To encourage us to try new vegetables, she would give our meals fun names while also educating us on what we were eating and why. Spinach was served freshly-wilted with a teeny bit of butter, garlic, and salt and was dubbed “Pop-eye’s Spinach.” We adored the cartoon, and when mom taught us spinach would help us to grow up smart and strong like Pop-eye, we were all over that stuff like white on rice, usually stopping mid-bite to flex our giant muscles. To this day, my brother can’t get within two feet of spinach without singing the Pop-eye theme song. And, as a true testament to her efforts, every single one of us has adored spinach since childhood.
When we went through our dreaded “No foods may touch each other!” phase, my mom was hot on our heels. She spaced our foods at proper distance for the most part, but would still periodically mix a medley of veggies together [sometimes even mincing or pureeing them to prevent small fingers from picking out the good stuff], calling it “Alligator Stew.” Oh yes, that was absolutely a song. From Barney. That we sang into the ground. Why I never inherited her saint-like patience I’ll never know, but we sang… and we ate… and she smiled.
As and added bonus to her methods, we were always allowed to mix, stir, and taste ingredients as they went into our meals. I grew bolder as the years passed, and would try to help myself to the veggies while they simmered away on the stove. It’s not a memory easily forgotten when you have scars to remember it by I never was very patient.
Before I knew it, I was old enough to stop burning myself [for the most part] and start helping with more of the prep-work. Stuffed Mushrooms were one of the first dishes my mom taught me how to make. I vaguely remember thinking they were “Snuffelupagus Mushrooms“ and had. to. have. them. Writing this is making me very much aware that my history with veggies is strongly linked with television characters. Pop-eye, Barney, Sesame Street, and Disney Movies aplenty all played a part in developing my family’s healthy eating habits.
side note: if only companies were banned from using cartoon characters to sell pop-tarts and sugary cereals and instead slapped Spongebob and Mickey Mouse stickers on fresh, frozen, and canned fruit and vegetables instead. Some do… More should.
As for mealtime, we always ate dinner together. Most families reflect on a day’s events, but with four rambunctious elementary schoolers present, it was more of a contest of sorts. The goal was to comically one-up each other until someone snorted so abruptly that milk shot out of their nose. I had a flair for the dramatic and usually wound up rolling on the floor laughing and, yes, I’ve had my fair share of milk-related casualties. Money was tight and my parents worked around-the-clock, often taking on 11-hour shifts apiece, but dinnertime… that was our time.
I’ve gotten gloriously off-track again, haven’t I? I’m certain I could go on for days but, in an attempt to make a long story a little less Illiad-esque, I’ll wrap things up a bit. Early education of healthy eating habits was essential to my development and also my love of produce. It’s because of this that I later went on to study Dietetics, volunteered and worked alongside the Department of Education School Lunch and Breakfast program, and became a Nutrition Educator for families at WIC. It’s even why I blog. I live for this stuff! Sweets were still consumed and never off-limits, though desserts were not a nightly expectation or occurrence. We were picky, and opinionated, and at times a royal pain in the butt, but thanks to my mom, the focus was always the food. And family.
I absolutely believe that it’s important for kids to be educated on how to make healthy food choices and also for their families to help further their education and eating habits. The Lunch Break for Kids fundraiser strives to do both by donating to the American Culinary Federation’s Chef & Child Foundation to create nutrition-based educational resources as well as support school and community outreach programs.
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