Fun On The Spot - family and friends

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Kids and Food

A column by Jan Faull on fostering your children's relationship with food in today's Seattle Times struck a chord with me. I've always felt that mis-informed and inconsistent mealtime parenting often leads to a troubled relationship with food and eating that can spiral into many undesirable outcomes, which can include eating disorders, health issues and anti-social behavior. As we move away from traditional family meals to attend to our over-scheduled lives, we have left behind many habits that are healthy for our bodies and our relationships. More on this later.

A few of Faull's points from the article:

  • If a child hasn't eaten dinner, he/she should not be allowed to eat dessert. Faull's assumption is that dessert consists of some sweet treat like cookies or ice cream, an assumption that I take issue with for a couple of reasons. First of all, withholding food for behavior modification sends the wrong message, "you must eat the dinner that you don't enjoy (i.e. the 'bad' food) before you can eat the sweet dessert." I've seen this approach applied in extreme ways by parents who traded a bite of dinner for a cookie in order to bride their child through a meal.
The other problem is that it assumes that dessert is a sweet confection. I don't like the idea of offering sweets habitually at the end of every meal because it makes the consumption of empty calories a daily habit (plus eliminates a sugar rush at the end of the day, which can interfere with homework and sleeping.) I would much prefer that fruit, nuts and yogurt be offered regularly as dessert to compliment the nutrients of dinner. Reserve sweets for one day during the week and special occasions, emphasizing that they are "treats" not food.

  • Encourage your children to taste their food and respect their right not to like something. Bravo. Faull goes on to talk about engaging children in discussions of the flavors of various foods and explaining that they may change their mind about foods that they don't like as they grow older. Personally, I always emphasize variety in our family menu and don't expect the kids to eat everything, but I do expect them to taste everything.
  • You control the food that comes in the house...not what they swallow. Great advice here, parents that micromanage every forkful of food drive me nuts. When I hear my peers echoing my father's demands for a clean plate and images of starving children it drives me nuts. Kids know when they are hungry and what they like. Your job as a parent is to put good food options on the table and convey to them that you expect them to eat during meal time. The results lead to healthy intake of food and nutrients spread appropriately through the day and socially acceptable behavior when seated with others during a meal.
  • Finally, it's not acceptable to say "Yuck" My kids know this one by heart. Don't insult the cook!

Monday, January 22, 2007

TiVo and Other Investments in Quality Family TV

We don't watch a lot of TV in our house. Not that we're anti-TV so to speak, but we choose to find other things to fill our evenings before reaching for the remote. When I do watch TV, however, I want to be entertained with quality programming without spending too much time channel surfing or watching commercials. For that reason, we've made the necessary investments (yes, investments) in our TV viewing by paying a premium for digital cable, HBO and TiVo.

I'm probably not the only parent that has noticed the proliferation of drug commercials on television these days. Until recently my reactions to these ranged from ignoring them to rolling my eyes at the embarrassing nature of the maladies addressed. That is until one day, while watching a Seahawks game with my boys, a commercial for a drug for prostate health called Flomax. As the commercial ticked off the various symptoms that would indicate your need for this drug, my son TJ (8) turned to me and said "Daddy, I think I need that medicine. "

Talk about a wake up call. The days of worry about exposing your kids to the bikini wearing pitch girls on the beer commercials are long gone. I'm as concerned about fast food and other faux food products (Hamburger Helper? mmm...) soft drinks and now various legal chemicals aimed at the plumbing of male and female baby boomers.

As I mentioned, we are not a family that schedules it's day around the boob tube. The boys get to unwind with 30 minutes of watching each weeknight, assuming their homework and chores have been completed. My wife and I may or may not do the same after the kids go to bed. Most of our other TV viewing is through more controlled means of DVD viewing and On-Demand cable TV. Notice that I didn't specify that it was "commercial free" viewing. As there are still various commercials squeezed into these TV alternatives. And it's not uncommon for the TV to stay off for a day or two at a time.

