small children eat pasta with eggplant tomato sauce or steamed green beans or little hummus cucumber sandwiches is so affirming it made tears come to my eyes. ("They like it. They really LIKE it!") Later, I would birth a baby who would eat carrot greens out of my farmer's market bag, raspberries right off the bushes outside, and salmon salad sandwiches with fresh onions and yogurt-chive dressing (that was today).

Last month, I went to a culinary conference in Austin. There, my friend Michelle (this friend!) organized a visit to a charter school at the University of Texas where grade school-aged kids had grown and learned to cook vegetables from a garden right behind the school. The presenters asked the kids what they had learned to love that they never would have tried before. "Sorrel," said one (!!). The next four kids picked "brussels sprouts."

So when I saw the FOODday piece by Leslie Cole in this week's Oregonian, "Taking a Fresh Approach to Daycare Meals That Kids Will Actually Eat," I squealed a bit. One-year-olds at ChildRoots eating beets, black beans, and steamed grains. Preschoolers at Maryam's Preschool eating Persian rice and vegetables. Parents thrilled... but not really doing anything nearly like this at home.

After having made some mistakes and some total victories with my own kids (and having the sort of child who has a totally unique set of likes and dislikes -- my middle son, Truman, will only eat dried fruit, and only carrots if he can see the vegetable, though he will happily eat grilled fish or sardines or pate, straight), I can say that it's not just exposing kids to a variety of freshly-prepared healthy foods that aren't hidden in other things that is important in developing healthy eating habits; but also maintaining, as much as possible, a food environment in which unhealthy choices are severely limited. It's just a fact: if there is soda in the house, my kids will drink it (same for energy drinks and prepared chocolate milk etc. etc.). If candy is offered right before lunchtime, they'll eat that and skip the salmon-salad sandwiches. If even such a mildly unhealthy choice as Trader Joe's breakfast bars or those sugary yogurt tubes (even the organic ones are pretty high-sugar and TJ's bars have less whole grains and more sugar than I prefer for the kids to have), they'll disappear before the whole-grain scones I made are even touched.

This piece is fantastic inspiration to keep me offering fresh peas and cherries instead of Starbucks treats and yogurt squeezers. I love that more preschools and elementary schools are offering kids whole grains and fresh vegetables prepared in delicious and visible ways (no wink-wink hiding black beans in brownies). I think parents (and here I include my own thoroughly fallible self) could do a better job of supporting these institutional chefs by putting a variety of recognizable vegetables and fruits and whole grains in front of our kids and keep the packaged snack food and sugary treats and breakfast food out of our cupboards. Not every child is going to become a brussels sprout and quinoa lover. But we should give them lots, and lots, and lots of chances -- and they just might end up surprising us.


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Speaking as a mom who does put an occasional yogurt squeezer in the lunch bag: what is it with this food obsession and judgment in Portland? Don't we have better things to worry about...like whether poor kids get health care, or dentistry, or the lead paint taken out of their houses? Saying it is important where "unhealthy choices are severely limited" sounds just plain extremist. Today's unhealthy choice is tomorrow's scientific mea culpa....a few years ago we thought margarine ruled. Now it is butter. Bottled water was the choice....now we realize the plastic was bad. Eggs were rife with cholesterol...oh wait now they are trendy, provided they come from a politically correct chicken laying eggs in someone's backyard. It is like a trend race where a parent can't keep up with those who are holier than thou.

Personally I think this bragging about how your kids eat salmon burgers to be classist and egotistical. How many parents can afford to feed their kids salmon burgers? Lets talk about ways to stop judging each other and tackling the big problems, like the million kids in foster care or how kids walk around with giant rotting cavities because they can't afford dentists. Or how learning disabled poor kids can't get glasses. More than that, we need to stop using food as a classicist and narcissist form of identity and obsession. Rather than articles about how financially secure parents feed their kids, how about the Oregonian actually runs articles that represent a true cross-section of our community, including those families may chose to help their communities rather than focus on what they put in their kid's mouths? Lets talk about how, yes, there might be values greater than what your kids eats or poops.

I hear the above commentor's frustration with focus on food, but I have to say that it IS important to feed our kids well! Obesity in this country is an epidemic that causes any number of health problems. But we also cannot just blame parents, as we are often overworked, underpaid, and undereducated ourselves on nutrition. We need to continue to focus on policy changes that give us easier and cheaper access to fresh, healthy foods. Many people in poorer areas do not even have access to foods, as their local "market" is a convenience store. And crappy foods are often times cheaper, because of our national food policies. I think we should be PROUD of Portland as a frontrunner in healthy food options for all people and keep working toward this goal together, instead of turning it into an "us or thou" argument.

