My mom was born in Paris, and with a French mom, it should come as no surprise that our meal time often included a cheese plate. More specifically, a cheese course. It is to her that I owe my love for cheese, and I don't discriminate. Hard, soft, strong, mild and the stinkier the better.Â When she was pregnant with me, she craved Limburger cheese, much to my father's dismay.Â And unintentionally continuing the cheesy theme, when I was pregnant with my son, I ate nothing but Cheddar cheese on buttered Saltines for the first month.
Beyond the cheese course at dinner, cheese and crackers became a family ritual and a favorite after-school snack for my sister and me growing up. Picking a favorite cheese is like picking a favorite child. I simply couldn't. Completely dependent on mood, inspiration or just the way the wind blows, I can easily go in ten different tasting directions. Give me a sharp Cheddar, a melty Camembert or Cambazola and I am a happy camper.
Over the past few years, my now six-year-old son has developed his own discerning palate for cheese as well. Oftentimes, when I'm in the kitchen making dinner, he'll spy a container of Feta or crumbled Gorgonzola on the counter and start munching away, handful after handful. I love that about him.Â
Now that school is officially back in session, cheese is one of our favorite after-school snacks to chow down on.Â I'll get a plate of crackers, cheese and sliced fruit or grapes and we'll sit down and work on his homework together, happily nibbling our way through our treats.Â A New York Times piece last year did a write-up on how a parent's eating habits are inherited by their kids, and scientific theories aside, I'm glad he picked up on this favorite food ritual of mine. Kids take their cues, in food and otherwise, from their parents. If I'm eating a well balanced diet, more than likely, he is too. As Mary Abbott Hess, a nutrition expert, recently said, "We can't control what our kids eat, but we can equip them with lessons to last a lifetime." Through developing traditions, memories and good eating habits, our kids subconsciously end up making the right choices on their own. If you ask my son what he wants as a snack, 9 times out of 10, he'll choose cheese, yogurt or a granola bar on his own, and launch into a short diatribe on what is "healthy" and what is not. Oh how I love that kid! As Hess said, a key step is "empowering kids to make better choices." Got that one nailed down tight.
In a recent statement from the Nutrient Rich Foods Coalition, they detailed a few easy steps for parents to use in helping their children eat well.
Â•Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Explore Nutrient-Rich Resources Online: Kids these days spend a lot more time on the computer than they used to, so that makes it a perfect place to turn when teaching them about nutrient-rich foods. You can visit www.MyPyramid.gov with them for help in explaining the importance of hitting the different food groups, and you can find a good variety of nutrient-rich recipes at www.NutrientRichFoods.org.
Â•Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â "Fuel up" at school:Â When packing your kids' school lunches, make sure to give them variety and the right types of snacks to fuel them during the day.Â For Nicholas, he happens to be on a salami sandwich kick these days - who knows what it will be next week.Â But along with that, he chooses fresh fruit (champagne grapes are popular these days with him and his sister) and either a yogurt or a few slices of cheese.Â A more "fun" snack and some milk from school round out his lunchbox and gives him what he needs to get through the day.
Â•Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Shop and cook together: I've found, with my own kids, that the more involved they are in the whole process of creating meals with me, the more inclined they are to step a little outside of their comfort zone and try something new, and the more excited they get about being part of the whole process.Â Nicholas gets to choose dinner once a week, and when he chooses, it's always followed up by asking me if his choice is healthy. Â Even at six, he's picked up on cues and cares about things like that.Â He loves helping me grocery shop, and is learning how to pick out ripe fruit and avocado.Â And cooking in the kitchen?Â He's there. As soon as he sees me tinkering away, he's dragging the stepstool over to the counter and rolling up his sleeves to help.
Â•Â·Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Make mealtime family time: Everything stops at dinner time. We don't answer the phone, the TV and radios are off, and it's just about sharing a meal together, and the day's events.Â For us, it's all about being present. Â‘Course with the dog underfoot and the baby currently teething, it isn't always quiet, but it's ours.
It's all really simple, and certainly not rocket science. Set a good example, and your kids will follow you. Get them involved and keep them interested and you'll be setting them up for the rest of their lives.