Last week I wrote some of my thoughts comparing the feeding of children a generation or two ago to now. I used my experience growing up partly in Romania as an example. Now I want to share what fellow dietitian, Natalia Stasenko, remembers about eating in Russia. This is what she said:
None of my friends were picky when I was growing up in a small village in Russia 40 years ago. I think there are a few reasons for it:1. Limited variety in food supply. Most of the people in the village ate what they grew and raised. The variety of produce was limited, of course, plus it was strictly seasonal and local. So no strawberries in December, you would have to wait till June to pick your own. We pickled and canned a lot of produce to eat during winter months. Ultimately, the number of fruit and vegetables available to a family at any season would rarely go above 10-15. Besides, all families ate from-scratch meals prepared by full time working mothers who also had to take care of the vegetable garden, animals,etc. Because of the busy schedules and limited choices, cooking repertoire was limited to 10-15 every day very simple dishes plus 4-5 more elaborate ones for special occasions that were somewhat similar in all families. So kids were exposed to these limited choices from early on and they were used to familiar flavors and textures without having to be challenged by anything new. It is very different from what our children eat now, when access to a variety of fruit and veggies is all year round and we can go to a Mexican, Indian and Italian restaurant in one week. This is a lot of variety for young taste buds to adjust to!2. Everyday exposure to fruit and vegetables. Kids helped their parents take care of the crops, water, weed, harvest or at least watch it grow. Hence the exposure to fresh produce was daily and it included not only eating but also working on getting it to the table. In our current environment kids only see produce on grocery store shelves without any context whatsoever. This significantly limits their interactions with food.3. Probably the most important of all. No pressure. No parents I knew back than pushed fruit or vegetables on their kids. Fruit and vegetables were part of our diet because this is what was available. I do not think I knew or even thought about the nutritional benefits of produce before I grew older and started reading magazines. My parents would rather see me eating more meat and potatoes, which are more filling, rather than munching on a salad. This resulted in zero pressure at mealtimes. Leftovers were fed to animals like pigs to there was no issue of food waste.4. The obvious one – There was no access whatsoever to special kid food. We ate exactly what our parents ate, maybe with a little more candy. No chicken nuggets, pizza, frozen dinners, purees in pouches :). We ate treats only occasionally but not because our parents were concerned about too much junk but rather because they were expensive and they could not afford them on an everyday basis.
What strikes me about what Natalia mentioned above is that the food supply in her village was limited. Modern concerns about feeding children are often about how to get our kids to love 101 different fruits and vegetables or various ethnic dishes. Because we have so many options, we feel like our kids need to like everything in order to feel like we’ve done our job. I have a friend with a background in nutrition and fitness who has done body building competition in her past. She has her likes and dislikes but tends to be non-emotional about food and eating. She was pretty dumbfounded to find out that there are parents out there who are deeply invested in their children learning to love certain foods, vegetables in particular: “Wanting a child to love a particular food is such a strange idea to me.” She followed with “I can’t imagine that if parents really love a particular food themselves, and often eat it with obvious enjoyment in front of the children, without even offering it to the kids, let alone urging, that the kids wouldn’t ask for some. And who cares if they love it or not?I think what she said is somewhat profound. We worry so much, and possibly unnecessarily, about our kids liking fruits and vegetables, when ultimately if we (parents) enjoy these foods and serve them regularly, we’ve done really well. Maybe trying the latest Pinterest recipes isn’t what we should be aiming for every week. Maybe establishing a consistent food culture in our home, a familiar repertoire of meals, using nutritious foods we love, is enough.
What do you think?
In part 3, I’m going to share another mommy dietitian’s experience working with Hispanic families to add insight on the topic of feeding kids in our current food environment.