One of the greatest gifts that you can give to your children is the gift of good eating habits. By teaching your children to eat a healthy, balanced diet with a diverse mix of flavors and ingredients, you can help them avoid many common health problems. Eating habits are established early in life and become harder to change with time. Bad eating habits can contribute to a lifetime of weight problems and body confidence issues. Often with food, what you don’t eat is more important than what you do eat. By eating a wide variety of proteins and vegetables, you can avoid accumulating dangerous levels of toxins that might be specific to a particular ingredient. When children have a comfort level with a wide range of dinner options, they can make better decisions and will not get stuck in a dietary rut. Set your children up for success by pushing their boundaries as often as you can. Be bold. Be creative.
A child who is a picky eater can be a real challenge when options are limited. My children know that we will do our best to please them at dinner time, within reason. They also know, that wherever we end up, they need to find something that they like. We’ve established a basic comfort level with at least two dozen vegetables and more than 150 species of animals from land and sea. Our kids can eat anywhere. This makes life much easier, especially when travelling internationally where the food choices might be less familiar. They are not pigeon-holed into chicken fingers and pizza only. That means my wife and I get to eat better foods, and we don’t have to limit our choices to fast food or places with a kid’s menu.
Where I live in Northern California, my kids are exposed to a wide range of cultures. Their friends are as diverse as a box of crayons and they could get invited to dinner in a Chinese household, an Indian household, or a Hispanic household on any given night. They have sampled all of those cuisines and wouldn’t be fearful of any of them. They know that whatever they are served, they will eat it politely with an open mind and thank their hosts. When the Peruvians behind us made beef heart, it became my daughter’s new favorite food. When the Chinese family across the street made salt and pepper rockfish, we all shared it. When the kids at school bring unfamiliar items, my kids are never the ones pointing and saying, “gross!” They are more likely to ask for a bite.
You can position your children to experience a wide range of cultures through food. For me, there is no greater joy than a new flavor, but I wasted quite a few years sticking to a very limited and very bland diet. My kids will not suffer that same fate. They eat octopus, mussels, any fish, any bird, and any combination of spices. The enjoy all types of cuisine. African, Asian, Middle Eastern, European, Caribbean, South American, and American are all in play. Fancy or simple, street food or white tablecloth. They gleefully try new things, and the more unfamiliar the better. Do they always like these new things? No, of course not. They are still kids. But we have established a culture in our family to give things a try and do so with an open mind. And they have surprised us many times by absolutely loving something we viewed as a risk, to say the least.
The more we rely on commercial chicken, beef, and pork, the more food large farms need to crank out. The more they crank out, the more efficient they need to get and that means the quality of the food suffers and the quality of life for the animals may suffer. Eating a wider variety of meats takes pressure off of this system. I assure you a wild caught rockfish lived a better life and died with less suffering than a commercial hog. Eating responsibly-sourced seafoods can help ease your mind about your global impact and about the humane treatment of your food source. Eating locally helps reduce your carbon footprint. I like to rely heavily on my local farmers market in the summer and my own garden year round. I try to source my food locally where possible, or eat things that are sourced close to wherever I go. It is good for me and it is good for the planet.
Press your boundaries whenever you can. Challenge your kids to eat new things at least once a week. Go way outside their comfort zone. They’ll thank you someday.