Getting the People in Your Home to Eat the Actual Food

Sharon September 6th, 2012

I think I get more requests for ideas for helping people who are on-board with the idea of sustainable eating get the rest of their families on-board than on any other food storage topic.  So let’s talk about that.  I actually wrote this post back in 2008, before our fostering adventures, so I’ve added some suggestions since then, based on my experience of getting traumatized kids who have lived on not enough food and all processed to eat good, real food.

In a perfect world, of course, our partners, roommates, children and other assorted members of our lives would say “Oh, I’m so thrilled you are growing a garden – now I can get rid of the honey-barbecue chips and the fast food, and start really appreciating rutabagas like I’ve always wanted to.”  In our perfect world, when Daddy unveils his laboriously created six-vegetable risotto with an enthusiastic “Voila!” the kids would say “Wow, Dad, is there really, truly bok choy in it?  And we can have seconds?  Yay!” instead of “What’s ‘wallah’?  It looks gross.  And ewww, what’s that green stuff?”

I would say the odds are good that most of us live in a somewhat imperfect world.  If we’ve been lucky enough to have started our kids on this stuff from birth, we may avoid the latter (mostly), but since most of our lives also involve some adults we didn’t get a hand in raising, and who we love despite their weird habits, we’re kinda stuck with them, and the painful reality that shifts in diet run up against people’s weird habits pretty hard.

The thing is, changing someone’s food habits is a big thing – we can do this for ourselves – all of a sudden we see the light and begin eating a new way – but making others do it?  That’s a challenge.  In many ways, we define ourselves by what and how we eat – so attacks on diets look like attacks on people, and often are fended off with the ferocity of warfare.  Nor does moralizing work very well – we all know the truth – the Western diet kills people, and the dying often cling to it with a passion that proves firmly that you can’t make most people change by simply telling them how bad their choices are.

As far as I can tell, with rational adults, and extremely rational teenagers there are a few ways of at least getting them onboard for the broader project of changing diets.

1. You enlist them in the name of self-improvement and being better people.  You can do this straight, or manipulatively. (And yes, I know in a perfect world, you’d never manipulate people at all, but I’ve never met a family in which there was no manipulation at all, if you include the sort of blatant, half humorous stuff.)   The straight way is simply to say “I think we all ought to be eating better – do you agree?  Here’s what I want us to do.”  This works in some families and with some people – and it doesn’t with others, even if we wish it would.  Don’t forget to mention the chance to be self-righteous to them that like that sort of thing the “I can’t believe those people who eat all that processed…”

If you do need/want to be sneaky,  it helps, I think if you start the discussion from the assumption that you both care very much about these things and want the same things.  That is, some people can be confused a little by simply starting from the “Of course we both care desperately that everyone have enough food in the future, so I know you will agree with me.”  Some people will assume that if you are assuming they care about this seemingly good thing that they must, and that gets you part of the way.  Or perhaps you could enlist their help against a larger obstacle ”Katie our two year old is so terribly picky, and I’m so terribly concerned that she be able to eat things…perhaps you can help me make it easier for her…” Or if you think that it will work (and if they are a person you’d say this sort of thing to) you can tell them it turns you on when they eat what you want them to eat.    Heck, you’ve got weirder kinks than a taste for seeing your girlfriend devour kale, right?

2. You use a different motivator than the one that moves you.  If you know the person you are thinking of is, say, cheap, you talk about how to save money, with an emphasis of doing the things you want to do anyway.  If the person is into cool gadgets, talk about the neat stuff you can buy to preserve food.  With small children, a great strategy is to convince them that you don’t really want to share your asparagus anyway because it is a wonderful grownup food that children don’t need, or to describe the food  in disgusting terms – you aren’t just offering them healthy food, you are offering them roadkill stew with sweet potatoes, and if they eat it, they can tell their friends that they ate week old raccoon.

3. You sneak the food into their diets gradually.  This is often the case when the motivated person is the primary cook, and has some control over what goes into food.  Suddenly, the noodles are whole wheat or brown rice flour.  Secretly, the meatballs are half tvp or ground zucchini. The yogurt is in the old containers, but it comes from home and has homemade strawberry jam mixed in.  You don’t talk about it, unless someone says something nice.  The word “fritter” shows up in your meal, and the fritters are suspiciously green.  The cookies get kinda browner and a little denser.  When asked about these things, you tell people they must be imagining things.

