Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pet Peeve

I'll admit it, I've got a few pet peeves. Today I'm focused on the "Sneak it in" mentality.

In case you aren't sure of what I'm talking about, the "Sneak it in" mentality is the "It's good for them, but they don't like it. So, I'll sneak it in, so they still get what they need, but don't know it" mentality.

It usually deals with food. You know the deal. Little Johnny doesn't like carrots. Mom wants him to eat carrots, because they're healthy. She gets advice that ranges from "Don't give him an option. He eats it or he doesn't eat at all." to "Sneak carrots in, using pureed or shredded carrots in foods that don't normally have carrots." Mom doesn't want to deal with a fight every time she serves carrots, so she opts for sneaking them in. She adds pureed carrots to chili & spaghetti sauce, adds carrot juice to Johnny's fruit juice, puts shredded carrots in the meatloaf, etc. Now, Johnny eats carrots without a fight.
So, you might be asking why I have a problem with this. After all, he's eating carrots & not fighting, that's good right? No. Not if he doesn't know he's eating them. My problem is that it's a short-term fix. Unless mom plans to make Johnny's meals for the rest of his life, this isn't a long-term solution. Now, I don't have a problem with adding the pureed carrots to chili & spaghetti sauce. My issue is the not telling them part. See, if you tell them that the carrots are there, they'll learn that carrots can be included in meals without making them taste bad. When you hide the fact that there are carrots in the food, you're reinforcing their belief that carrots always taste bad. Instead of hiding the foods they don't like in other recipes, add the food & let them know it's there. It's more important to teach them to eat healthy & that healthy foods can taste good then to avoid an occasional disagreement.
My daughter does not like tofu. My son does not like tofu or Greek yogurt. However, if  I put some frozen fruit in the food processor, add some tofu & honey flavored Greek yogurt, and freeze it as popsicles, they both love them. I don't hide that the yogurt or the tofu are there. In fact, the kids have helped me make these popsicles. They've learned that these ingredients, which they don't particularly like, can taste quite good in the right recipe. My daughter doesn't like asparagus, unless it's broiled with a drizzle of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and some fresh ground black pepper & sea salt. My husband will only eat spinach if it's in my chicken & spinach lasagna. My husband hated meatloaf, until he had mine. My point here is that I'm no stranger to dealing with picky eaters. I'm not one of those people who has never dealt with a picky eater & is spouting untested ideas. I know what I'm talking about. I pretty much specialize in getting people to eat things they normally wouldn't eat. Sometimes, that means cooking it in a different way - broiled or sauteed instead of boiled or steamed. Sometimes, it means including it as an ingredient not readily noticeable - sour cream in the chicken taco bake or tofu & Greek yogurt in the popsicles. However, I always tell them it's there. I might wait until after they've tried it, because I do have kids that will say they don't like it if they know it contains an ingredient they don't like before they try it. I never put something my husband or kids 'don't like' in a meal without telling them, though. Why? Because if they don't know it's there, they'll never learn that it can be part of a good tasting meal.

That mentality is not only applied to food, though. It's also regularly applied to education. Of course, I dislike the mentality when applied to education as much as when applied to food. Anytime a parent asks for advice because their child hates Math, someone will suggest that they 'sneak in Math' with things like helping cook, weighing produce at the store, figuring out how much change you'll get back, etc. The main marketing strategy for educational video games is that "children will have so much fun playing that they won't realize they're learning."

Again, my issue is not with the idea of learning being fun. I have no problem with having kids help in the kitchen or at the store. I have no problem with educational games, though we don't do video games in our house. In fact, I have often suggested playing games, having the kids help in the kitchen, having the kids help at the store, and other fun educational opportunities. However, I suggest it, not as a way to 'sneak in education without the child knowing,' but as a way to show the child that learning can be fun.

What I really just cannot understand is this - when you 'sneak it in,' what are you gaining? What is the logic behind 'sneaking it in', instead of being honest & showing the child that healthy food can be delicious or that learning can be fun? Wouldn't it make more sense (and be better in the long run) to teach them how to incorporate healthy food in tasty ways or that learning doesn't only take place with a textbook in a classroom?

Why are so many people afraid to be honest with their kids? Does it go back to the 'they should have a mystical, magical childhood' thoughts that I've heard referenced so many times as people explain why they lie about Santa? Or is it something different? Is it that people are afraid that once the child finds out that measuring ingredients for a recipe is Math they'll stop seeing it as fun or they won't like mom's spaghetti anymore if they find out she puts veggies in it? Do people really think that preventing an occasional mealtime or homework battle is more important than teaching lessons that will last a lifetime & benefit the child in the long-term? Or is it just that so many people don't think about the future?

My kids are two of the most stubborn children in existence. Yet, I still don't sneak things in. I would much prefer to be honest with my kids & teach them life lessons, then to avoid a few battles. Maybe it's just because of my parenting philosophy. I don't lie to my kids about Santa, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny, either. I don't see them as being blank slates or being unable to to figure out the truth. I teach my kids to question, not to just believe everything they hear. Yes, they are kids now, but they will be adults one day. I feel it is my job to prepare them for them for life as an adult, and I don't see how telling them lies throughout their childhood will accomplish that.