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How you ate as a child Vs. How you eat now

  • m

The NY Times article about parents who pressure their nannies to provide organic/healthy food to the kids contained a quote from a mother who was absolutely convinced that however her child ate determined the way he or she was going to eat forever. Sure, it could have some influence. But is it really that much? I'm curious how many Chowhounds out there grew up with would be considered the average American diet and came to be more conscious of what they eat on their own.

As for me, I certainly ate my fair share of fast food and then some. It definitely showed. But my parents came from a country and a culture where people often didn't have enough to eat, so they thought feeding me all the American food I wanted was a great thing. I always ate ethnic food at home, though, which set me up to be more receptive to "different" foods. When I left for college, my parents and I simultaneously went for healthier food. They worked more legumes and exotic grains into their food while I cut out sugars and started eating organic.

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  1. I grew up on predominantly Mexican food at home, with some basics like meatloaf and spaghetti thrown in for good measure.
    My parents still eat like this today.

    My brother and I have profoundly expanded our tastes, through travels and a mixed bag of friends and co-workers that we run around with.

    "I always ate ethnic food at home, though, which set me up to be more receptive to "different" foods." - I would agree with this statement.

    So, that mother is wrong to assume that what she feeds her children now determines how they will eat forever.

    1. I certainly rarely ate fast food as a child (much of it did not exist back in those days) and I was completely food phobic. My mother - who was willing to try just about anything - encouraged us to eat all sorts of things but I was so afraid of food that I simply could not try it.

      Many years later, encouraged by a truly patient husband and some good friends, I'll eat just about anything. But still, no okra.

      1. My parents were really old world and grew and scavenged a lot of our food--and got a lot of local food from farmers, bakeries, etc.--and my mom made almost everything from scratch (even butter, cheese, yogurt, cereal, canned vegetables, etc....).

        I don't do this. I just don't have the time or motivation. But I do love simple fresh, seasonal food, like what I grew up eating. And I'm raising my son to appreciate the same kinds of food (and luckily he gets to visit his grandparents' gardens every summer, which he loves). I really appreciate their philosophy and drive for self-sufficiency and try to strive to incorporate this into my life any way that I can.

        I wouldn't compare the hard-core, committed (and insanely time-consuming and almost political) stance that my parents had to the case that you have cited (that is, having a nanny feed the kids organic foods)... But I can attest that my parents (and their parents'and ancestors) had a tremendous effect on my way of eating (among other things, of course) and that is filtering down to my son. No one has a bigger effect on children than their parents when it comes to learning to discriminate between good/bad/mediocre. But it takes commitment, consistency, and a fair amount of fervor.

        1. I was very picky as a kid--picky meaning I hated most of the veggies my mom forcefed me. I despised frozen string beans, canned peas, canned beets, green bean casserole, sickly-sweet candied yams, and anything involving cream of mushroom soup. I did, however, love broccoli, potatoes, corn, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. But trust me, there were no exotic foods in southwestern Pennsylvania.

          I still hate all of the things I hated then; they still taste like rank mush. I love fresh green beans, though, and sweet potatoes and fresh peas; I still dislike beets, and I'm convinced it's because of a night when my parents played "Beat It" and laughed madly while I sobbed over my plate of candy purple nastiness.

          What I DID learn growing up is to eat balanced meals, that I should make my own bread and my own sauce (like my mom and grandmother did), and that spending time making dinner is always preferable to processed crap.

          I hated the processed then, hate it now--problem is, people rarely call a six-year-old a Chowhound.

          1. I think I put this in one of the "how to raise a Chowhound posts" -- it's ridiculous to think that the only way someone will end up eating a variety of adventurous foods is to eat that way from early childhood. It couldn't hurt, but it's not essential by any means. My mother was pretty adventurous, but I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so I still pretty much ate plain American food, with the occasional dim sum excursion or Greek Food Festival. My ex-husband and best friend, on the other hand, grew up extremely picky, only eating a few plain foods, and yet both of them will eat nearly anything today.
            I try to feed my kids healthy food, but I think these obsessed parents are taking it way too far.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Chowpatty

              Oh this is a really tricky issue and I think that we're on the precipice of a real food/eating disaster for American children. I would like to see them all eat well, meaning that they enjoy a broad range of healthy foods along with some treats. I have a five year old who is a great eater and our technique was to expect him to eat what we eat and encourage him verbally plus get him very involved in food prep and even have him pick the food whever possible. It has worked very well. I also have him involved in several athletic activities including year round sports so that he has a high activity level. I took him on a special trip today to get some seckel pears because he was allowed to choose any treat he wanted and that's what he came up with!