I think if you severly limit choice then you don't provide opportunities to guide your children on the making of good choices. There is nothing wrong with treats in moderation and by having them available and not as some unattainable taboo you can help your children to navigate the real world which will include making food choices when you are not there to monitor. It has been my experience as both a child and a parent that when you are authoritarian about food you create children who sneak and lie about it and who do not develop the inner locus of control needed to partake in moderation. My children have friends whose parents are strict about food in the way this article advocates and they are the ones who will sit and eat the entire bowl of Doritos at the sleepover when the other kids have a few and then move on. One girl whose parents were the strictest about food I found in the kitchen at 4 am stuffing cookies. I am a huge advocate for eating healthy but I think that when you become restrictive and controlling not no mention shaming about food you set up a dangerous dynamic. Obesity is certainly a problem in this country but so are eating disorders and often the mothers I know who are food obsessed are battling eating disorders of their own and creating the possibility for that in their children.

First, I'd like to say I really enjoyed this post. I like the title, too. And I like beets :).
For the above poster who asked, the "obsession" about healthy food is here because for a long time Americans have been obsessed with unhealthy, deep fried, highly processed, fast, corn derived... etc food that doesn't go bad if it sits in your cupboard for 2 years. It is just a small movement to balance things out. But we are still far from balancing it out, even in Portland.

At my daughter's daycare the children go to a farmers market and bring fruit and vegetables that are later served at meals. They eat quinoa and tofu among other things. I enjoy reading their weekly menus.

I don't think limiting choices is authoritarian or deprives kids of the ability to make choices. Nor do I think wanting to feed our kids decent food is elitist. (And by decent food, I don't mean salmon burgers, which I can't afford, either)

Soda doesn't enter my home. It just ain't coming in the door. (Nor do I purchase expensive all-organic fruit juice; my kids drink water.) And I don't think that will somehow render them unable to refrain from mainlining it as adults. I grew up without soda and I didn't do that. (On the opposite end of the spectrum, my husband grew up with coke at every meal. He doesn't drink the stuff now, but is slightly sickened, looking back.) My kids know that soda has no nutritional value and is packed with HFCS. (And - this is Portland, after all - they've seen King Corn). Breakfast bars and sugary yogurt tubes - what is the big deal with saying that these things are unhealthy? They are! I bake plenty of cake, we have ice cream and cookies; my kids are hardly deprived of treats. But processed "kids" food is substandard and most of us know it.

Perhaps the reason people get so heated about this issue is that unlike a lot of things (like access to dentistry and removal of lead paint), the food we serve to our individual kids is actually something most of us can control. And no, I don't think a ton of money is necessary to do that. (Although I'm aware of the barriers poor parents in "food deserts" face.) Peanut butter on a cracker is a cheap, healthy snack. So are carrots with hummus, or raisins, etc.. And I don't think it's bragging to say I feed my kids these cheap snacks (I'm far from rolling in the dough.) I understand that when kids get school/care lunches, the menu is out of parents' hands. But what our kids eat at home is generally not.

I completely agree with Ashley, both that policies making fresh healthy foods more affordable and accessible need to be enacted, AND that we should be proud of the focus on healthy food Portland is known for.

I share a lot of Rebecca's frustrations. So much is being written right now about feeding kids organic, whole foods, but they fail to acknowledge the real barriers families face to making this happen -cost, access, and time. My household is able to afford a CSA, but with both parents working, prepping, cooking & cleaning up after home cooked meals is just too exhausting a lot of the time. And, no, I don't want to spend all of Sunday cooking & freezing things. I feel like the new "radical homemaker," whole-foody stuff is creating unreasonable expectations for most families that does negatively judge moms in particular who aren't following along. Along with agitating for more healthy food, let's also organize for better pay, shorter work weeks, and the resources to make this lifestyle possible-along with health care for all, social security when we're old, and lead-free housing.

I am surprised that there seems to be anger towards advocating for better food for kids? I don't know who's responsible for choosing which order social issues should get resolved in. Do you start global, country, local government? I also think that nutrition for kids (and adults apparently?) should be put into the same bracket with the healthcare etc as preventative education because they are going to cost somebody a whole lot of money with higher cases of all sorts of lifelong issues (incl diabetes as noted in studies completed recently) that would have been preventable (and easier for them) if they started out right. Why is this not an important issue?

