Friday, October 28, 2011

You don't have to like it . . .

Several years ago, I was in charge of making lunch for a bunch of kids, including the kids of one of my friends.  I began doling out all the food I'd prepared for their enjoyment/consumption, when my friend's daughter told me, "I don't like watermelon".

"That's okay, honey," I reassured her.  "You don't have to like it; you just have to eat it."  She looked at me quizzically for a moment, said "okay," and ate the watermelon.

We all thought that was hilarious (even that guest).  That phrase, "you don't have to like it; you just have to eat it!" has since become a sort of a catch phrase in our family. We've used that phrase with other guests occasionally, but we use it with each other more often.  Most recently, a 7-year-old friend declared he didn't like mushrooms.  I responded with our catch phrase, and he responded by doing a small double-take, deciding to eat the mushrooms, and then declaring that he liked them, after all.

I've heard people talk about throwing up after their parents forced them to eat a particularly detested food.  I'm not talking about that -- I'm not into sadism, I swear.  I also carefully avoid food allergies.  But I do very strongly believe that the food that I serve is good for my kids, and that they should eat this healthy food.  They don't have to like eating healthy food; they just have to eat it.  But the kicker is that, usually, they DO like it.  My sons have grown to be really proud of the fact that they eat a wide variety of foods.  They know it's something that sets them apart.

We're going slow with this mantra as we introduced our third son to our family last weekend.  He ate a lunch-time pizza faster than anyone else at the table.  But at dinner time, he picked and poked at his sweet potatoes -- a foreign food, as far as he was concerned.  He's going to learn to eat everything by the time he moves in, but I know that's hard to do at age 12.

Eating well has both financial and nutritional value.  If I'm really going to be able to feed three active teenage boys (plus our honorary daughter, plus my athletic husband and me) and not go broke on the food budget, I'm going to have to avoid expensive convenience foods.  We're going for lots of beans and potatoes, for in-season vegetables, for home-grown stuff.  And the boys are going to have to eat it, not just move it around the plate and ask for different food an hour later.

Kids might not like homework, but they should do homework.  They might not like getting exercise, but they should keep moving.  They might not like vegetables, but they should eat vegetables.  The difference between these three things is that hardly any kids learn to enjoy homework, but exercise and vegetables are things that all my kids have learned to love.

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