Play. Cook. Chef.

I recently took my son to the Raleigh Children’s Museum. It was so much fun. We shopped for groceries at the play store and went through the check-out line. Ben loaded up his canvas grocery cart on wheels with waffle and pancake mix, fresh fish, fruits and vegetables,  a loaf of fresh bread, peanut butter, milk, and eggs. When I sat at the check-out line several kids brought me their groceries. I played the part and scanned each item, encouraging them to bring their shopping cart over to load up their groceries after they paid.

My son, Benjamin headed to the check-out line
After we checked out, Ben wheeled his cart over to the kitchen and put his groceries away in the refrigerator.  I suddenly wanted to have this play kitchen in my own home. Then I realized he has been doing this with his father. My husband is a very good cook. I can cook, but I tend to cook with recipes. My husband, of Italian descent often cooked with his grandmother as a child.  He does not need recipes. He can look at a bag of flour, frozen meat and the spice cabinet and whip up a delicious healthy meal. I need a recipe.

I took some time to watch my son play with the other children, each cooking with authority and excitement. Ben, who is almost three had to be encouraged several times to share the kitchen. Sometimes he acts like he is Chef Ramsey.

Play. Cook. Chef.

I realized what he was cooking was a mirror of how he sees food in our home. And thank goodness my husband cooks with him.  I bake cookies and biscuits with him, but other than that, I tend to cook better when I am alone in the kitchen. But let’s not pretend here — I rarely cook.

The chef has an idea!
Even though I can not take him to a wonderful children’s museum like this all the time, I can provide the same space for him to explore with food and enjoy the process. I realized my own fear of cooking is based in well, fear. I am a perfectionist.  After being a mom for over three years, I should realize nothing is perfect. I have to allow myself more space to mess up. Watching the children play, there was not one child afraid of messing up. They were too busy doing what kids do best — be kids.
"Play is the best form of research."

It was fun to watch my son cook in a kitchen that was equipped with just about every culinary tool a child would want or need. Then I realized my own home can serve as a children’s museum as well, at least the kitchen part. I saw a play kitchen today at Goodwill and I wanted to buy it for Ben. Then my husband reminded me that Ben has two other play kitchens (actually three). I was attracted to the storage bins of this new kitchen. My living room is covered in plastic carrots, onions, tomatoes, and apples. Add cardboard mini versions of cake mix and measuring spoons and a whole mess of other toy kitchen items.

The Joy of Cooking

Ben was ready. He had his groceries and the ingredients he needed to create. I just watched and enjoyed seeing him play. He chopped and seasoned the vegetables.  He took a syrup bottle and added some sauce. And then he mixed and stirred with authority.

Mix Mix Mix

I am embarrassed to admit how little I cook. Perhaps I need to take my toddler’s attitude and apply it to myself. Have fun. Food is fun.

We spent most of our time at the museum in the two kitchens. The second floor had another kitchen. There was a dance floor with music, a hockey arena, and a basketball court. Ben chose the kitchen.

"A two year old is kind of like a blender but you don't have top for it."

At the second kitchen he gathered his ingredients and made smoothies. This is something his father does with him. And he loves drinking smoothies. We make freeze pops out of them and use them as Popsicles. My husband had a great idea of adding soy protein powder to the smoothies since Ben does not like to eat meat.

The grocery store, farmer's market, and kitchen
My Little Chef

Even though I may not be modeling cooking with my son, he has models in his life to give him a healthy model. He cooks with his uncle, grandpa, grandma, and dad. I will stick with making cookies and biscuits with him. Perhaps Ben can teach me to cook.

One Body

P2010182When I was 11 or 12, my mom took me shopping for a new bathing suit. When she suggested a style that was popular at that time, a one-piece tank suit with a large circle cut out on the stomach area, I told her, “I’m too fat too wear one of those.” I have no idea why this particular memory sticks in my head, but I also remember how upset my mom was with what I said. I didn’t understand her distress then, but I certainly understand it now.

