Eating for Your Taste Buds or for Your Body?
August 4th 2019 by Cate Moriasi
I am so thankful for my taste buds and the rest of the sensory organs that make food taste so good and so pleasurable. Then I wonder, even as an adult, why is it that those foods that are good for you don’t usually taste that good? Why the disconnect? Is it possible to find a balance? This is a hard reality in many cases but I’m sure most of us know that taste buds are ‘trainable’. Yes, we can’t deny the genetic component that for some of us, certain vegetables or fruits don’t settle well–those of us who may be very sensitive to a bitter taste or strong smell or textural issues that from the time we are babies, we just spit it out. However, we also can’t deny the fact that we learn to like, accept and eat those foods that are presented to us from an early age or frequently. That’s why in most cases if the care giver/ food preparer likes it, those under their care will be presented with that food and in many cases the cared for will learn to associate positively with that food. My children have seen beans and broccoli served from the time they were very young, therefore, seeing broccoli on their plates is not a big deal. But because I had issues with cauliflower, I didn’t serve it at all. When I became more health conscious and I wanted to limit my rice consumption, I experimented with riced cauliflower. I have learned to like the texture as a good alternative to rice but my kids (at 12 & 14 years of age) and even my husband have struggled with it. However, I haven’t given up on trying different ways of preparation that will hopefully make it more acceptable to them.
That is where I believe information comes in handy. I help my kids see why it would be beneficial to learn to eat those foods that may not be that good for their taste buds but good for their bodies. I then give them the freedom to experiment with how they could make it taste better without making it unhealthy. I show them my spices and leave it up to them to spice in ways that are acceptable to them. My daughter has become quite the expert in seasoning salmon and she will not even share the recipe with us, claiming that every time she spices, she does it according to how she feels–more herbal, less herbal, lemony, etc. For my son, when we first made a shift from refined to whole grain pasta, it was a tough sell. But we allowed him to cook and season it the way he sees best. I explained the spices that would be a good addition for health, for example turmeric and how he could use other spices like garlic or onion powder to soften the strong turmeric flavor. He has become quite an expert now and he loves what he comes up with.
So, one tip for helping your kids eat the foods that they wouldn’t otherwise care for is to help them know why it is important and then give them the freedom to work with it and make it acceptable. There are different ways that one can deal with the bitter in some dark green vegetables, or the strong smells in some vegetables, let the kids experiment. Give them the opportunity to participate in deciding the menu. You can use my plate (https://www.choosemyplate.gov/kids) as the guideline and offer guidance. For example, when it comes to selecting the vegetable part, help them to see the importance of eating a variety so that they don’t always select the same. Show them or ask them to find a fun way that vegetables they wouldn’t consider eating could be prepared. Zucchini was a tough sell at our house until the spiraling came about. Each of my children likes it seasoned differently, so they take turns and then bear with each other. Zucchini noodles with grilled chicken and a touch of pesto is one of my daughter’s favorite dishes. She can prepare it to her satisfaction. The opportunities we have had to plant a garden as a family have also been very helpful. It was amazing to see how willing our children were to eat green beans that had come out of our garden. For many it’s not easy to plant a garden but you can involve your children in healthy menu planning. Ask them to come up with a healthy recipe. My kids found Helen Cavallo’s that’s fresh and they love her homemade spaghetti sauce (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zpywIBaNIXM). When they showed me the recipe, I bought the ingredients and let them prepare the sauce, with my supervision. It has become one of their favorite sauces and yet it’s filled with vegetables like celery they wouldn’t eat otherwise.
Probably as you go through this article you are thinking, “I know all this and I would like to make it happen, but how, when we are hardly home because of all we have got to do?” Take heart! We are looking at the long haul. We want to help our children develop habits that will be good for their health in the long term. They do understand when life is go-go-go! You can start small and add an activity once a week that helps your kids think about healthy food choices. For example, on the day when you are all at home, maybe a Sunday afternoon, you can get them all involved in preparing that healthy recipe that one of them came up with. To ensure that you don’t use up precious family time by spending hours cooking, someone can pre-prep. For instance, we found out that the vegetables in Helen Cavallo’s spaghetti sauce work well even when we chop them before hand and freeze them. Alternatively, you could choose not to involve the kids in the cooking but on that designated healthy day (hopefully at least once a week) you prepare that healthy recipe that one of your children came up with. Then rotate so that each child takes a turn in selecting a healthy recipe and maybe it becomes a tradition that they will all probably come to look forward to, and all the while they are learning some healthier recipes.
Can a child understand whether they are eating for their taste buds or their body? It depends on the age and that’s why the time you introduce any kind of food to your child matters. It makes sense when the U.S. dietary guidelines (https://health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf) give advice that children under two years should not be given sugar because they probably won’t miss what they don’t know. As they get older, one other helpful thing is to associate a certain vegetable with one of their favorite foods. For example, we have associated macaroni and cheese with broccoli for so long that our kids know that if macaroni and cheese is part of the menu, then broccoli is going to be served.
As we explain to our children the importance of eating healthy even at their age, we help them see that just like everything else in life, they have to make choices, choices to do the right thing even when they may not want to. Our children get to know that they can’t go through the day eating only for their taste buds – only what tastes good without considering the rest of their bodies. What is that one thing they are willing to do for their bodies? It might not be exciting for the taste buds but their bodies will be very thankful. Children can understand that they can be kind to their bodies. A message like – “help your body out so it can help you for the long haul,” can help them think about their choices. We don’t have to eat all the junk today so that we can be in good health and enjoy eating what we like in reasonable portions. Take for example salt, if you are a salt lover and you don’t eat it in moderation, blood pressure issues that can develop could force you to eliminate salt from your diet entirely later in life. Wouldn’t it be better to learn to eat salt in moderation from a young age so you can prevent or at least delay any adverse effects of too much salt? Salt in fact is a tricky one because once one develops a high salt threshold as they get used to more salty foods, it becomes difficult to eat food with less than the amount of salt they are used to.
The bottom line is to help our kids become mindful eaters from their young age through adulthood. Mindful eating in terms of knowing what you are putting in your body and the effects of it; knowing it is a choice between good for my taste buds and good for my body. What will thank me after I’m done eating, my taste buds or the rest of my body? Mindful eating can involve rewarding yourself with something tasty–remember the road to pizza goes through a bed of broccoli. What about helping our children think about activity to balance out what they eat? Are you willing to work it off? You could ask. Then help them see how long it would take to work off a couple of cookies they had with lunch. Since we are focused on the long term, whatever we do has to be doable and sustainable. Can you combine your food in ways that one will reduce the negative effects of another? That way you appease your taste buds but also leave your body happy. We are looking forward to hearing what your kids will think about the idea of mindful eating after they read our book for middle grade readers. It tells a story of cousins who are determined to work through their differences in order to understand the terrible disease that has struck down their beloved grandpa. The question is will they discover the road back to health for Grandpa? Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices.
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