I’m terribly rushed this morning, as it’s the first ‘normal’ Friday of 2021, which means I have an hour of Turkish conversation, followed by thirty minutes of actual (online) teaching, and later in the afternoon, my weekly Spanish conversation class.
Plus I have to write this, cook the lunch, hit the supermarket to stock up on essentials like beer and wine, and at least glance at the newspapers, about which more later.
So I thought I’d quickly share with you my secret for getting children to eat their vegetables.
I have three – children not vegetables – though they’re all grown up now. Not only have they reached great heights (vertically, not yet career-wise) but also, when they’re home, they eat whatever fresh produce I put on their plates.
Twenty or more years ago, I quickly worked out that shouting ‘Eat your spinach!’ at a two-year old only lead to tears (hers and my wife’s) and unnecessary stress (mine.) Over time, I came up with a much better system!
It works like this. On the plate goes some more familiar vegetable (tomatoes, say) AND spinach.
“Eat your spinach!” I yell, and the child, as if to challenge me, picks up a cherry tomato and nibbles at that. The lesser of two evils, see? You want me to do this? Well damn you, I’ll do that instead.
I combined this sleight of hand approach that with another old negotiating trick :
“OK, I’m going to divide the spinach into two portions, using this spoon. Watch to see that I’ve done it evenly. See? They’re more or less the same. (You think that one’s bigger and this one’s smaller? Really? I’m not sure. I tried to make them the same…) Anyway, choose one ‘half’, and you can leave the other.”
Obviously you up the size of the spinach portion you serve in anticipation that half of it will end up in the trash can.
Wait though, you haven’t heard the best bit.
A week or so down the line, the dinner plate’s going have on it the usual cherry tomatoes (by now, old friends), the all-too-familiar, putrid-looking pile of unappetizing, dark green stuff, and – wait for it – a pickled onion! Kids hate pickles, so they’re just perfect for this game.
“Eat your pickled onion! No? What if I cut it into four pieces (they are rather vinegary, I admit) and you can just eat two of them? You can leave the other two, IF you eat everything else (all the spinach, though I’m careful not to stress that part…)
You get the gist, I’m sure.
Unfamilar foods are a risk. Kids are wise to reject them. As a parent, it’s the default algorithm that you really, really want your offspring to possess: “Don’t know what it is? Don’t eat it.”
Familiar things are less scary, so easier to eat. Especially once you’ve gotten used to the new tastes.
And having some feeling of choice regarding how you deal with the new stuff (how much of it you have to eat, for example) sweetens the pill a little.
New stuff is easier to deal with when you are familiar with dealing with new stuff, and when you do it of your own volition.
Enough with vegetables. The point of this is that I still haven’t made my New Year resolutions, because I’ve been rather busy with our now-concluded January Sale.
I always make some resolutions! And until this year, I’ve invariably spent the time between Christmas and New Year reflecting on what I could be doing better over the coming twelve months. You’ll know the sort of thing, I’m sure – drink less, loose weight, eat more fruit and vegetables, etc. Ah, vegetables. I knew there was a connection somwhere.
So anyway, last year I resolved to eat (and to feed the family) the British-government advised ‘Five a day’ (portions of fruit and vegetables.) That way we would all lead long and virtuous lives, notwithstanding the amount of alcohol used to wash them down with.
I got about a week into 2020, changing what I cooked, shopping more often, encouraging everyone to snack on fruit, and yet still never averaged more than two or three portions a day! It was frustrating.
So I tried dried fruit, which I love. Dates, figs, raisins and the like. Lovely! Five a day, no trouble at all! But in a month I’d gained about two kilos. So I quit.
Now it’s (or was) New Year again and we have another chance to be ‘better’ in some way!
I’ve probably mentioned, I have a new subscription to ‘El Pais’ (a Spanish newspaper) and a neglected subscription to ‘Le Monde’ (French).
“Read your newspapers, Daniel” I yell at myself daily, mentally at least.
Of course, that should be something like:
“At least CLICK THE APP. Just glance through the pages to see what’s there. Look at the headlines. That won’t kill you! In fact, it’ll do you good. You’ll grow taller and develop strong muscles and bones! Read one article! Sure, choose the shortest one, why not, that’s fine! That way, it’ll only take a minute or two. You can leave the rest, I promise.”
I keep saying it. They’re the only thing that work in the long term, because once you’ve established them, they’re automatic, no motivation is required, and so there’s less chance of failing.
If you’ve tried Duolingo, that’s basically what they do. Encourage you to form language-learning habits.
Eating five a day was a tough habit to create, so I failed. Perhaps there should be a Duolingo for vegetables…
But then, I was doing the fruit and veg thing all wrong. In retrospect, a more logical approach would have been to have one portion of fresh fruit or veg a day in January (nice and easy – and it’s going to be a busy month), upping it to two in February, three in March, and so on.
While learning about how and where to shop, and picking up new recipe ideas as I went along.
Instead I tried to hit the five-a-day on Jan. 1st and, predictably, dropped off as soon as life got busy again after the holidays.
Perhaps I can do better this year. I’m going to spend the weekend thinking about it…
Oh, there was one thing that did work well in 2020: I stopped trying to lose weight!
But I also made an effort to not finish up food that my family had turned up their noses at, or had left on their plates. I HATE wasting food (my wife says I grew up in the war, which isn’t true. But my parents did.)
“Throw it away”, she would urge me when we cleared the table each evening. Sometimes I even managed to.
By the time Christmas had come around, the two kilos of dried-fruit calories I’d stashed away around my waist last January had magically gone!
Below there are links to some of our websites.
Go find easy, useful habits to create, things that would help you learn Italian in 2021.
Be unambitious. No one ever got addicted to nicotine consuming sixty cigarettes on day one.
Do one simple, quick thing and make a mental note to come back and do it again tomorrow.
When you’ve got into the habit, when it’s automatic and effortless, THEN start looking around for other useful language-learning activities.