              That said, the growing panic over childhood obesity seems to be inspiring a level of hysteria and ineffective response that is going to make these kids gigantic!!!

              I listened to a nutritionist explain that thus far all interference with obese children's diet has been shown not to help reduce their weight and is likely damaging their ability to overcome the problem as they grow older.

              Sadly I can attest to this myself. I have a simple tendency to be heavy and this was of great concern to my mother. She was able to keep me underweight throughout my childhood and adolescence but I was so painfully hungry that I often had trouble sleeping. Through my own doing, but not surprisingly, I began gaining weight as soon as I was on my own. It was been a very difficult problem to overcome because reducing your weight as an adult when you have had such a negative weigh management experience as a child is not easy! When I first tackled it, I would feel myself actually begin to panic when I first reduced my calories.

              It's been awhile and I was able to get back to my ideal weight but I can tell you that I would never ever restrict a child's calories in any way that made weight management anything bigger than a daily chore that we should keep in mind so that our bodies feel good and work well.

              I often think of my husband's upbringing when childhood eating comes into question. He was permitted unlimited access to an unlimited supply of potato chips - his father worked in a factory and his mother was raising eight children so it was an anything goes kind of household. He went through a heavy phase as a boy that he managed his way out of independently when he grew older and was interested in girls. You couldn't pay him to eat a potato chip now, whereas it took me YEARS to be able to walk away from a potato chip bag!

            2. I think it's in the approach to food as much as it is the food itself. If you have an "eat what you want" philosophy, then the kid will never try anything new. If you have a "clean your plate or else," that'll make her either obese or resentful or both. If, however, you generally ask her to try a bit of everything, then she'll be more receptive to trying everything.

              However, laughing while waiting seven hours for the kid to eat beets is not going to make her want to eat beets again, ever.

              3 Replies
              1. re: MuppetGrrl

                Wow, I hope that didn't happen to you! What if you ask her to try everything and from the time she is very small she categorically refuses?

                1. re: Chowpatty

                  That is EXACTLY what happened to me. :)

                  Well, there was no categorical refusing in my house, I can tell you that. Plus my mom made a mean apple crisp, so there was plenty of reason to want to finish the gray-green pile of green beans. But I'm thinking, when I have kids, I'll go with "finish a tablespoon, at least," with some reward if they do.

                  Forcefeeding--or letting them get away with eating only bread and chicken nuggets, which is what my brother did--will NOT be on the menu.

                  1. re: MuppetGrrl

                    Oh, I remember evenings in my home that ended with me crying because I refused to eat horribly cooked liver drowned in A1 sauce, and my dad would yell at me until I choked down every last bite. To this day I cannot eat or smell A1 sauce. Or liver.

              2. My family has no ethnicity. Technically, we're some anglo northern european mix, but we have NO traditions or family recipes. So, growing up, I ate 70s style American. Pretty horrible. Now, I cook a wide variety of foods. So,yes, kids can change. Thank goodness, since my own son eats about five foods. I don't think the clean plate club is a good idea at all. I used to stuff food into my sock so that I could leave the table.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Glencora

                  Like you, pretty basic food while growing up, although with my father's travels for business (independent film), he would bring home different ideas on new and interesting foods, so we'd often try out different food or spices he had eaten while traveling.

                  It wasn't until about 5 years after I moved out of the house that I began to really expand my food horizons. I'm nowhere near as adventurous as many of the 'hounds, but I'm the one that my sister or brother will turn to for recipes to "jazz things up a bit" and I'm the one who will experiment with recipes and flavors. I enjoy finding a new-to-me food or spice, learning about it, and trying it.

