I know the government, schools, doctors and health folks put out a lot of advice on what to eat, and what to feed your kids. That's a good idea. However, what is the point of giving your family healthy food they refuse to eat? I have tried to explain to my own children that I am feeding them B vitamins, or C vitamins, or super kick your brother over the house vitamins. They still look at their plate like I'd just told them I was serving up Spot.
The truth is, no matter what you say, kids really do not care at all what alphabet is on or in the menu. They have their own ideas about food groups. And the faster we accept that, the easier meal time wil be.
The government has been coming at this all wrong. Here is the secret list of real food groups for kids: goopy, crunchy, sticky sweet, yuck and finger.
Goopy and Yuck
Right off the bat, you will never get a kid to eat goopy or yuck. No matter how long they are told to sit at the table or how many days they go without a meal, or which of their favorite dolls or cartoon characters claims they love it, they will not swallow it. They will sit with it in their mouths, and then line up at the door when their mother gets home and cling like orphans to report how dad went crazy again.
This is not a good thing, because goopy food is the easiest to cook. You may think you've got one heck of an easy dinner, throwing whatever you like with some soup or water into a pot. But don't expect anyone to eat it. Here's the rule. Any food that slides off itself, or off the plate, is not going to pass the goopy test.
Yuck is harder to figure out. Some things are yuck because of how they look, like rice pudding, liver, or anything that moves. Some things are yuck because of where they came from, like something that's been on the floor. Sometimes its the smell, like overboiled eggs. Some things are yuck because of their color. Certain shades of brown, blue or yellow green, especially.
Any food that gets black from cooking, even a little, even just some tiny charred flecks coming off the bottom of the pot, is yuck, and you need to start over. I know, that sounds extreme. But there's not much worse than years of family holidays hearing about how dad fed us burnt food. Yes, they'll notice. No, they won't forget to tell their mother.
You can also forget about scraping the black parts off in the sink. I don't know how, you think they can't tell, but they can.
Some foods that weren't yuck go instantly yuck because of what you put in it, like pickle relish, or that finger you were tasting with. Older kids can be your worst enemy, because they ask questions. 'Is that mold?' 'Is this going to make us sick?' They can turn a whole meal yuck in no time.
You can also waste a lot of kitchen time trying to trick youngsters into eating foods they normally won't touch. For instance, you think you can put goopy inside crunchy. But they figure that out in one bite, and afterward will either toss the lot or just pick off the outsides like pitiful little birds. Sweet on yuck they have a little harder time with, but after it all gets mashed up and stirred together - which it will - it's a lost cause.
Let's look at the other end of the food group stick. Here you've got the never-fail, always a hit finger foods. Something about being able to pick it up with your hands, I guess. Chicken fingers, waffle fingers, pasta fingers, I don't care what, if it's finger food, it disappears.
The only problem you will have with finger foods is with mom. To her eye they can look an awful lot like snack food dressed up and snuck in for dinner. The tipping question is where the finger foods came from. If you (A) managed to whip them up yourself, you've got dinner. If you (B) poured them out of a take-out or frozen bag, chances are good you've got a whole frosty evening of banging pots and cupboards while someone else makes the kids a “real” dinner.
Here's a hint. If you're going with finger food Plan (B), whatever you do, do NOT try to explain there is no difference at all between the chicken you cut and the one cut for you at the factory. Remember where you are, in the KITCHEN. If you're going down this road, next time just follow these steps. When it's dinnertime, put on an apron. Privately empty the bag into a mixing bowl. Wave that bowl in front of the kids and ask if they want you to make finger food. Burn the bag in the yard.
Sticky Sweet and Crunchy
Sticky and crunchy are the dependable backfield of mealtime, and between them will get the kids fed most nights. Crunchy is one of the most underrated, but incredibly easy, food groups. You can't fix yuck with it, but you can impress many people if you can do a good crunch.
But watch out. If you run crunchy and crunchy, or sticky and sticky, back to back for two or more nights, they go yuck. Work the change-up. For sticky, we're thinking chicken or ribs with sauce. Crunchy is fried chicken or tacos.
Now, here's the secret magic of the food groups. You can mix food groups together pretty simply. See how this works? Sweet and crunchy – like brown sugar on carrots – or crunchy with finger – like corn on the cob. Or, you can run a Dad's in the Kitchen! trifecta: crunchy chicken fingers with sweet dipping sauce. I'll never forget the moment I discovered that little bundle of kid heaven. It was the first night I didn't have to chase the kids down the street to get them in for dinner.