Everywhere I look, it seems like there are drastic cases of kids and unhealthy lifestyles. On one side, there are 400 pound teenagers having gastric bypass surgery to save their lives, and on the other side there are skeletal celebrities on TV and 17 Magazine proclaiming, “Get A Smaller Butt By The First Day Of School.”

Although my children are only 5 and 3, I feel like the seeds of discontent with one’s physical self (and by extension, one’s inner self) start to grow early, and I don’t ever intend to stand in the middle of Macy’s and listen to my daughter tell me she’s too fat for a bathing suit.

To drive home the message of how important it is to take care of yourself, I started using a phrase borrowed from my mother-in-law. I once heard her tell my 5 year old that we only get one body in our lives, so you have to take care of it to make it last. In our household, “One Body” has become our catch phrase for everything from eating healthfully to making sure we get enough sleep.

Still, I worry that my children will fall victim to advertising, peer pressure and airbrushed images. It’s my opinion that poor self image will sabotage efforts in everything from grades to relationships, so I’m much more interested in fostering healthy self esteem in my children than I am in teaching my 5 year old how to read.

Some of the things we do to encourage healthy habits are:

  • We eat dinner as a family almost every night. According to a study at Columbia University, teens who eat dinner with their families six to seven times a week are almost 50 percent more likely to remain substance-free than teens who eat dinner with their families twice a week or less. Teens who eat dinner often with their families are more likely to have better grades, lower stress levels and healthier diets.
  • When possible, the kids help me prepare dinner, and even if all they did was press the buttons on the microwave, they are more likely to try a food if they “cooked” it.
  • I frequently take both kids grocery shopping with me, and while we shop, we talk about good foods and how they help keep you healthy. I usually let my 5 year old pick out one or two items to try at home, and it’s interesting to see what he chooses. For example, one day he wanted to buy “junk food” and picked out a box of Fruity Cheerios. Another day he opted for pears and broccoli.
  • We try to avoid the words “fat,” “skinny,” and “diet” in our conversations.
  • I try to silence my inner critic and make sure I never say negative things about myself in front of my kids.
  • We stay active. We try to include physical activities when we do things as a family, such as hiking or ice skating. Weather permitting, I get my kids outside to ride bikes or just wander around the neighborhood frequently. We walk instead of driving places when possible.
  • I include my kids in my workouts. We do yoga before bedtime. I’m also training for a half marathon later this year, and when I do my outdoor runs, I take my son along on his bike to keep me motivated.
  • We try to focus not on what we can’t do, but what we can. I might not be able to fit into my jeans from high school, but I can lift 175 pounds on the leg press at the gym. My son can’t dribble a basketball, but he can ride for miles on his bike.
  • I have been very open with my kids about my diet soda habit and the fact that I’m not happy with it, it’s not a good choice, and that I’m struggling to quit it. I think it’s important for kids to see that adults also struggle with temptation, and the value in trying to do better.
  • We practice the 80-20 rule.  If 80% of what my kids eat and do are healthy choices, I don’t worry about the other 20%, be it watching TV or the hot dogs they eat when grandma comes over.

I think the One Body mantra has been good for me too. We joined a gym last year and while my main goal at that time was to lose a little weight, my whole outlook has changed. I did lose about 9 pounds in the 10 months we’ve been members, but the other changes are much more drastic. I’m sleeping better, feeling better and have more energy. My body looks healthy and strong. And in the kitchen, instead of paying attention to fat grams and calories, my food choices are much more influenced by how that food will make me feel, if it’s a food that will help build up my One Body.

I have years to go before my kids are teenagers, but hopefully the steps we are taking now will teach them to make good choices and take care of their precious bodies.

How about you? What methods do you use to teach your kids about being healthy and what have you found most helpful? Those of you with teenagers, do you feel there is strong pressure for kids to be thin?