                  1. re: Glencora

                    When my son was young, he ate Cheerios, grapes, bacon, and pretzels. Period. For years. I would have loved it had he agreed to "just try one bite." He simply would not. I guess we could have force-fed him, but that was about the only was we could have gotten a bite of PB&J or pizza into him. His favorite food now (he's in his 20's) in anything Indian.

                    1. re: pikawicca

                      I'm really glad to hear that. Maybe there is hope for my son. In theory the "just one bite" idea is great. In theory.

                  2. I was a picky eater as a kid. All I ever wanted was a hot dog or macaroni and cheese. Over time I became more adventurous - I eat burgers and pizza now too.

                    1. As an Air Force brat we moved quite a bit and my parents encouraged us to try many different things. While not Mexican my mother's family ranched on the Mexican border of Arizona and that is still comfort food to me. My father's family had a Germanic background and there is a lot of German food that is also comfort food. I'm pretty much open to varied cuisine. True fast food did not come onto my radar until high school and there was not much to choose from. We did have drive-ins and those were occasional treats but my parents would be on the look out for good regional cooking and would not discriminate on drive-in or sit down as long as the food was good.

                      1. i struggle to come up with a list of things I ate as a child that I eat now (except for the holidays). I compiled a list a few years ago and excep for the basics of hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. and i cringe when i look at it. Now I see my kids starting to be on their own and see my positive food influence on hem and I smile.

                        1. As with other things, I'm thinking that if one was forced to eat certain foods as a child, one might rebel and not like those foods as an adolescent and then adult. I would think that trying to groom a child to be a chowhound wouldn't work. Isn't a chowhound someone who eats all kinds of foods and decides which they like best, rather than someone who only eats certain prescribed "better" foods?

                          I don't recall being forced to eat any particular foods as a child, but we did often have home-style Chinese when I was young. But I have always loved Chinese food and I always had my mother fix my favorite home-style dishes (steamed pork cake with pickled vegetables, foo jook soup) for adult birthdays until she couldn't any longer.

                          For some reason many foods at which I turned my nose up as a child are particular favorites now: beets, cauliflower, brussel sprouts.

                          1. I eat pretty much the same as I did as a kid. Granted, I now like a few particular foods I didn't like before, but overall it's the same.

                            I became veg as a teen, but my parents say I disliked meat from an early age and often wouldn't eat it.

                            We always ate lots of ethnic foods, and tons of fruits and veggies. No fast food, sweets for special occasions only. Healthy, but not obsessive.

                            I think the way you eat as a kid, more so than specific foods, influence your taste later on. Parents raise their kids to either be adventurous or restricted eaters; to see food as pleasure or necessity; to be health-conscious or not. But they can't make them like or hate spinach.

                            1. I was an incredibly picky eater as a young child. I only ate McDonald's hamburgers (without pickles and onions), McD's french fries, pizza, White Castle sliders and thin noodles in anchovy broth. Now, I try to eat seasonally and organic. There are very few things I won't try. My diet is pretty diverse. However, I still refuse to eat cucumber pickles.

                              What's funny about my parents was that they were raised up on Korean food. In their twenties and thirties, they branched out and ate "American" food, Egyptian, Chinese, etc. But they eventually returned to their roots, eating predominantly Korean food. I hope that doesn't happen to me.

                              1. Ah, you can't win with kids. I think the best you can do is provide healthy food and try to expand their options and opinions of food...but w/o a mature palette, it's difficult. You can lead the horse to water but can't force it to drink.

                                Any way, I was a picky eater and am still to some degree...I just eat more of it that's all. (unfortunately true). Growing up in the '60s and 70s w/ typical parents that grew up during the depression meant nothing would go to waste, but my Mom was smart enough not to grind us into the ground about what to eat or being picky.

                                My Mom however did restrict our diet from sugar and junk food. Cookies, ice cream and all was very limited but that was on par with everyone I knew. I talked to a friend recently and we both remember sharing a 12 oz soda with 3-4 brothers and sisters at the age of 8-ish. Same with potato chips. The down side is the sugar restriction flipped around when people got older on and on their own.

