Thursday, February 15, 2007

Shmoo Review: Winning the Food Fight

Of all the books I've had fun reviewing lately, this one most challenged and defied my expectations. Looking at the cover of Winning the Food Fightby Natalie Rigal, I expected the usual: fun food presentation ideas ("turn an apple into an adorable choo-choo train!"), kid-friendly recipes ("Rockin' Rollin' Rainbow Wraps!"), and some kind of nutritional pyramid.

Instead, what I found was a scientific look into what researchers call the "psychology of taste". How do children's taste preferences develop, and why? What is the effect of gender or age on food preference? What causes children to gravitate towards certain foods and shy away from others, particularly vegetables? Rigal, a researcher and senior lecturer on developmental child psychology at the University of Paris at Nanterre, does a great job of collecting and exploring the vast array of scientific literature on the subject while interposing accounts of her own experiences with her children at the table.

If studies like "Neophobic Behaviors and Appearance Percentages Among Children Two to Ten" are your idea of fun, this is the book for you. (In case you're wondering, 56% sorted out mixed foods, 45% examined their food and 31% grimaced, but only 8% turned their head away.)

The study I found most charming highlighted for me the vast ocean of difference between the food culture of France and the one here in the U.S. In a study done in France on children aged 2 to 3 years during lunch at a day care, cauliflower "was chosen in 51% of the cases when prepared au gratin, in 49% when served with a béchamel sauce". Tomatoes were chosen in 52% of the cases when stuffed, but only 27% when served "à la Provençale". Wow. Where I live, 2 to 3 year olds in day care generally get a choice between the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets or the fluorescent orange mac-and-cheese.

This is not the book to turn to on a busy weeknight when you're wondering what you can fix that the kids will eat; you'll find no recipes or fast-food hints here. But of all the books I've looked at recently, this one has provided me with the most fascinating food for thought.

14 comments:

anny said...

The daycares in Quebec have similar offerings from the kitchen. The one that I worked in for a few months had a full-time chef. Roasted vegetables were the norm. Everything was homemade.

Melissa R. Garrett said...

Gasp! I could only dream of getting my children to eat such sophisticated foods. My son (age 5) is the pickiest of the picky, and I have resorted to making my own muffin recipes (he loves a good muffin) with pureed fruits and veggies in the mixture. I use whole-wheat flour and add things such as wheat germ and oat bran. Any suggestions for a healthy alternative to butter and sugar?

He and my husband have issues with "texture," so trying to please everyone at meal-time is SO difficult. He also has a horrible sweet tooth, and we've resorted to keeping virtually NO treats in the house. I feel like I am fighting a losing battle, but it's one I must fight anyway.

Thanks for the heads-up about the book!!

Peach Pod said...

I totally agree with the thoughts and facts presented about what children eat. My son and one of his friends basically skipped the baby food stage and were both fed whatever the grown-ups ate. They both eat have always eaten things that were considered 'strange' for their young age: blackened fish, miso soup, fried oysters, egg drop soup, all manner of cheeses, fried rice, eggplant, etc. When my son was 8 months old, I was feeding him the beef (sorry about the meat mention) filling out of an enchilada while eating out for lunch. A woman came over to me and said, "That's too spicy for a baby." I asked her, "Did you know that Mexican babies eat Mexican food?" and she left in a huff! I now have a child who will always elect to eat at a bistro over McDonald's.

I hope there will come a day that feeding baby and toddler ‘appropriate’ food will go out of vogue with ‘baby talk.’ Speak to an infant or toddler with as you would an adult and you get a child with a great vocabulary. Feed a child a variety of foods and get a child who can make intelligent food choices.

BTW, I’m always amazed by how many times mothers tell me their kid won’t eat fresh fruits and vegetables. But that same child comes over to my house and eats them without a problem. I just put a bowl of baby carrots or grapes on the table and don’t say anything. They always empty the bowl. Amazing.

Beth Miriam said...

I wonder if the book talks about the whys of food changes.