Watching sports is one of the only broadcast TV events that we watch as a family. Mariners Baseball starts our spring and summer, which is sandwiched around the Tour de France in July. Tennis caps our summer as we watch the drama of the US Open. The NFL and NBA weave together in the fall and winter with a time out for the NCAA tournament in March. I'm a believer in spectator sports as entertainment. I do my best to keep things in perspective for the kids when it comes to the athletes. They're a bit young to notice the off the field fantasy lives of the pro athletes, but I will deal with than when the time comes.

Back to the point at hand. I wanted to take control of our sports TV viewing, so decided to take the plunge with a TiVo purchase. Now we can watch our favorite sporting events and gloriously skip the commercials with a few flicks of a button (if you are a TiVo owner and don't know about the hack for 30-second skip, see the bottom of this post.) We just installed our TiVo this week and put it through its paces during the Superbowl. What a pleasure. We chose to watch some of the adds, but passed by most of them (including the Flomax add in the third quarter!) We also paused to have dinner, then watched Prince for our after-dinner entertainment before finishing the game.
We're now in complete control of our TV watching. That is of course, until the boys reach their teens...

30 -second skip for TiVo

While viewing a recorded program or live TV enter the following sequence on your remote:

Select, Play, Select, 3, 0, Select

If your TiVo plays three Thumbs Up "blings" in a row, the Advance button is now reprogrammed to skip forward by 30 seconds. This bit of reprogramming is not permanent--you'll have to redo it if your TiVo reboots.

Watching sports w/ the boys
Drug ads
Take control
Free TV is an ad infested commodity, pay for the good stuff and use wisely.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Turning Santa Questions into a Teaching Moment

So, here we are in the middle of January with Christmas seemingly a distant memory. But no. Last night on the way home from swimming lessons, Jason (8) asks me why his twin brother's Foosball table looks exactly like the one he saw in the store earlier in the week. You see, TJ's table came from Santa.
Now, in answering this question I could have taken the easy road and explained it away by saying that Santa's elves can make anything in their workshop, yada yada yada... But instead, I decided to hunker down for a discussion about product licensing. "You see Jay, Santa sends his elves all over the world to visit people who make toys so that he knows exactly what children will be asking for." I went on to explain that Santa makes a licensing agreement with each of the toy manufacturers so that he can make the exact same toys that boys and girls see in the stores. We then had a 5 minute Q&A about how licenses work and why Santa and the toy companies would do such a thing.
In the end I was able to keep his belief in Santa intact by using real-world information that will stay with him long after his belief in Santa wanes. I would like to be a fly on the wall the next time the subject of Santa comes up among Jason and his friends to hear just how much of our lesson stuck.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The Longest Day of the Year

When you're 8 years old. The longest day of the year comes not in June, but on December the 24th.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Fun In The Kitchen

We have had great fun in our house teaching the kids to cook. It's a great way to pass along education about nutrition, not to mention family recipes and the stories that accompany them. It's also affected each of our boys in other, unique ways. TJ, the finicky eater, takes a greater interest in the food that is served to him at dinner if he had a hand in preparing it. Through careful menu selection, we have been able to slowly expand his food repertoire, making him more willing to try new and different foods with much less anxiety than if he had not participated in the meal's preparation.

Jason, the more adventurous eater, has become quite interested in cooking. We've encouraged his interest by selecting new recipes and cooking them together. The rest of the family has gotten in to the act by requesting that he make desserts for family functions and even buying him an apron with his name on it.
One of the various kid cookbooks that we have had good luck with is One Bite Won't Kill You.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Unplugged Journey

Just returned from a Maui after a family vacation/family wedding. It was our first time in Maui and the boys first trip to Hawaii. I've been replaying once scene from our trip over and over in my mind. While visiting a pizza place in Kihei (recommendation: Shaka Pizza. A NY-worthy pizza.) a family of 6 enters the restaurant and sits a few tables away from us. The family consists of a mom, dad, 3 girls (triplets, around 6-years old) and a grandma. Immediately after sitting, the girls each break out their personal electronic games, dad opens the paper and mom and grandma sit quietly with their hands in their laps. This scene was played out again, with a mom and 3-year old son at the wedding we attended later in the week.

