When the girls believe they’ve picked the largest strawberry of the day, they yell, “JACKPOT!”, which usually catches on, and across the picking patch, we hear kids around us yelling, “Jackpot! I got the big one!”
Addressing food literacy (or illiteracy, as the case may be) is uncomfortable for many parents in my Generation (X). Many of us were raised by working Mothers who were told they could have it all. The trade-off in this “world of all” often occurred at the dinner table, and subsequently, in the processed foods which began filling the grocery store aisles. I have clear memories of my Mother dragging home from work, mentally spent, and heating up canned Chopped Suey (remember the yellow tape that held the cans together?), baking chicken covered in cream-of-everything (this vintage 1970’s Campbell ad focuses on the fact it their “O’s” line of soups won’t spill on kid’s clothing, thanks to it’s “non-skid” design…thank God…finally the invention of non-skidding food), and scalloped potatoes which were poured out of a box like potato chips, and then covered in a neon orange flour-like substance, which smelled rather acidic as it cooked. I also recall my parents referring to Lucky Charms and Trix as “sugar cereal”, and I was forbidden from eating it, which I thought was ridiculously unfair. After all, Trix were for KIDS! The commercial chanted it like it was religion.
So how are we expected to teach our children to eat well, when many of us don’t know an eggplant from a spaghetti squash? I don’t want to downplay how hard it was to teach myself how to cook, and more importantly, how to eat. I walked us to “real food eating” one vegetable at a time, and it was not an overnight process (and not without a lot of trial and error). But here’s the good news: good food is addictive. Once I tasted properly prepared asparagus, my first strawberry straight out of the field, and remember that time I tried to cook with Velveeta and declared it the Oobleck of a Dystopian Future? You can read that post here, along with my comedic thoughts about truth in food advertising. My point is: real food had me HOOKED. Real food tastes better than fake food, every…single…time.
Karen Le Billon quotes a British study of 1000 kids in her book, Getting To Yum, which found fewer than 1 in 4 school students knew beef comes from cattles. Fewer than 2 in 3 even knew potato chips came from potatoes! And Jamie Oliver, the country’s leading chef in the charge to teach our kids food literacy, stood in front of a classroom where not a single child could identify a tomato. Even though my children have grown their own tomatoes (hard to avoid them living in the 2nd largest tomato-growing state in the nation) but my interest was piqued nonetheless. What did my children know (or not know)? I walked them through our favorite produce department and discovered that despite watching me cook Ratatouille countless times, they could not pick out an eggplant from the display. Even though they’ve ripped kale apart to make kale chips, they couldn’t independently distinguish spinach from kale, nor could they identify which greens grow out of the ground, versus vegetables which grow on bushes.
Um? When did I stop talking to them about food? On that same trip Kelly started begging for “sugar cereal”. AGAIN. I knew it was time to step up my game.
I bought a box of artificially flavored popsicles, and a box of popsicles made only out of only real-food ingredients. I had them blind taste-test every flavor. They preferred the “real” popsicle every single time, and discovered it was almost impossible to distinguish one flavor from the next in the artificial box. Could they tell the difference between a peach and a blueberry popsicle made out of real fruit? Without even hesitating. Next, tomato soup out of a can, and tomato soup made from scratch. Hands-down…a no preservative fresh soup wins. It was time to pull out the big guns: CHEESE. Cheese from a Lunchable, and cheese freshly cut from a block, not filled with wax or preservatives or artificial coloring. It wasn’t even close. My kids, who would eat a Lunchable every single day if I agreed to serve it, almost SPIT OUT the waxy cheese.
Karen’s book has other games on how to model better food marketing messages to our kids (there are 5 games in this chapter alone), and while I’ve played them all, the Silly Name Game is the girls’ favorite. They’re now in the process of renaming my recipes, and inventing their own. Kelly’s latest creation is named “Gorilla Soup”, and the day I smile and grin through tasting her Tomato-Hot Dog-Cinnamon Soup, I will be toasting to you Karen! Kelly named my latest creation, and you can see my recipe for “Not Ew Pesto Pasta” here.
In the midst of summer, it’s nice to have the time to explore some of these concepts. I can toss the kids some easy recipes, and let them have at it, which solved my problem with “bakery fresh” muffins. Oh-how-they-beg for the muffins in our grocery with the big “BAKERY FRESH” sticker. “Fresh” must have an alternate definition, because half the ones I picked up had food dyes, and all had enough preservatives to float a boat. And don’t get me started on the sugar…JUST DO NOT GET ME STARTED! I’ll just tell you a half-a-can of Coke has less. Sound bakery fresh? Not so much.
I had the girls make banana bread. Warm, yummy, with just a tiny touch of lemon zest banana nut bread. How do you think fresh banana bread fared next to “bakery fresh” muffins? If you wrap your banana bread in wax paper and let it sit overnight, and keep it wrapped, it will last until the loaf is gone (which is rarely long). Will it last as long as a muffin filled with preservatives? Heavens no! You could sit those things on your counter, and they’ll gladly sit there until the second coming! That’s what I look for when grocery shopping: permanence. I’m kidding. Food that last forever gives me the creeps.
Goomommy’s 4th of July dinner table was set by 8 am. She’s my hero.
With every trip to the store, it gets easier to just walk on by the fake food, and allow the girls to hold the list and find the real ingredients. And I’m not strict about it! We eat candy from time to time. We try new junk foods on vacation (most came back with me on our last trip, because they unconsciously prefer real food now, and they don’t crave all-day snacks after a few years of eating one snack per day.) But even this morning, while writing this piece, I was nagged by the naÏve assumption my kids don’t really watch commercials. Today they weren’t allowed to watch cartoons (stinkers should learn to put away their laundry when asked!), and I blissfully drank my coffee to the Today Show. So as I finished writing this paragraph, I asked, “I’m trying to finish up a Getting To Yum post about food advertising. Do either of you recall any food commercials when I had the TV on this morning?” Mind you…they were only in and out of the living room, and not at all focused on the TV.
Summer in the apartment means many dinners are being served in the living room. FLEXIBILITY (still working on it…).
Here is what I got, from my kids who do not regularly eat or request any of the following: Chocolate milk (Mommy, why were they trying to convince old people to drink it?), Reese’s Cups (The commercial says they taste better in the fridge Mommy. Should we try that?), Cinnamon Toast Crunch (Cool cartoons Mommy!), Hershey Kisses (Don’t you remember Mommy? They wrap them up and they slide around the screen?), and Kit Kats (My favorite Mommy! I could eat a whole bag of Kit Kats!).
That was ONE HOUR of Kathy and Hoda. WOW. Wow. Yes, this marketing machine is very real, and very smooth. I HAD NO IDEA, which is was just silly on my part, because I could probably sing at least 5 jingles from the 70’s and 80’s right now. Let me give it a shot:
(1) THEY’RREEE GREAT! (Tony the Tiger).
(2) Tab-Tab-Cola what a beautiful drink, Tab-Tab-Cola for beautiful people…
(3) Mikey won’t like it. He hates everything. HEY MIKEY! He like’s it!
(4) And that’s the way we save the day with B-o-l-o-g-n-a.
(5) WELL GREAT. Now I’m going to have nightmares about that super-sized Kool-Aid pitcher crashing through doors and fences. Crap.
Join me at the family dinner table tonight, won’t you? Make it simple. Make it with love. Make it real. You can read all about Karen Le Billon’s taste-training book, Getting To Yum, which is filled with recipes to get you started right here. Godspeed, my friends.