Infuse Your Inner Ila
Carving cucumbers into caterpillars and making sockets for raisin eyes just wasn't cutting it. I wished to plant genuine-veggie-appreciation in my children but it seemed to be an ongoing battle. It had to be...fun, so I turned to "Ila."
“Ila” as the grandkids call her, is my dad’s wife and she has a way of turning every task into a delight. As a stay-at-home mother of three in the 70s, Pam was a self-professed slob and wrote Sidetracked Home Executives: From Pigpen to Paradise," leading her to appearances on the Today Show, Live with Regis, and Oprah. Housework became manageable as she infused her mantra, “Make it fun and it will get done.”
It was time to infuse my inner-Ila to tackle the reputation of veggies. This process had to be fun or it wasn’t going to happen at all. Over time, we found our own path. Here are our favorite four tips-turned-into-good-times from the parenting toolbox.
Hey Kiddo, What Do YOU Think?
As meat portions diminished in our family and farm veggie choices flourished, my most effective parenting tool was taste testing. We all grabbed chunky crayons and rated foods using a color-coded system. Purple meant the new veggie was fine. Red indicated it was tasty, while green celebrated “more please!” (Notice the strategically missing option for “yuck?”) Flattered and excited to have their thoughts count, my children colored their way through farm stand food from May to October. Recommend for ages 2-to-spouse.
Compare and Contrast
We had just as much fun with an assortment of organic popcorn and local honey—ten varieties of kernels ranging from burnt umber, black, and baby white; and mini honey jars collected from various locations, both gifts from my brother. We sampled and compared the subtle differences in each honey and hypothesized whether the color of the popcorn affected the flavor once popped. Which one? Why? Did you know popcorn kernels could be red? This theory requires a little planning but applies to endless food families! (Bonus: Great gift ideas!)
As our family redefined what constituted a “treat,” it became a treat to let the kids choose one item at the farm stand without any conditions from me. Evidently, freedom of choice goes a long way when you are less than four feet tall, and my kids were more likely to enjoy the veggie than if ol’ Mom had picked it out for them.
We admired the farm-stand heirloom vegetables with their odd shapes and variety of colors not found in the grocery store. Welcoming their uniqueness, we modified names of some of the new-to-us-foods—christening the dangling edamame peapods “who’s-your-mommy beans.”
Growing a garden? Well, it is just playing in dirt. Only better. Grocery stores, farm stands, salad bars, build your owns nights....its all about asserting that freedom of choice.
On the Road?
Our summer road trips used to be synonymous with fast food. From Wyoming to Washington, my family was always one game piece short of winning a Subway Scrabble or McDonald’s Monopoly game. We found most meals spur-of-the-moment: convenient, cheap, and not a bit healthy. We would drive in and out to stay on schedule and arrive at our destination on time. Now, I was in quite a predicament with my newfangled thoughts on life. I had to change up our game plan and use online tools to create a list of potential green or organic restaurants for fresh, regional food en route. My own little “Food-ers” Travel Guide, if you will.
My family fell in love with flat bread pizza in Portland, Maine, topped with sundried tomatoes, locally grown baby spinach, and organic caramelized onions. Tentatively, we tried catfish on the outskirts of San Antonio, and it was a hands-down winner. The grass-fed hamburgers we enjoyed lakeside in Jackson Hole, Wyoming were unbelievable. Fabulous food is now part of our road trip destinations. The sense of exploration entices my kids to gladly abandon boxed meals served with toys. Now we shake our heads and chuckle, “What were we in such a hurry for in the first place?”
Then, They Fly.
This is what I had to do. My kids had to experience involvement in order to appreciate genuine food. By infusing Pam’s mantra “Make it fun and it will get done” into my attempt to change our family’s eating habits, we shared the responsibility, and we grew together. Farm fresh foods were now images of summer to my kids—just as much as the neighbor’s swimming pool.
Turns out, younger generations are empowered little humans. Born into the green revolution, they reduce, reuse, recycle, and celebrate with understanding. They embrace these ideas unabashedly. Somewhere deep in their DNA, far from marketers’ reach, they, too, understand.
In two weeks from today, I send one of those little children of mine off to college. This summer? He read The China Study, explored the foodie culture of Salt Spring Island in Canada and chose to become a vegetarian. He is developing a thoughtful food philosophy of his own. I like that. Especially when we are just working on our own as adults.
It warms my heart to envision him leaving his dorm room on a September Saturday mid morning (okay, afternoon) sporting tousled hair and slides, and walking to the local Farmer's Market to nibble and peruse, having a little fun along the way.
Raising kids? It can be done.
(Adapted and updated from an excerpt of Little Changes.)
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