Cooking for Kids

Date October 31, 2006 at 11:00 PM

Categories Health & Beauty


You're standing in the grocery check-out line, staring robotically at the covers of People and the National Enquirer and it's verging dangerously on dinnertime when suddenly the child in the cart just ahead lets out a banshee wail so high-pitched it pierces your fillings. The mom is saying, "You have to let the nice lady have the box of popsicles so she can put them in the bag;"€ the child's screams now resemble the shrill intensity of a car alarm. Ignoring you and everybody else around her, the mom resolutely tugs while the child holds on for dear life to the ripped open box, a telltale wooden stick clutched in one small fist, the tongue inside the wee open mouth a vivid fluorescent blue.

Teresa Martin, mom of two "very active young boys,"€ assiduously avoids this kind of emotional meltdown with her own kids.

"We were visiting my cousin this summer in the Midwest,"€ she remembers, "and I mentioned we have no refined sugar at our house, and we also buy absolutely nothing with corn syrup in it. She said, "€˜I don't buy anything with that,' and then we looked at what she had in the house and almost all the ingredients included it! They put it in everything-popsicles, cereal, juice, even lots of yogurts. It all makes my kids go nuts!"€

When Roddy, her older son, was ready for solid food, Teresa was at a loss. Her pediatrician had advised that she skip the usual intermediary bridge-baby cereal-and go straight to a variety of healthy, real food, mashed. And she was perfectly willing to do that, but what foods were appropriate for a baby? She discovered she'd been on the right track all along. Breast feeding, she read, lays the foundation for establishing an appreciation for that variety. "You are what you eat, and if your diet is varied, your breast milk is going to reflect that,"€ she says.

"My mantra to this day is: Every bite counts. It all goes toward their brain and body development, their fitness, sleep cycles and appropriate behavior. Serving my kids healthy food is a great behavioral tool. If I put in an extra 10 or 15 minutes on making healthy snacks from scratch, like hummus, I just saved myself from a temper tantrum. It's so much easier putting them to bed-they're not all wound up."€

Her friend, Marion Carter-Smith, also a mother of two, says three year old Leo would eat fruit all day long if she'd let him. "It's so addictive, it's all he wants,"€ she laughs. "I tell him, "€˜You have to eat energy food first."€ (That's anything with protein.)

A former local Farmers' Market gardener who grew organic vegetables for One Straw Farm, Marion also did some cooking and baking at the Natural Café. "I'm fortunate-I'm a stay-at-home mom who likes to cook so I make everything from scratch,"€ she says.

And her kids are right there, helping. "I think kids love to have a part in anything you're doing. Mine help make pancakes, muffins, quick breads-I give them two bowls, one for wet ingredients, one for dry, and each takes one. They also like to chop bell peppers and cucumbers with a kitchen knife, and wash things in the salad spinner."€

Teresa makes a fun project out of the time she cooks with her kids, too. "Today,"€ she says, "we baked bread. You know the Maurice Sendak book, In the Night Kitchen? I gave each of my kids their own little section of dough, like in the book, and we talked about that and kneaded together. They each have their own little stools made by their grandfather so they can reach the counter. "€

Both Teresa and Marion make the Santa Fe Farmers' Market a part of their weekly shopping routine. "In the summer,"€ says Marion, "that's all we eat. I've been dragging them to the Market since they were really little. Recently five and a half year old Sylvie said to me, "€˜This broccoli is really good, Mom. Who grew it?' And I knew!"€

Teresa says, Roddy, her five year old, finally "got"€ the Farmers' Market this summer, "and it was a magical thing to watch. He started saying things like, "€˜Oh, Jake's melons were great this week!'"€

For Teresa, a former therapist who helped get funding for children's mental health agencies, the tradition of going to the Farmers' Market is also a way of passing along her personal political convictions. "I believe we're stewards of the land, and farmers' markets provide economic opportunity for our neighbors who farm. You can't discuss actual politics when children are at this age but you can explain to them why you're shopping at a farmer's market."€

Both moms concede that it takes extra effort to make everything from scratch. "From what I can tell,"€ Teresa says, "every mom and dad-and grandparent!-is trying really, really hard to provide their kids with healthy food. But buying processed food is so seductive. Seductive because it is easy and cheap."€

"They're so sensitive, these young kids,"€ Marion adds. "We put these strong, really unnatural things in our bodies, like refined sugar and coffee (both of which I love!) and, right away, we can see the result in the kids."€

Teresa's family canned their own jams this fall using fresh fruit from the Farmers' Market. "We used half the amount of sugar that the recipe called for and it was still too sweet for us!"€ That, she concludes, is an interesting by-product of kids with a low sugar tolerance.