August 7, 2007
I stumbled upon this article in Forbes today while reading a cool blog (The Not Quite Crunchy Parent) and, surprisingly, it lifted my spirits. Normally, when I read about a study showing that “Most 3- and 5-year-olds who taste-tested a variety of foods said they preferred the ones in the McDonald’s wrapper — even though the foods were exactly the same,” it really rackles my cockles (did I mention that messing up cliches is an impediment that runs in my family?). But today, I felt empowered, hopeful even.
Why? You ask.
Because if you scooch down the article it says:
“Further research revealed that one-third of the children ate at McDonald’s more than once a week, and more than three-quarters had McDonald’s toys at home. In addition, the children in the study had an average of 2.4 televisions in their homes. More than half the kids had a TV in their bedrooms.” The lead researcher concluded, “We found that kids with more TVs in their homes and those who eat at McDonald’s more frequently were even more likely to prefer the food in the McDonald’s wrapper.”
McDonald’s does a great job making their food enticing to kids. Bright wrappers, big logos, snappy slogans, take home ‘rewards’ (in the happy meals) for eating their stuff. Honestly, what’s not for a kid to like? But the message I get loud and clear is that if we want want our kids to like the dishes we set down in front of them, we need to do a better job ‘marketing’ the meals we make at home. Yes, I know, my child is 9 months old so I’m no expert on this . . . yet. But I have interviewed quite a few diet and nutrition experts for various articles and had off-the-record conversations with them about kids and food. Here’s what I’ve learned from them:
* Make food appeal to kids’ senses. Instead of boiling or microwaving carrots, toss them in some olive oil and roast them so the house smells delish. Instead of spaghetti with butter on a white plate, throw in some (green) spinach and serve it in a red bowl.
* Get them involved. McDonald’s has an entire Happy Meal website devoted to entertaining kids. We, too, can entertain kids with our Super Antics in the kitchen. Put them to work pinching herbs, or pounding garlic in a mortar and pestle, or even stirring water in a bowl with a wooden spoon. The point is, make them feel like they’re in on the action.
* Generate a sense of anticipation. Get a great kids’ cookbook (Coleton Curtin loves this one) and let the kiddos choose what they want to make once or twice a week, then generate a sense of anticipation for the meal as you make a shopping list, gather the ingredients, etc. If you have a garden or a farmers’ market, ramble around with the kids and make up names of dishes you could make with each food. The whole experience can engage their imagination . . . maybe even as much as a Happy Meal Superhero!
* Create a special occasion. There’s a sense with kids that having McDonald’s is a ‘special occasion’. We can do that too. Present the plate as a waiter would, introducing each food with a description . . . “razzle dazzle red potatoes” and the like (Noe loves it when I do this—she giggles and squirms with excitement and her eyes go all wide.). Then sit down with them and your own dinner and share in the enjoyment.