Hey, Mom and Dad, Please Step up to the Home Plate
by Janet Peterson

Do our children imitate us? You bet they do! We’ve all experienced the chagrin of witnessing some of our bad habits—such as losing our temper at a driver who cuts us off or procrastinating on a job we aren’t fond of— show up in our offspring. Do children imitate our bad eating habits as well?

Alarmingly, they do-and at very young ages. “A new study of more than 3,000 youngsters found significant numbers of infants and toddlers are downing french fries, pizza, candy, and soda,” reports T. A. Badger in a recent Associated Press release.

Dietitian Jodie Shield warned, “Your children are watching you-they see what you do. We’re on a very dangerous course if we do not make some changes in helping parents step up to the plate and be role models.” [i]

Why are babies and growing children eating poorly, consuming large amounts of fat, sugar, and salt? That’s an easy question to answer but a hard problem to solve.

Moms and dads are going the quick, easy, pacifying route of feeding their children-that is, doing the drive-up, pick-up, and warm-up method of food preparation instead of staying home, cooking dinner, and providing good nutrition with a variety of fruits, vegetables, meats, and grains.

A friend of mine happily acquired new grandchildren when her son married a woman with three children. To get to know her grandchildren, she invited them to spend a week with her. After a few days of eating home-cooked meals, which my friend said were just the usual family fare, the eight-year-old boy came to her and said, “Grandma, you don’t eat American food here.”  What he meant was she didn’t buy fast food.  By the end of the week, he said, “You know, Grandma, I like your food here!”

Eric Schlosser, in his bestselling book Fast Food Nation, stated: “A person’s food preferences, like his or her personality, are formed during the first few years of life, through a process of socialization. Toddlers can learn to enjoy hot and spicy food, bland health food, or fast food, depending upon what the people around them eat.” [ii]

That we like what we’re fed as children was nowhere more evident to me than the breakfast room of our hotel in Tokyo, Japan. The chefs provided two buffets for the patrons. One was noted as “American,” and the other, of course, was Japanese. The American food items looked quite familiar-eggs, toast, fruit, and milk, though the taste, especially of the milk, translated quite differently. The Japanese patrons that morning were eating foods that were entirely foreign to me as breakfast fare-fish, soup, rice, noodles, and teas. Several children at a table near to us were eating their breakfast with obvious enjoyment. These children would grow up with those tastes in their food memories just as I had acquired my breakfast tastes years ago and a half a world away.

Far too many children are developing their food tastes on a diet of chicken nuggets, hamburgers, french fries, and soft drinks. “Every month about 90 percent of American children between the ages of three and nine visit a McDonald’s,” commented Schlosser.  “American children now get about one-quarter of their total vegetable servings in the form of potato chips or french fries.” [iii]

Results of a Feeding Infants and Toddlers Study were presented at an October 2003 meeting of the American Dietetic Association.  Astonishingly, babies are eating french fries, hot dogs, sausage, bacon, soft drinks, and candy as daily dietary staples. [iv]

“A taste for fat developed in childhood is difficult to lose as an adult,” [v] said Schlosser, as are tastes for highly salted and sugared foods. What children are fed is critical not only to their immediate health and development but also to their eating habits for the rest of their lives. Is it any wonder that we’re becoming a fat and unhealthy nation?

Children who eat the majority of meals at home rather than at a fast-food restaurant or in a car will develop tastes for a variety of healthy foods. Those flavors of childhood won’t be limited to a few menu items that are high in fat, sugar, and salt.  As adults their childhood food memories will draw from a broad spectrum of eating experiences. Those flavors of childhood will have come from real “happy meals”-the kind that Mom used to fix.

Serving children home-cooked dinners can provide:

  •                       A variety of tastes and textures
  •                       A balanced diet representing all food groups
  •                       Foods lower in fat, salt, and sugar
  •                       Real dishes and utensils instead of  paper or plastic ones
  •                       Privacy for blessings on the food and conversation
  •                       A sense of a family’s unique home instead of uniformity of fast-food environments
  •                       A clean kitchen and safe preparation methods
  •                       A cook who loves her children and who has a vital interest in their health and well-being instead of in hourly wages, tips, or profit margins

Cooking dinner for one’s family is just not that hard. All it takes is a little planning and a little time.  Our children are worth the time and energy. They deserve a good start in life by being served wholesome, home-cooked foods.

Hey, Mom and Dad, for your children’s sake, please step up to the home plate.

Kid-friendly Recipes

The following recipes from Remedies for the ‘I Don’t Cook” Syndrome appeal to children and are simple to prepare. For further reading on the benefits of families eating dinner together, please visit idontcook.net.  Cookbooks can be purchased through this website.

Debbie Nelson

Why go to Taco Bell when you can make your own superior tacos?

Chicken tenders or boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Mild picante sauce (or medium or hot as preferred)
Flour tortillas

Optional toppings
Chopped green onions
Chopped tomatoes
Grated cheese
Shredded lettuce
Sliced olives
Sour cream

Place chicken tenders or breasts in a slow cooker or Dutch oven and cover with picante sauce. Cook 2 hours on medium-high heat or 8 hours or low. Put chicken mixture in center of warmed tortillas. Add desired toppings.