                                I know when I went away to school I gorged all the time on pepperidge farm cookies because there wasnt' anyone to stop me and there weren't 4 sibling competing. I've heard this story a lot and have to think if Moms let us have that stuff earlier, might not have gorged on them later.

                                Suppy and demand mixed in with human psychology is a funny thing. Of course the HUGE portions today don't help.

                                1. I was a very picky eater as a child, and my family was very lax about letting me eat what I wanted. When it came to the dinner table, I only ate rice and the accompanying broth from the stews my grandma would make; no meat or veggies.

                                  I had oatmeal and tea for breakfast almost everyday; 1 day of Mcdonalds breakfast.

                                  There were times when all I would eat for the entire day would be a bag of doritos.

                                  My grandmother was a caterer, so I was always exposed to all types of cuisine. but I didn't get into food until I became sick and hospitalized at age 7 and I couldn't take anything in through my mouth, but was kept on an IV for 2 months. After that I wanted to eat everything, try anything... the chowhound and culinarian was born. I baked my first cake by scratch 2 years later, and eventually was cooking for the family every other night.

                                  That was the time I also knew I wanted to be in the industry as a professional.

                                  Now I have neices, one of them being really picky and stubborn in what she eats. Her parents don't really enforce any rules about eating certain amounts of this or that. I've learned that a child will eventually be curious about what everyone else is eating at the table as long as they see the others being enthusiastic about eating it. My neice now isn't afraid to at least try something before making the judgement if she likes it or not. She loves beets and black olives, quite distinct for an 8 year old!

                                  1. Hmmm - I don't think it's nearly that simple as 'how you eat as a child determines how you eat in life'. I think there's some merit to it, certainly, but I think people's tastes naturally change as they get older.

                                    For instance, I hated cheese, raw tomatoes, and nuts when I was a child, but don't say no to them now (though I still don't like swiss cheese, or strong cheeses). And I really only learned to eat nuts later in life.

                                    On the other hand, staples from my childhood still provide strong sense memories. Like Seabrook Farms frozen creamed spinach. I still love this. And salted raw vegetables - my blood pressure goes up when I even think about it, but I used to douse raw cucumbers, carrots, and green peppers with salt when I'd eat them, and sometimes do today. I'd eat them like apples - sprinkle salt on them after washing them and just eat away.

                                    I still make roast chicken like my mother did, and prefer brown rice to white like she taught me.

                                    Still I'm a lot more adventurous than my parents were when it comes to cuisine. That being said, I _was_ like that as a child. Not sure who I learned it from - I was the only person I knew who drank Dr. Brown's Celray soda.

                                    - Andrew Langer

                                    1. There are some habits I probably learned as a child. My mother made almost everything we ate. I didn't learn about processed food until I went away to college. It wasn't a happy discovery. I now make everything too, even if my tastes are a lot broader than my parents' were.

                                      My mother cooked mostly Chinese which is still my comfort food. But I cook a lot of other foods which she wouldn't have eaten, let alone cooked. She had a typical Asian dislike of dairy products while I love cheese, the smellier the better. I think I'm still influenced by the Chinese way of cooking vegetables lightly, and the Asian way of balancing foods with many layers of taste and texture.

                                      We were allowed some candy and soda but in limited amounts. All other sweets were home made. I never became addicted to junk food, perhaps because I never ate it in quantity. We drank water and not fruit juice, tea rather than milk. I think the parents in the NYTimes article are trying to get these habits into their young children. I can't fault them for trying, it's so hard to keep kids away from junk.

                                      I think the biggest habit I learnt as a child was that food should be enjoyed at home. Every night we sat down to a homemade meal and I maintain that tradition.

                                      1. Very varied foods because neither parent believed that meat-and-potatoes were what they wanted every day. I was extremely lucky in that I lived in an ethnically diverse neighborhood where Japanese, Hawaiian, Chinese, Irish, Italian, and Mexican cultures were simply part of my little suburb. My father-unit seemed to know every farmer on a first-name basis within a 200 mile radius. My Sainted Mother(tm) experimented with cooking techniques (and foods) to stretch the budget with two growing male human garbage disposals. I participated in Spring/Fall harvests and clan canning festivals. My friends' parents were always testing foods out on my Little Brother and me, hence my love of octopus (tako) and ika (squid), calamari, tripe, salted cod (ew-ew-ew!), and beef tongue (lengua?). My granddad was an accomplished cook, too, and had a willing recipient whenever we'd visit. These adventures in dining served me quite well going into high tech where multicultural groups were the norm...

