Founding Fathers: I am a foodie

I am a foodie and the father of a four-year-old boy. It may be unrealistic to think that my boy will have the same passion for food and dining that I do, I firmly believe that I can have some positive influence on what he eats and how he enjoys it.

Sure, the dads occasionally contribute to Raising Richmond, but the conversation there tends to leans more towards the maternal perspective. That’s where “Founding Fathers” comes in. Each month, we’ll be giving a different Richmond dad a place to reflect/opine/wax poetic about a fatherhood-related topic of his choosing. Today, foodie Matt Sadler talks about his familial food successes (and failures).

I am a foodie. I am also a father of a four-year-old boy (and a two-month-old boy, but he can’t eat anything so this doesn’t apply to him). While parenting is higher on the scale of importance, my foodie-ism is never far from the surface. I want my sons to grow up having an appreciation for food.

While it may be unrealistic for me to think that my boys will have the same passion for food and dining that I do, I firmly believe that I can have some positive influence on what they eat and how they enjoy it. Not only can I point them to healthier options, I can also make them appreciate a wide variety of foods and cuisines. Four years into this parenting thing, I’ve had my share of wins and losses. Here are a few:

What is going well

My child is only addicted to one kind of fast-food: Chick-Fil-A. I’ll tolerate the cons of eating fried foods as long as I know that he will eat his side of fruit with it. Plus Chick-Fil-A is a recognizable food with few mysterious ingredients. I used to work in their kitchen, and their iconic sandwich is a simple chicken breast dipped, coated, and fried. Compare that formula to Taco Bell, where it was recently announced that their ground beef is only 36% meat.

My child knows how to order his own food. It is normal for my boy to walk into a Mexican restaurant and request a chicken quesadilla, a side of guacamole, and a glass of lemonade. Much to my delight and the amazement of the restaurant staff, he eats his guacamole with a fork and not chips.

My son understands that he has to eat the cuisine of a given restaurant. He knows that if we are dining at an Asian restaurant that he cannot order the chicken tenders or cheeseburger — even if it exists on the menu. We want him to appreciate a wide variety of cuisines and styles, and he knows that ordering the locale’s main dishes is part of this life lesson.

What isn’t going well

My son won’t voluntarily touch anything green except tabbouleh. Much to our chagrin, green beans, asparagus, and even non-offensive iceberg lettuce will not go into his mouth.

He has decided that he does not like certain foods before he has tried them. For example, he likes bacon but refuses to eat pancetta. You and I know that the two are basically the same thing (sans the smoking element), and each is wonderful. If I call it bacon, he will eat it, but if I called bacon pancetta, he may not.

Where do I go from here?

The path is dark and the twists & turns are numerous. I can only try to make food choices something important in his life. There will be successes and failures, but I hope to learn from all of them. Here are a few of the tricks that I employ with my son.

1) Positive Reinforcement. The boy loves him some “Special Red Juice” (aka V8), so I am not too worried about his daily intake of vegetables. I am, however, concerned at his stubbornness against trying them. We have “Eating Green Vegetables” on the daily star chart. By making it a goal, he has been more likely to try them. Now we just have to convince him that putting them in his mouth and gagging them out again does not constitute eating them.

2) Implement Variety. I do not hesitate to take my son to most restaurants. I will take him to Thai, Ethiopian, Peruvian, Sports Bars, diners, whatever else is out there that I want to eat. Sometimes the variety is a hit, and other times it is a complete bust. You know you have succeeded to when your kid runs to you and says “Daddy, can we go out for moussaka tonight?” My lone exception is upper-end dining. If the location is a place that people are going to escape their children, I try not to make them deal with mine.

3) Language. I mentioned this before, but it needs reinforcement. How you sell food to your children is often times the difference between success and failure. I laughed when a parent explained the efforts she was going to in order to get the kids to eat chicken tenders. She said, “I know they love French fries so I called chicken tenders, ‘chicken fries’ and they tore them up.” For my kid, I know what he likes, so if I sell it to him as a variation of something he likes, he will eat it.

4) Dining Together. Yes, we try to eat as a family often, as much as life will allow, but I also try to make my son part of larger festive meals. I want him to know the joys of eating good food, talking with his family and friends, and realizing that those are special moments. The table is a bonding point. There are few experiences in life that are more intimate than breaking bread together.

There are multiple factors that go into why your child may or may not enjoy a certain kind of food. Sometimes trying harder or wanting it more doesn’t guarantee success, but it is our duty as parents to be patient with the process. Hopefully, with a little luck, it will all work out.

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Matt Sadler

In the hopes of experiencing the perfect meal, Matt “The Marinara” Sadler searches the foothills of Manakin, the barrios of Chesterfield, and the corners of Oregon Hill only to realize that he is easily satisfied.

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