January 26, 2013

Real Food Family Staples

With all the corn puffs, flavored yogurts, crackers, applesauce cups, boxed mac-and-cheese, and meal pouches on the market, it’s easy to forget that not long ago in our history (and still today in many parts of the world), kids didn’t eat products; they just ate food.

At our house, we live by the idea that good food for one of us is good food for all of us. I never serve Kid something I wouldn’t eat myself, and I try hard not to assume that something I’m eating is too bitter, spiced, green, or exotic for him to share. (Sometimes this is hard! But he surprises me all the time. He’s into raw radishes right now.)

Nutritionist and food activist Marion Nestle has my back on this one: "
Kids don’t need kids’ food. If adults are eating healthfully, kids should be eating the same foods that adults eat. Babies don’t need commercial baby food. Older kids don’t need kids’ products. Families can all eat the same foods, and that should make life easier for all concerned. If you don’t want your kids drinking sodas, don’t bring them home from the supermarket. Teach kids to eat real foods early on, and they will be great eaters throughout life."

Of course, for this idea to work in practice, parents have to actually eat well! No kid will tolerate a heap of spinach while her parents gobble up slices of pizza. I think this is just one of the ways our children make us better people: by demanding of us fairness and consistency in our good habits.

What are your family’s good habits? How did you make them stick?

Here are some of ours, a humble list of seven foods we eat every (or most) days:

Sweet potatoes: On any given day, our fridge is stocked with a handful of foil-wrapped, baked sweet potatoes. There is something so simple and sweet and fulfilling about this vegetable, warm or cold, seasoned or plain. We sometimes stir in peanut butter for a decadent snack. Sweet potatoes make great oven fries, too: drizzle some wedges with extra virgin olive oil and coat with a few dashes of chili powder before baking. 

Broccoli: I have talked to enough pleased parents to shatter the myth that kids don’t like broccoli. At breakfast each morning (yes, breakfast!), we chop and steam a head of broccoli until bright green, then add a pat of butter and a sprinkle of sea salt. Broccoli is cheap, tasty, available everywhere, and fast-cooking. Plus, it looks like trees, which is irresistible to little imaginations.

Steel cut oats: The steel-cut variety is fresher and less processed than old-fashioned oats, which have to be steamed and rolled flat before packaging. A cooked pot of oats holds up well in the fridge for a few days, making quick work of morning prep. We stir in mashed banana, cinnamon, and/or frozen berries before serving.

Beans and Lentils: Did you know that the longest-lived populations on earth regularly eat beans? We pressure-cook a pound of dried beans every five days or so, to be added quickly to soups, stews, curries, and cold salads. Our pediatrician loves that we serve Darwin beans, because they’re a great source of protein and iron.

Whole Cheese: A few thin slices of rich cheese perfectly complement just about any kid’s snack plate. When we’re in a melty mood, it goes into pastas, quiches, or whole grain toast under the broiler. Even though cheese is an everyday food for us, we eat only a serving or two of dairy a day. (The earth’s climate, natural resources, and cows thank us for our moderation!)

Avocado: Blah, blah, blah, good fats. OK, but really! Little brains need healthy fats to best develop, and avocados have them in an easy, creamy, tasty package. Every since I (finally!) figured out that avocados ripen best in a paper bag with a banana, we eat them nearly every day, sliced or mashed on toast.

Fresh Fruit: I think Kid would trample down a door to get to a bowl of raspberries. Berries, pears, grapes, kiwis, oranges, bananas, peaches, pineapples: these things are the original treat for children. I adore the moments just after I give Darwin a little dish of berries, when he is all smiles at his good fortune, quiet and focused and appreciative.

Fast and familiar

What are your favorite real food staples?

Happy eating! 

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