Turner & Kauper Child Care

The following two part essay was first published in our monthly newsletter, March and April, 2007.

How We Feed Your Children, Part I:
Why Good Eaters Prefer Bad Food

by Michael Kauper, © 2007

     Probably the most unusual thing about Turner & Kauper Child Care is how we feed the kids in our care. We stand out in two ways:  what we feed the kids, and how we get them to eat. In these two essays I will only explore what we feed our day care children and why people make certain food choices. If you want to read about how we get children to eat highly nutritious food in a cheerful and cooperative manner, you will need to buy my forthcoming book, or interview with us for child care.

     Although we feed the children all sorts of food, we generally follow mainstream dietary guidelines as exemplified by the Medical Institute and Harvard Medical School Department of Nutrition. While nutrition may seem too complicated, with too many confusing changes in the latest recommendations, all of us really are aware of the basics. We know what the school nutritionist would say if we asked her "Is whole wheat bread better than white bread?"  or  "Is apple juice or the whole apple, with the skin, better for me?"

     Here is a summary of the most common and basic mainstream recommendations:

     Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables. Eat mostly whole grains:  whole wheat rather than white flour, brown rice rather than white. Avoid massive quantities of saturated fat, as found in animal products. A moderate salt diet is better than a high salt diet.(1)  Added sugar is empty calories, and leads to obesity and rotten teeth. Eating pieces of fruit is better than drinking juice. Drink plenty of water.

     Most of us have heard or read these simple steps to a better diet. These guidelines have formed the stable core of mainstream nutrition advice for several decades. Unfortunately, however, almost no one in the United States actually follows this established advice.

     Why not? Because the foods which break these rules are seductively attractive. For most Americans “bad” food tastes better than good food. A lot better!  Given a choice between eating plain yogurt, perhaps with sliced fruit, or heavily sweetened “fruit” yogurt (which is over 55% added sugar),  most people choose the sweetened stuff. Both kids and adults prefer super fatty, salty breaded chicken and chicken nuggets over plain roasted or baked chicken. Apple juice is way more popular than sliced apples. White-flour macaroni topped with extra-salty cheese is much more popular-- more "addictive" -- than whole wheat macaroni topped with low-salt cheese and plain yogurt.

     Kids and TV ads cooperate to pressure parents to feed our children the mediocre, lower quality foods which they prefer. Unfortunately, high pressure from the kids may not be necessary, as most adults also prefer the less healthy choices. Why, why, why?

     Actually, we know a lot about why people make rather poor food choices. I will offer two simple reasons, which I see as opposite sides of the same coin. First, high quality foods contain stuff which has strong, bitter, or sour flavors. The hundreds of trace nutrients, bioflavinoids, phytonutrients, and fiber which fight cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, obesity, and so forth do not taste good unless you are quite used to their flavors.  Kids have a word:  yucky!

     We have learned to mask the harsh flavor of nutrients by adding salt, fat and sugar, which are our favorite flavors. Large quantities of salt, sugar, and fat are added to nearly every food we eat, from peanut butter to pizza. We are unwilling, perhaps unable, to eat most foods without the “disguise”.

     Second, and even more powerful, we get a stronger and more addictive buzz from food where those favorite flavors – fat, salt, and sugar – can hit us with as little interference as possible. Fresh, cloudy apple cider has a sharper, more bitter flavor than filtered apple juice, which is little more than sugar water. Giant ad campaigns tell us that real men (and now also real women) do not allow vegetables to interfere with the flavor of meat and cheese in the lunch-burger. TV ads make fun of the wimpy, sexually ambiguous men (and women) who allow lettuce, tomatoes, or other vegetables into their sandwiches.

     We rarely see burgers, subway sandwiches, or pizza served with 100% whole wheat buns or 100% whole wheat  pizza crust. The many nutrients and the fiber in whole wheat are banned because they interfere with the visceral satisfaction of the saturated fat and high salt in  meat, cheese, and "special sauce".  White bread buns and white pizza crust allow the fat - salt - sugar buzz to get thru full force.

     The good news is that children start out able to eat really well. Babies love plain, top quality food. In fact many American moms are careful to feed babies the high-quality diet which nutritionists wish all of us would accept. Only as the babies get older and more assertive do moms "give-in".  But if we raise all children to accept high quality food every day, they are happy, satisfied, and enthusiastic about eating good stuff, with no need for excess fat, salt or sugar to disguise the flavor.

     Adult visitors to our child care home are often amazed at the foods our children casually accept. The nutritionists from the Child Care Food Program  consistently tell us that our menus are excellent, maybe even the best they have seen.  As to how we get kids to eat well in our child care home, that is a much longer story. I am writing a book...

1. After recent, much more careful reviews of hundreds of international studies and research papers, The Medical Institute and the AMA have sharply reduced the recommended daily allotment of salt, cutting the suggested maximum to 2300mg for adults, 1500mg for kids and older folks. These stronger recommendations come out of clinical studies showing that cutting salt later in life offers little benefit, whereas consuming less salt from an early age offers major health benefits throughout ones entire life. 