I have a toddler who ate lentils, squash and asparagus regularly. Now he won't touch any of them. He does eat broccoli, green beans, cherry tomatoes, carrots, celery, cucumbers and black olives. I try and give him the same thing we are eating but some of it I think is he's still not great with a fork or spoon. I put the food on his plate, he chooses what to eat, I do try and always have a sure fire hit on there.

Anyway if they discuss why the food likes and dislikes go from such extremes I may try and find it from the library.

vegipunk said...

Wow, I don't have kids, but this sounds absolutely fascinating!!

Roxy said...

I always enjoy reading your book reviews, Jen. Thanks.

It just occured to me that maybe it is actually a good thing that small children's tastes so often change. One day they want peas and the next day they hate peas and want avocado instead. As frustrating as it is for the caregivers, maybe it is nature's way of creating variety in the diet. Just a thought.

Jennifershmoo said...

>>I wonder if the book talks about the whys of food changes.

Yes, she does go into that, and you'll be reassured to know that what your describing is completely normal! The authors notes that starting at age two, children in studies choose vegetables less and less often, and vegetables "decline in preference ranking until age seven, at which point it begins to rise" (pg. 56). Then by adolescence many more vegetables are accepted (pg. 45).

I found my copy at the library, too.

>>maybe it is nature's way of creating variety in the diet.

I think that's a very good point, too. In the absence of sweets, sugary drinks, and "junk food" in the home, studies do confirm that most children will naturally balance out their food intake over time. Dr. Fuhrman also talks about that in his book "Disease Proof Your Child".

Bradley said...

As a parent of a soon to be 4 year old, I am always surprised how quickly she will make a go / no go decision on certain foods. She never saw a star fruit before but had to have it and loves it. I cut up a piece of mango and she says no from 10 steps away. Will not even try it.

Some times it just takes creativity. She does not care for celery but will eat pealed cucumber she will devour when we put it out for her. At restaurants she always gets her 'salad' of cucumbers and tomatoes.

Over all I try to look at what she eats over the course of the week and balance it that way.

Bradley said...

As a parent of a soon to be 4 year old, I am always surprised how quickly she will make a go / no go decision on certain foods. She never saw a star fruit before but had to have it and loves it. I cut up a piece of mango and she says no from 10 steps away. Will not even try it.

At restaurants she always gets her 'salad' of cucumbers and tomatoes and people get a kick out of it, but it is something she enjoys and it starts some good habits.

Over all we try to look at what she eats over the course of the week and balance it that way.

Bradley said...

As a parent of a soon to be 4 year old, I am always surprised how quickly she will make a go / no go decision on certain foods. She never saw a star fruit before but had to have it and loves it. I cut up a piece of mango and she says no from 10 steps away. Will not even try it.

At restaurants she always gets her 'salad' of cucumbers and tomatoes and people get a kick out of it, but it is something she enjoys and it starts some good habits.

Over all we try to look at what she eats over the course of the week and balance it that way.

Ladarna Daorsa said...

Peach Pod: I agree with you entirely. We have a 7 year old son and people are always amazed that he eats garlic and curries and asks for raw onions in his salad and thinks a great "snack" is steamed broccoli tossed in butter and sauteed onions and sprinkled with parmesan cheese. His bedtime snack choice 3-4 nights out of the week is a salad "loaded" or a yogurt parfait -- with plain yogurt and fresh fruit.

>>Feed a child a variety of foods and get a child who can make intelligent food choices.

::nods::

I wish more parents understood this. People are surprised when my son eats Kale. Well, why wouldn't he? He's been eating Kale since he was an infant and he also understands why Kale is good for him. And I am not a food extremist and you know why? Mostly because I don't have to be. So, if he asks for a McDonald's ice cream cone while we are driving by, sure he can have one, because 9 times out of 10 he is going to ask for something else instead.

Selina said...

I just bought the Vegan Lunch Box book & I am very excited to get it. Thanks for having such a great blog!!

cheryl said...

my book just arrived! i wasn't expecting it til tomorrow so i'm very excited. then i'm passing it on to my sil. thanks again and again for a great blog and great info!

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