                                        I've continued experimenting with foods, passing that love on to all three daughter-units. I also still living by my parents' creed: Quality over quantity.

                                        1. We didn't eat alot of ethnic food at home.My Hungarian mother tried to get her German mother-in-law to teach her dishes to serve my dad,but you know the old story,they didn't always get along.So no family recipes.momma made goulash sometimes.But most of our stuff was meatloaf,spahgetti,swiss steak,mashed potatoes,etc.We kids had to eat everything or at least try it.Though they never forced liver on us.Fast food was like if we had been out on a drive or mabye after church.It wasn't every day.It was kind of more of a treat.And we would go eat out some place special for birthdays so we were exposed to other foods.Also my dad was AirForce,so when on Okinawa we ate Japanese food.Our favorite restaurant in Anchorage was Nikko Gardens,a japanese place.We also would eat at home tacos,chalupas and enchildas momma would make.Didn't go to mexican restaurants very often.
                                          But we as adults like trying different foods and new places.
                                          I also know we didn't have computers and other stuff to keep us indoors as a kid in the 60s and 70s.And another thing which is not adressed is how much growth hormones and other things are feed to chicken and cattle,etc.this too could affect kids.

                                          1. If you grew up after WW II, as I did, there wasn't much choice in the matter - there was no fast food (I remember when pizza was a novelty), and my parents' idea of exotic was to go to an Italian place for spaghetti. At home, we had no fish unless my father caught it himself on fishing trips, which were pretty infrequent. The only dish I really remember from my childhood was chicken and dumplings - a Sunday fixture, and still my idea of ideal comfort food. I'm pretty sure all vegetables were canned.

                                            Today I eat all ethnic cuisines, and cook them at home, too. The spicier, the better. My tastes have really expanded since my childhood. Younger people may not have had as stark a contrast between what was standard when they were kids, and what they have available now - for me, the only way to go was in the direction of "more exciting."

                                            1. Growing up in the depression, our family was fairly lucky to have a meat and potatoes dinner every night. Few vegetables besides peas and corn. I didn't discover ethnic cooking until I found an Italian restaurant near college, previously it was all Chef Boyardee. Breakfasts were usually something like farina or oatmeal, which I eschew nowadays, not because I can't stand them, but because I finally discovered people ate other breakfasts. Oh yes, besides milk we often had ovaltine, not for the taste--but for the Little Orphan Annie decoder rings you could get with a proof of purchase.

                                              1. We ate what was put before us. It never occurred to any of us that there was such a thing as a choice in the matter, though we could occasionally register a severe dislike and get a pass granted, especially in a "more for the rest of us" situation - as when brother John discovered that he hated mushrooms, so we all very kindly helped him out there...but my hatred for most forms of soaked bread, as in the favorite family stewed-tomato recipe, got me exactly nowhere. I did get a pass on sweet custard, which is about the only childhood dislike I've carried with me.

                                                The fact is that we were poor, and food was whatever we could afford. We had a garden, as did many other people in our little farming town, and my dad's skills at hunting and fishing meant that squirrels, rabbits and freshwater fish helped the food budget quite a bit, but there wasn't much room for such luxuries as "picky" eating. Luckily, Mom was a decent and resourceful cook, though rarely an adventurous one. The upside was that I grew up with a strong desire to eat above my station whenever possible, while retaining a still-vibrant love for such proletarian formulations as the tuna-noodle casserole.

                                                1. Growing up on a farm in Western WA, most of what was put on the table for family and hired hands we grew ourselves, or got from neighbors, relatives, or nearby u-pick farms. When things were in season, mother canned the excess for the rest of the year. During the war when things were rationed, we kept eating well because we had our own.