I am always striving to get us to eat healthy and I feel it actually saves us money when its done properly and it doesn't take any longer. There's loads of books of crockpot recipes, rice and beans with toppings is pretty quick, salad and toppings. mexican type foods and pasta are super fast, stir fries with noodles and /or rice. Plus, fresh fruit normally just needs to be rinsed, possiblye chopped before putting into a lunch bag. and some of these things kids can help with making it part of family time. Eating healthy
doesn't mean rich or fancy or time consuming. these are all misconceptions I think because it seems like it should be that hard and grease does taste good.

All right kiddo up from nap have to decide between fritos or a banana for afternoon snack-I kid!

I'm in no means the picture of perfect health, but shouldn't we all be trying at least?

"I can say that it's not just exposing kids to a variety of freshly-prepared healthy foods that aren't hidden in other things that is important in developing healthy eating habits; but also maintaining, as much as possible, a food environment in which unhealthy choices are severely limited."

It was this I disagreed with. I have raised two kids almost to adulthood and we 've always had a variety of foods available and with guidance they've learned to make good choices when faced with options. I don't see how severely limiting options and choices allows kids the opportunity to learn to navigate real world scenarios and to make good choices and understand moderation. Instead you create a dynamic of deprivation and shame/guilt where certain food is seen as 'bad' and that is truly unhealthy.

Tired mom, I guess I'm confused about what you would categorize as "severely limiting." I don't consider my "not-in-my-house" stance on soda (or twinkies, lunchables, doritos, hot dogs, sugary breakfast cereal, pop tarts and a host of other processed food) to be severe. It's the way I was raised and I've never felt guilt or shame around food, although I definitely consider certain foods to be bad (see above list). But that's because those foods *are* bad. I don't think it's unhealthy to view a lunchable as a bad thing. On the contrary.

This "we have better things to worry about" idea seems to be coming up a lot here lately. It's true, the world is filled with huge and critical problems, and we can worry about them all and maybe affect them to some extent. But at the same time, I expect a parenting website to discuss the day-to-day issues of family life - including what I should feed my family. These things may not approach the earthshaking magnitude of the debt crisis or the instability in the Middle East, but they aren't exactly beneath me, either.

I've had the pleasure of meeting and spending some time with Sarah who clearly wrote this piece. "Classist" and "egotistical" are two words that I would never use to describe her. She's passionate about food and some of us like to hear about it. I am still laughing about the intepretation of her "bragging about how her kids eat salmon burgers." What? Rebecca, you are the judgmental one here. Lighten up. Oh, and Costco has an excellent deal on pre cut wild Alaskan salmon filets. Cheaper than ground beef.

When your kid comes to my house, he gorges on forbidden treats like potato chips and cheeze its. Every time. Not just at birthday parties, every time he's here.

I cook every day for my family. I make the best choices at the supermarket that my budget allows. But I do think childhood should come with some sweetness. My kids have a sweet treat daily... whether that's a homemade cookie or a store bought one. They also eat lots of good foods like fresh fruits and veggies from the farmer's markets but they loathe other grains like quinoa and barley.

I do agree that some of the original post sounds class-cist and "holier than thou". Also, there's a fear of fat I notice in these posts. Kids often look tubby at 8 or 9 even if they will be thin adults. But I guess if you are a size four runner mom, that natural pudgy stage in your kid makes you nervous.

Getting our children to eat seasonally, locally, and moderately is a sensible goal. I think repitition is the key - isn't it something like 27 times you have to introduce a food to a child before s/he will be interested?

Like everything else, a good-intentions campaign often turns into competition among mothers. I can't tell you how many times mothers have bragged to me how their children love edamame, with the implication that it says something postitive about their parenting. Most of all, eating a variety of foods and modeling a love for food sets a good foundation. Also, we have to take the long view. I know many adults who were picky eaters as children and grew up into adventurous, healthy eaters.

I've said it here before and I'll say it again, we are a "everything in moderation" kind of family... I feel lucky that my budget allows for a mostly organic, often local diet that it is heavy on fresh produce, and that my kids enjoy eating a variety of things each day. I'm proud that they love broccoli and roasted brussel sprouts, but not nervous about the fact that they also love to visit Grandma's house because she keeps OREOS and Nutter Butters in her pantry...

What I gathered from Sarah's post that I really appreciate is that it's so important to expose our kids to a variety of foods and that it is our responsibility as parents to do that. I no longer live in Portland and sometimes I actually miss the elitist attitude toward food because what I find in my city is positively atrocious. The quantity of go-gurts and lunchables that I see in the lunch boxes at school is disturbing. I hosted a group of 12 moms one evening for dinner, serving roasted beet salad and butternut squash soup--not a fancy meal by any stretch, but it was made from scratch. The majority of gals said had never eaten a beet that was not from a can, and said they've never purchased a squash in their lives but they raved about the meal!

