When did what our children eat become a status symbol?

My husband loves the term "humblebrag". You know, when your friend says something like, "I eat so much, and I'd just love to gain a few pounds, but it is just...im-pos-sible." Really? How do you manage?! One time someone went on and on to me about how difficult it was to raise such an "able" child. The Urban Dictionary defines it as: “Subtly letting others now about how fantastic your life is while undercutting it with a bit of self-effacing humor or ‘woe is me’ gloss.” You get the idea. Anyway, we've all heard the humble (or not so humble) brags about what kids eat. Such as ‘my little Lucy just loves leeks. I mean I think Lucy would rather eat leeks than linguine or Lucky Charms’. My question to you is why? How did what our kids eat become something to brag about? 

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Perhaps because feeding our children is one of our most basic responsibilities? Perhaps because we don't have to worry about our children dying of childhood diseases or being eaten by wild animals anymore? Perhaps because we are fortunate not to be consumed with whether we will have enough food for our children at the end of the month? Is it a flavor (pun intended) of keeping up with the Joneses? I would like to think it is because we are all parents trying our hardest and wanting our kids to be the very best they can be. 

We are all subject to it. I was recently with some lovely foodie friends who were not bragging, but simply mentioned that their children preferred to eat sardine sandwiches for lunch. Immediately I felt remorse: ‘Natural peanut butter has nothing on the Omega 3's in sardines. I only wish my kids were getting a hefty dose of Omega 3s mid-day. If only I'd worked harder...’ So even as a nutritionist, I am not immune to this silly competition. I was recently honored to be quoted in a fun piece in Bon Appetit about getting your kids to eat "scary" foods. I love the article, and thought the spirit of it was just right. It was not based on competition, but rather getting kids to enjoy the same foods we parents enjoy. Families eating real food together is my goal; it doesn’t have to be fancy or exotic.

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

I personally enjoy good food, and I want my kids to enjoy that same food. And they do, mostly. I’ve worked hard at cooking, planning, cooking with them, visiting farmers markets and gardening, which has not always been easy. So yes, I’m psyched that my kids enjoy salmon and chicken and kale and broccoli, etc. And I’m tickled that the pickier of the two loves lobster. But I’m not going to be bragging about that. Because he doesn’t drink milk. And I would rather he drink milk than eat lobster. There are so many factors that go into a child’s eating habits, I just don’t think, as parents, we can own it – for better or worse.

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

As a professional, let me tell you what my experience has taught me. I worked as a feeding team pediatric dietitian for several years where I saw hundreds of children with feeding disorders, picky eating, highly selective eating and everything in between. Cooking in the home, exposing children to healthy food, and modeling good eating habits does affect what foods children accept. Research shows that parenting style is correlated to a child's BMI (Body Mass Index). However, children have predispositions to what kind of eaters they will become. Some kids are born with sensory systems that make them experience taste, feel and texture in an explosive way that you and I cannot understand. There are also developmental milestones when kids are prone to pickier eating at different ages. The bottom line is, parenting food behaviors matter, but some kids are born pickier than others.

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

I have worked with several chef's children who are extremely picky eaters. I recently read that Michael Pollan has a child who is a picky eater. Imagine growing up in a foodie kitchen of deliciousness, and the kids would like plain pasta, please! I've seen it happen.  Mark Bittman recently said his mother was not a terrific cook, but she showed up [in the kitchen] each day, which is half of it. So if you are showing up, and your kids are being exposed to real food most of the time, even if it is simple, you should be bragging about that.

Photo by Ivan Mateev/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Ivan Mateev/iStock / Getty Images

So the next time your friend humblebrags to you about Lucy, the lobster-, liver-, lamb-, leek-loving-little-girl, remember, like everything else, nature and nurture are both at work here.

But, if you are still determined to create little foodies, try my clams casino recipe that my husband and I recently made. My daughter’s hot little hands could hardly wait for me to take the picture before grabbing one, but then after a mouse nibble, she stated, “I only like clams. plain.”

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

Photo Credit: Petite Nutrition

 Clams Casino

(Adapted from recipe by Giada De Laurentiis)

18 littleneck clams

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 bacon strips

3 Tbsp shallots, minced

3 cloves garlic, minced

1/4 cup red bell pepper, diced

1/3 cup dried bread crumbs

1/3 cup white wine

1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

4 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated

salt and pepper to taste

1. In a small skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crispy. Cool on paper towel, crumble, and set aside.

2. Wash clams. Put on baking sheet with 1/2 cup water. Put in 350 degree oven for approximately two minutes until clams have opened. Discard any that do not open. Chop clams and save shells.

3. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.

4. Add olive oil to skillet over medium heat. Add shallots, garlic, pepper, and oregano and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer until the wine is almost all evaporated, about 2 minutes. Off the heat and allow to cool.

5. Add the bacon, bread crumbs and parmesan cheese to vegetable mixture and season with salt and pepper to taste.

6. On foil-lined baking sheet, spoon mixture into reserved shells. Cook for approximately 7 minutes until cooked through and browned on top.