How We Feed Your Children, Part II:
Better Quality Convenience Food

By Michael Kauper, © 2007

     Last month I wrote that we all know what we ought to eat, in a perfect world, and I offered an explanation as to why most people don’t follow those rules. Briefly, the most nutritious part of our food – the fiber and trace nutrients – are rather intense or bitter, so we remove the healthiest part, as when we process whole wheat flour into white flour. Also, we disguise the bitter flavors of healthful nutrients with loads of added salt, sugar, and saturated fat, as in pizza, fast food burgers, breakfast cereal, toppings, and sauces.
     This month I will write about what we feed to your children here at day care, and how we try to get a bit closer to the nutritionist's ideal. As you read these examples of good meals, think “lots of fruits and vegetables”.  That is our top goal.
     Breakfast needs to be fast and convenient, and still power the kids thru to lunch. I nearly always serve whole-grain hot cereal, cold cereal, or warm bread with toppings. I try to include extra protein and fat, to help the kids last all morning without falling into cannibalism. Carbs (as in cereal and bread) are burned first – quick energy – followed by protein and then fat. Plant derived protein and fat are preferred over animal sources, because of the lower levels of saturated fats and the extra fiber and diverse nutrients.
     For cold cereal we usually choose whole grain cereals that are fairly low in added sugar and salt. Shredded Wheat, Heritage O’s, Oatios, Heritage Multigrain, and Kashi Go Lean (not Go Lean Crunch). We occasionally buy Wheaties or Cheerios, on sale, but they are too salty.
     For added protein I put seeds or nuts on the cereal: sometimes slivered almonds, but more often sunflower seeds, which, unlike nuts, are rarely implicated in allergies. Sunflower seeds are nutritious and cheap, $1.30/lb. I add dried fruit for the anti-oxidants, trace nutrients, and great flavor.
     Our special oatmeal features old fashioned rolled oats (not quick oats) are cooked in milk, with sunflower seeds, dried fruit, olive oil, and a little sugar and honey. The children who are with us from infancy love this oatmeal, the ones who started here as older children, not so much.
     Whole wheat bread may be topped with margarine, butter, peanut butter, sunbutter or tahini (no salt, no hydrogenated fats), home-made pesto, or low-sugar preserves, and then toasted or “nuked”.
     I always serve one or two separate fruits or veggies with breakfast, usually bananas, baby carrots, grape tomatoes, sliced oranges or apples, or canned fruit, such as apricots, peaches, or pears.

     Lunch might be cooked by Erica, Marian, or me. Rice is always whole-grain rice; bread is usually whole wheat. I favor brands that have less sodium such as French Meadow. The best bread is home-made but we do not always have the time. To make low-salt baked beans, we either start from scratch, or we combine two cans of plain no salt beans with one can of “standard” salty, sugary baked beans, such as Westbrae Natural or Amy’s.
     Enchiladas are made with whole wheat flour tortillas or corn tortillas, spread with no-salt refried beans, and then filled with low-sodium baked beans, no-salt diced tomatoes, possibly avacadoes, and ten topped with low-salt diced tomatoes and shredded cheese.  Sometimes a drop of salsa sneaks past the censors to add a little spice and heat.
     Pasta is usually whole wheat. Spaghetti sauce may include meat (grass fed beef), or be vegetarian. Combine two cans of no-salt diced tomatoes, one can tomatoes with salt, greens such as collard or spinach, beans and refried beans (no salt), and maybe topped with shredded cheese.
     The cheese is high in salt and saturated fat, but the rest of the dish is low in those ingredients, so the overall levels of salt and fat are moderate.
     Chicken, fish, and turkey are not breaded, and usually served with no skin. Most of our pork is donated(!) by Soren’s family, hand-raised by an uncle (Thank you!). Grass-fed beef comes from Dancing Oak Farm, in western Wisconsin, owned by former clients. We strongly support serving tuna, salmon, cod and other (low mercury) fish to children.
     We use either butter or margarine, especially on rice or toast, often combined with olive oil. No hydrogenated fats!
     Our best trick for making lunches which are both fast and nutritious is to use canned, frozen and ready-made foods in ways that keep the added fat, salt and sugar to moderate levels.

     Snack is our most varied meal. In addition to all sorts of fresh fruit and veggies, we might serve white-flour animal crackers, home-made whole wheat cookies, no-salt tortilla chips with salsa, or pretzels. For birthdays we bake home-made pumpkin pies, rhubarb crunch, or white-flour-based chocolate cake from a mix. With ice cream!

     Pancakes often show up at snack time, whole wheat of course, topped with fruit, plain yogurt, and sometimes maple syrup. A stack of pancakes or a giant whole wheat cookie makes an exotic birthday cake.

     Finally, very importantly, we have the children help cook, serve, and clean-up, including loading and unloading-loading the dishwasher.

     If you have questions or suggestions, please write:     mandm "at"  radiochildcare.org

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