I'm concerned when I see people "dumb-down" their children's food options--they assume that their kids won't eat something as "exotic" as a roasted beet, so they serve carrots with ranch dressing instead. I'm tired of seeing nothing but Mac & Cheese and Chicken Nuggets on kids menus at restaurants. I add frozen spinach to my smoothies and pasta sauces, but my kids also eat sauteed spinach with parmesan and spinach salads. I think our country needs to start shopping the perimeter of the stores, preparing simple meals using whole foods, and eat together, as a family. Not expensive, not rocket science, not elitist.

the original article is enjoyable and supportive of feeding children healthy food. i appreciate the encouragement - sometimes it IS wearing to make the healthy choices consistently, when there are surprisingly terrible distractions all around. why is there hfcs in crackers? why is there anything in crackers other than flour, liquid and a few seasonings? the additives in processed foods have generally increased since we were children and i don't think filling up my child with them is a "treat". i don't mind if other parents don't feel comfortable purchasing or chopping up a few carrots, or think i'm elitist for planting a berry bush. i think feeding my child smaller amounts of healthy food is more important than offering her more frequent portions of highly processed food. i think feeding my child in a healthy and careful manner is a big deal - thank you for the write-up sarah!

Thanks Rachel for completely misrepresenting the divergent opinions offered and creating such a poorly constructed straw man.

I think that changing the way you eat is hard. In our family it has been and evolution of almost 5 years. We know if it comes in a package there is no nutritional value and there is nothing in it that will make us well. I have lost everyone in my family to cancer and we have made a commitment in our family to prevent illness if possible. We eat whole organic foods and for us we did have to think about cost so we chose to not have cable be part of our lives because we are committed to a life style of health. We gave up eating out and entertainment for farmers markets and having a relationship with the people that grow our foods. I enjoy that my son knows our farmers by names and visits the farm and has a connection where food comes from. If you think this is judgement you are missing the point. Everything costs something and everyone has the right to chose what that cost is to them. We make a choice or vote every time we support organic or local produce. We say no to cooperations that pay their employees in central america or where ever .50 cents and hour, and yes to farmers that pay real wages because that is also important to us. I actually believe that we can change our food system, healthcare, employment, and many other social issues if we actually get involved in what matters to us. After all we are talking about the food that gives us life. I am not against treats I love to bake. Eating real food is important and when it's simple, fast and fresh it tastes amazing. You might surprise yourself with what you can do. I work full-time too. It's too bad the point was missed in all this defensiveness. Our food matters, the people that grow our food matters. Cooperate mass produced food will not care when you get sick, they have no soul. If we support our local farmers we can change things. Every time we check out at the supermarket we all make a vote. For better or worse it means something.
Last point... What we also gained from this is that we bring in fresh vegetables from the garden, we cook together, we talk about our day, we all look forward to dinner time because we all connect at that time. That means so much more to me than anything I can tell you. You can judge me if you want but because of these changes, my life is full and I am connected to all the people in my life.
I think having a dialogue about food is important and you don't always have to agree but there is value in everyones experience.

Mom, i am sorry you are Tired. i represent my own views. possibly that is why they don't match up so neatly with the rest. the point isn't to provoke guilt or ire. there IS a working class audience for sarah's post. we do not all have the same tastes or make the same choices.

I've read that it takes a kid an average of 11 times of trying a new food to like it. It's been awhile, so that estimate could be a bit off, maybe it was 7, but it was way more times that I had ever previously tried to get my kids to eat something new like beets.
For me the gist of this article was to keep trying to introduce varied, healthy foods to your kids. Nothing wrong with that.
Also that it's awesome that more schools are introducing healthier options for kids. That, too, is great and to be celebrated. PPS has been trying to offer healthier, more local options and I always try to have my son buy lunch on those days to support this.
ChildRoots is a terrific daycare. It also costs in the neighborhood of $1000-1200/month. That's not an option for many of us. The Y, where my daughter goes to preschool, cannot afford to buy and prepare the same types of food (organic food) as a place like Child Roots, and still keep their rates affordable. I'd love to see some grants and/or subsidizing the meal plans at daycares that serve a lower-income population.

I loved it. My photo did not look as pretty as yours so I'm not sure if I should blog about it or not. I used the whole pound of orecchiette so I should have added another egg.

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