Servings variable.

Janet Peterson

“Everyone in our family likes Ranch dressing. Putting it on chicken is another way to enjoy it. “

2/3 cup crushed cornflakes
2/3 cup grated Parmesan
1 (0.6-ounce) envelope ranch dressing mix
6 to 8 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
cup butter or margarine, melted

Heat oven to 350 F.

Mix cornflakes, Parmesan cheese, and salad dressing mix in a shallow bowl. Dip chicken breasts in butter, then roll in ranch dressing mixture. Place chicken in a 9×13-inch pan. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes.

Serves 6 to 8.

Pat Menlove

Leftover vegetables, especially grated carrots, may be added to Sloppy Joes.

1 pound ground beef
teaspoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried onion flakes (or onion salt)
cup catsup
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
1 (10 -ounce) can chicken gumbo soup
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce
Salt and pepper to taste
Hamburger buns or sandwich rolls

In a medium skillet, brown ground beef with garlic and onion flakes. Add catsup, mustard, soup, and tomato sauce. Stir to blend. If sauce is too thick, add water. Simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve on buns or rolls.

Serves 4-6.

Janet Peterson

You’ll think you’re on a Scout campout. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be used in place of beef patties. Add cream of chicken soup, choice of vegetables, and/or stuffing mix.

1 to 2 pounds ground beef
1 (0.9-ounce) envelope dry onion soup mix or 1 medium onion, sliced
4 to 5 carrots, sliced
4 to 5 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional additions

Cream of mushroom or golden mushroom soup
Diced green pepper
Frozen corn
Frozen green peas
Sliced mushrooms
Sliced zucchini

Heat oven to 375 F.

Mix ground beef with onion soup and form into 6 patties. Place each patty on an 18-inch-square piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil. Put carrots, potatoes, and onion (if not using soup) and other ingredients desired on top of patties. Secure foil by bringing sides up and folding over several times.  Fold over the ends. Place packets on a cookie sheet and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until meat is cooked and vegetables are tender. Open packets carefully to let steam escape.

Serves 6.

Kristen Carpentier

Put water on to boil for spaghetti noodles while you cook the sauce; they will be done at the same time.

1 pound mild or hot Italian sausage or pound sausage and pound ground beef
1 green pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves fresh garlic, minced
1 small tomato, cut in wedges
Sliced mushrooms (to taste)
1 (15-ounce) can Hunt’s Chunky Special sauce
2 (15-ounce) cans Hunt’s Italian sauce
Spaghetti noodles, cooked according to package directions

Brown sausage in a large skillet. Remove sausage and drain grease all but 1 to 2 tablespoons grease.  Saut green pepper, onion, garlic, tomato, and mushrooms in same skillet. Add sausage and sauces. Cook on medium low heat for 15 minutes. Serve over cooked spaghetti.

Serves 6-8.


Christine Neilson

Pair these breadsticks with a hearty soup or chili.

1 tablespoon yeast
1 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
  teaspoon salt
3-4 cups flour

Soften yeast in warm water. Mix sugar, salt, and 3 cups flour together. Add yeast. Blend well, adding enough remaining flour to form soft dough. Knead 3 minutes. Cover and let rise for 10 minutes.

Bread Stick Spread

cup soft butter or margarine (not liquefied)
cup Parmesan cheese
cup mayonnaise                                
teaspoon parsley flakes
teaspoon garlic salt

Blend butter, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise, parsley, and garlic salt together in a small bowl.

Spray or grease a cookie sheet.  Put dough in middle of pan and press to outer edges. (Coat hands with cooking spray if needed to prevent dough from sticking to hands.) Spread Bread stick Spread over dough. Cut dough down the middle and across to make sticks. (A pizza cutter works well.) Let rise until almost doubled in size.

Heat oven to 350 F.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool in pan.

Makes 40 bread sticks.

Christine Neilson

“Homemade tortillas are quick and easy and so good. Children love them hot and buttered.

3 cups flour
1 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cups warm water
1 tablespoon shortening or oil

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Add water a little at a time, mixing with dry ingredients until dough is  very soft dough but not sticky. If after kneading a few minutes it feels too wet, add a little flour. Add oil or shortening and knead until dough is soft and satin-like. Cover and let rest while griddle heats over medium-high heat.

Make 12 dough balls a little larger than a golf ball. Use a heavy, weighted rolling pin for easier rolling. Tortillas should be about 5-6 inches round.  Roll tortilla very thin, less than 1/8-inch thick. Spray a griddle or skillet with cooking spray or grease with oil. Cook tortillas until bubbles come through to top. Turn tortilla over and cook until done. Tortillas can be stored in a covered container or plastic bag and reheated on a hot griddle.

Makes 12 tortillas.

[i] . T. A. Badger, “Bad eating habits starting under age 2,” Deseret News, Oct. 26, 2003 (Internet).

[ii] . Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 123.

[iii] . Schlosser,  243.

[iv] . Badger.

[v] . Schlosser, 241.

2003 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.