There is no greater parenting faux pas than allowing your kids to tune out with a screen during family time, whether in private or public. For those that choose this option, shame on you.
  1. You are wasting one of the last available parts of your day for connecting with your kids.
  2. Regardless of the situation, by allowing kids to disconnect themselves from those around them by flipping on a screen your implicit message to them is clear: "Other people around you don't matter. Do what makes you happy." and worst of all "Mommy and/or Daddy don't want/need to talk to you."
I'm not one to rail against technology. I love technology. But as is the case with grownup technology (e.g. cell phones, pda's and ipods) etiquette and social norms have lagged far behind the adoption of mobile games such as the Gameboy and personal DVD players. There are suitable times to enjoys these devices such as long trips or downtime on a rainy day, but limits need to be set.

More importantly, from a parenting perspective, why waste an opportunity for uninterrupted conversation with your kids? There are so many distractions during a typical day that distract us and disconnect us from our families. Even if the kids are sitting quietly and coloring while their parents talk, their minds are tuned into the conversation and they are learning lessons about their parents and their values as well as the acceptable social norms of grownups.

The same can be said when the roles are reversed and mom or day have their face buried in their blackberry during dinner or some similar family time.

Those who chose to pacify with the screen are setting themselves up for a fall.

Friday, November 17, 2006

McDonalds is Your Nanny

Whether or not we realize it as parents, we have surrendered the mentoring of our kids to the marketing spinmeisters of corporate America. By dedicating a greater portion of our waking hours towards chasing The America Dream we are taking time away from our kids, thus leaving them more vulnerable to outside influences. The result is a list of kids' questions never answered and discussion opportunities missed, which leaves an information void that is filled by media and pop culture.

The basic formula for our 24-hour day has traditionally looked something like this:

Sleep + Work + Other = 24

Where "Other" is comprised of a stew of activities involving family, friends, leisure time, community involvement, etc. Each component of this equation has traditionally been allotted 8 hours, but over the last 15 years or so the balance has become skewed and somewhat blurred as we began to succumb to external pressures (chasing The Dream) and spent more time at work both physically and virtually, thanks to technology. Transforming our daily equation into this:

SleeWp + OR + OKther = 24/7

If you are a parent, the price you pay for allowing your work life to encroach into your "Other" time results in an erosion in the amount of time you can spend rearing your kids. In order to budget your Other time your forced to turn to organized activities and in-car DVD players or Gameboys (aka "Screen Nannies") to occupy the kids as you rush around to the other functional activities of our day, such as getting the groceries, taking the dog to the vet or going to Best Buy.
The amount of time the kids spend in the controlled environment of their homes is then replaced with the quasi-controlled environment in the backseat of your mini-van. Messages, both overt and sublime, assault their senses in the form of radio commercials, Hollywood movies, billboards as well as the actions and words of their peers. This creates quite a paradox as they spend less time with their parents, which increases their exposure to external stimuli thus creating more questions for them that are best answered by their parents.

The best solution I can put forth in this short post, is to maximize the effectiveness of the time you get to spend with your kids. Your goal is to make it obvious to your kids how special your time together is.
  • Create a schedule for together time and STICK TO IT. Exceptions happen, but if you're constantly showing up an hour late for dinner because you stayed late at the office then you are sending a message to your child that they are not a priority in your day. Actions speak louder than words.
  • Use stories of your own experiences to make a point. If you do this on a regular basis, the kids will not only be entertained, but they will hang on your every word. This is a much more effective tool than a "don't do this/that" lecture. Check out this website for other helpful uses of storytelling.
  • Fun and games release tension and strengthen bonds. They also create more opportunities for spontaneous conversation, when you can casually learn all sorts of things about each other. A fifteen minute game of catch or Uno is all it takes.
  • Put particular emphasis on your first ten minutes together after work and school by shutting off the radio in the car and asking specific questions about their day. Make the questions open ended ("Tell me about gym class today.") to cut down on the chance for quick yes or no answers. If the kids are not talkative, then take the initiative yourself and share something about your day. Consistency is important here; do it EVERY day and don't be discouraged if the feedback on any given day is not very substantial. It will get their with practice.