                                                  raw milk, cheese, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, veal
                                                  apples, pears, peaches, cherries, apricots, prunes
                                                  strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries
                                                  walnuts, filberts
                                                  potatoes, beets, carrots, onions, corn, squash
                                                  beans, peas, various greens, lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes
                                                  plus, from our smokehouse came bacon, ham and sausage

                                                  A fisherman friend would come by with a gorgeous salmon or sturgeon from time to time. Guys fishing on our lake would sometimes drop off catfish. Every spring, when they were running, we'd get smelt.

                                                  We almost never ate out.

                                                  1. As I read what people are writing, I'm realizing that what you ate as a kid is closely linked to the time and place in which you grew up. If you grew up in a rural area several decades ago, you may have been more likely to eat fresh food as a child, and less likely to eat food from a diverse selection of cultures/subcultures. If you grew up in the suburbs in the 80's (as I did), you were much more likely to have encountered McDonald's and Taco Bell at major intersections as well as the very processed foods people now love so much in supermarkets.

                                                    I think what the kids in this article are eating is also linked to the time and place in which they are growing up--a city or near a city in the early 21st century. The parents are feeding the kids what fits their lifestyle and beliefs just as our parents did for us, although the ones here are more outspoken.

                                                    1 Reply
                                                    1. re: mrsry

                                                      I grew up in the seventies and eighties split between the country and the city. But my parents' thinking was circa 1930, since both had grown up at the tail-end of the depression. It's definitely possible for people with strong personalities to convey an anachronistic or out-of-place attitude about food.

                                                      Other kids in my milieu ate mostly crap, but I knew we didn't and couldn't. Somehow my mom and dad managed to brainwash us successfully enough that we actually felt sorry for these kids, even though the made fun of the weird food we brought to school.

                                                      But it really extends far beyond the mere question of food. I think it has more to do with forming a strong, non-conformist person who constantly questions the status quo. Even though the three of us turned out to have radically different interests and tastes, we definitely share this quality.

                                                    2. My parents traveled a great deal and our house reflected their exposure to produce beyond the apples and oranges. I remember eating mangoes, pineapple, papaya at a very early age. My friends would come over after school and point to the fruit bowl, "what's thatttt."

                                                      When I produce shop I still get a giggle out of the "discovery" of new fruits/veggies for those still virgins to some of the best fresh flavors around.

                                                      1. WHAT I eat now is different and more varied. There was no sushi, latte, or speck around our house in 1970's suburban New Jersey.

                                                        HOW I eat, on the other hand, is the same now as then, and was determined early on mainly by my mother. I learned about food by watching and helping her cook. I learned a love for fresh produce by going to the local farmstands with her. I learned to be open to new tastes by her patient and gradual introduction of new foods. From my dad I learned that the grossest part of whatever food, when put on bread and doused with ketchup, was actually THE BEST PART. That's a quote.

                                                        1. Growing up in a Chinese household, my parents would always prepare at least one of the following for dinner: a vegetable dish, a fish dish, a meat dish, cold appetizers (e.g., jellyfish or fresh cucumbers picked from the backyard in soy sauce, wine sauce, salt--so simple and delicious) and always--regardless of the weather--soup and hot rice. Lunch (home made noodle soup, dumplings, rice cakes, etc.) and breakfast were less elaborate and bfast was usually Western style (e.g., bagles, which my parents love). Basically, I ate banquet style for dinner nearly every night for over two decades and never thought it was anything unique. It wasn't until I started working that I realized how fortunate I was to have this bountiful feast prepared for me every night. I remember the first time someone told me she had cereal for dinner at least once a week--I looked at her like she was an alien!

                                                          My parents also enjoy pasta and pizza and curry dishes and bagels and sandwiches, and my mother loved Western style soups. Junk food like cookies, chips, soda and ice cream were pretty much nonexistent in our household not because we were personally opposed to it but because it just never occurred to us to buy them!

                                                          This has definitely had a big impact on me in terms of eating well-balanced, nutritious meals at least once a day and a love for cooking and eating (but eating well). To this day, I eat a variety of food on a daily basis and having Coke in the house or ordering it out is, believe it or not, a real treat!