Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Chicken Nugget Years

A friend of mine used to take her then elementary-aged children to McDonald's once a month as a treat. She would not allow them to get cheeseburgers, but instead ordered Chicken McNuggets. Surely chicken is healthier than beef, right? To help matters, she would also instruct her young ones to remove the "peeling" as she called it, just like peeling a banana before eating it.

My kids would never go for this, and they're 2 1/2 and almost 4. I don't know how she kept this up as long as she did.

We all know what chicken nuggets really are.  If you missed the chicken nugget episode of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution last year, you need to google it, and fast. Once you do, you'll want to sign the petition to help America's kids change their eating habits as well. You can do that here: http://www.jamieoliver.com/foundation/jamies-food-revolution/.

But already, I digress...

I get why kids like chicken nuggets. I like them, too - they just taste good. I especially like the dinosaur shaped ones by Tyson. Purist that I am, I dunk them in ketchup. What I'm trying to understand though, is how kids' tastes evolve over the years. Tonight at dinner my almost-four-year-old begged for some of my General Tso's Chicken. He LOVED it. He's been my better eater all along. When he was a baby he ate anything. Then he went through the picky years as most toddlers do, and now he's braving new territory. He's officially sworn off broccoli but finally agreed to eat ham on Easter...and liked it!

I've also been getting creative with our food names. Evil Doctor Porkchops and Bullseye Beans were scarfed down with no argument.

My baby girl is much more into the dinnertime drama. I'm never sure if she truly doesn't like the food I've offered or if  she is just practicing for her teenage years. Running from the table screaming, "I don't liiiiike eeeeet!" and flinging herself headfirst onto the couch is funny the first time and cute the second time. After that, it's really just a scary peek into the future.

So when do these changes take place and why? How much is nature and how much nuture? So far, the threat of no treat if you don't eat your dinner wins if it's a food she likes but just doesn't want to eat at the moment. Otherwise, she's perfectly fine with her choice if the food is offensive to her.

I've read several articles suggesting that children at this age simply want to have control over something and eating tends to be a pretty easy way for them to have that.  Taste buds also change as we grow. But whyyyy? It can make what used to be such a pleasant time of day a headache - or worse - a battle that ends in timeout complete with a side of uncontrolable crying.

The bottom line in our house is that if you don't eat what's on your plate, you don't eat. So far, we haven't had much of an uprising over this. My theory is that both kids really like breakfast and lunch foods but we tend to have "different" foods for dinner. I think they can survive on what they've eaten during the first two thirds of the day and make do. I feel though, that the storm is a-comin'. Someday soon the requests for something else to eat are going to be made. And before then I'm going to need to decide...does the rule stand, or can they make themselves something else when they're big enough? We'll just have to see...

What are your dinnertime rules? I'd love to know...


  1. Denyse, you always inspire me with your blog! We have always stuck by the rule you will eat whats on your plate. Now that the kids are older, we let them choose their "scoop". If it's something they don't like, a small scoop will do. My kids have always been good eaters, not real picky. Not sure if that is nature or nuture either!! And if your Travis, a healthy squirt of ranch will make anything tolerable!

  2. Thanks, Keli! I like the scoop rule! The daddy in this house uses the ranch trick but the kids are still in the ketchup stage!

  3. Hi Denyse!!
    When we were entering the teen years, Brent would complain every night about whatever Mom made. It did not matter what it was or whether he liked it; he'd complain. Finally, fed up, she told him "Fine. From now on you cook dinner one night each week." His response was "FINE!" and from then on he did just that. He had to choose a recipe and sides and give my Mom the shopping list each weekend - and he learned to cook some things before heading to college, which was a plus. If you get to those teenage years and don't know what to do, you could try that!

    As for the dinner-time fights with the girl, mine does the same. And I do think it is a she-wants-control issue. So we do the here's the food. You choose whether or not you eat it (you're in control) and if you eat it and want more/something else/treat, okey dokey. If you don't eat it, don't ask for anything else all night long. So far, it works...although there are definitely times she does not eat much or at all. I figure kids eat when they're hungry and this way I don't stress over it or have to negotiate or argue.

    Sure am hoping it changes for a while before the real issues in teen-hood, though...

    1. Ahhh! I can't believe this blog is nearly a year old! Since this post, we've totally stuck to our guns on dinner. My littlest one is still such a diva but she either eats what we're eating or she doesn't eat. She has grown to understand the deal and is even trying a few new things. LOVE the idea of having older kids plan meals and cook once a week. That's a whole lot of positive rolled into one! Chef Brent! Who knew??