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Jennifer Evans Gardner Headshot

Time for a No Kid-Food Revolt

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Why are we so fat? That's easy, you say. We're fat because we are lazy; because popping through the Taco Bell drive-thru for some Supreme action is so much easier than going home to cook a well-balanced meal. Okay, that's fine for you -- maybe you don't have that many good years left anyway. But what about your kids?

It's no secret that childhood obesity is at an all-time high, the numbers being close to our national deficit last time I checked. It's also no secret that our government still can't manage to give schools sufficient funds to create healthy school lunches. Fatty, processed and mysterious are so much more cost effective. Thank God for Alice Waters and her Edible Education movement, which is already changing the lives of many children. But other than pack healthy lunches, make sure they get sufficient exercise and cook whole foods at home, what can we do for our children? Here's one suggestion: abolish kid food.

I'm serious. With our children's health at stake, I think it's high time for a "no kid-food" revolt. Don't make it. Don't order it off the kiddie menu. Just say no.

What's wrong with us that we can suddenly only feed our toddlers chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs? It wasn't always like this. At the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento, all the dining car menus from as far back as the 20's are displayed as silent proof. Guess what was on the "kiddie menu" back in grandpa's day? No chicken nuggets, pizza or even mac 'n cheese. Instead, there were tiny portions of roast chicken, lamb chops, pureed celery root, braised carrots and salads. When did we stop feeding our children real food, and start feeding them 900-calorie "kiddie meals?" And what would happen if we all just started requesting mini-portions of the "real food" on restaurant menus?

Full disclosure: I teach kids to cook. My motto has always been, "no kid food," choosing instead to teach children ages 5-11 how to make dishes like salt-crusted striped bass with lemon-herb vinaigrette, Salade Nicoise and Clementine souffle (sugar in moderation isn't evil; high fructose corn syrup is). I believe that if kids help cook it, they'll at least taste it, so through cooking, we can develop young palates. It works. I have seen six year-olds who eat only "white food" devour this dish in front of their parents' astonished eyes. The truth is most kids would rather eat pizza than Brussels sprouts -- who wouldn't? It's up to us to find a way to introduce real food to them, which I choose to do through cooking.

In the end, we should feed our children food that will make them strong, give them energy, and help them grow up to make this world a better place. So give it a try. Once a week, drag your offspring away from the kiddie menu and into the kitchen for some hands-on family cooking. Because once they cook something like chicken en papillote, they won't be able to resist just one little taste. And before long, they might even stop asking for those little dinosaurs.

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