4. You are a total hardass.  This works only if you are the sole cook for someone without much power to get food elsewhere – young kids, teenagers too young to drive or too poor to buy food, spouses so accustomed to eating the partner’s cooking (or sufficiently well disciplined ;-) ) that they won’t dissent too much.  It starts out once a week – there’s this meal, and no snacks unless you eat some of it.  Then it goes up to two or three meals a week – dal and rice replaces burgers, no one buys snack cakes and juice boxes and carrot  juice is in the pitcher.  Don’t like it?  Tough patooties.  Guess who is holding the car keys?  The problem here is the danger of mutiny, or that someone else might actually learn to cook.

5. You compromise – a little of this, a little of that – and the truth is that while you have to eat more out of your storage, and you find some meals that everyone will like, you never quite get to the point where everyone is really eating this way all the time – there’s still some frozen stuff and take out in your life.  And that’s ok – just as long as you have a range of things people will do with the 75lbs of dried chickpeas that don’t involve sculpture.

Some practical ideas:

1. I’ve had great luck (and other people I know have) getting kids to eat raw cabbage dipped in ketchup, even if they won’t eat it cooked.  For that matter, a bottle of Heinz is a small price to pay to help kids adapt to eating veggies.

2. Root vegetables roasted in a pan are the basis for tons of meals – they can go inside enchiladas or wrap sandwiches, act as a starchy side dish (and are great at room temperature or cold),

3. Fritters.  You can dip them in anything.  Also dumplings.  No one has to know what’s inside/

4. Less sweet pumpkin or sweet potato pie can be breakfast, lunch and dinner (although maybe not in the same day).

5. For people who like strong flavors and mixed up foods, things like jambalaya, gumbo and casseroley things are your friend, because it is hard to tell exactly what’s in it – particularly if you chop the mustard greens finely.  If kids or family members hate onions or pepprs, try pureeing them for inclusion.

6. For people who like everything to be separate with nice clean lines, the potato is your friend.  Meat and potato people can get used to an ever-increasing amount of potato and a gradually decreasing amount of meat.  Sweet potatoes are almost a potato, right?

7. Vegetarian cookbooks are your friends – even if you aren’t veg.  They often have recipes that you’ll be able to put together with only pantry and garden.

8. Teenagers like power.  Get them cooking – and give them the power, within certain parameters, to choose some of the meals.

9. It really helps to let go on some things.  If you reassure your honey you aren’t trying to take away everything she loves, that you will still love him if he stops at the convenience store, your kids that candy is still allowed now and again, this will help the transition.  In fact, it helps if you instigate – let them have ice cream sundaes for dinner once a year, and you put it on the schedule!  Work with them, at the same time you are working “against” them.

10. Sometimes using a fat/salt/sugar laden technique is what is needed to get started with a new food – make rutabaga chips fried in oil with salt – and once they admit they like rutabagas, then you can work on mashing them.  Cheese sauce makes all things better.


9 Responses to “Getting the People in Your Home to Eat the Actual Food”

  1. Nicole says:

    My Mom had a grand history of trying to sneak stuff past us as kids in the Adele Davis days. It never, ever worked. We ate it because we had to, but we weren’t fooled for a second. (Except venison. I thought it was just the way she cooked the beef. She’s probably right that I would have thought it was Bambi, though.)

    The boy will try anything once, but so far I’ve only managed to add two vegetables to his diet: kohlrabi and those little garden turnips. At least he came pre-programmed with several vegetable accessories to his meat and potato standard.

    It’s just been a whole lot easier to plant the stuff he likes, and because of that he’s starting to accept the notion that peas and radishes aren’t in season all year. It’s a start.

    P.S. I thought there wasn’t any vegetable as awful as a rutabaga. Then I tried a parsnip. I decided to skip the salsify.

  2. Amy says:

    I’m actually the pickiest eater at my house. The kids both started eating a wide variety of veggies much earlier in their lives than I did in mine. However, I found that I needed to grow more different vegetables to improve my crop rotations, so I have worked pretty persistently to find recipes for some of my least-favorite veggies. I tried five recipes before I landed on one that works for beets, but I think part of number five’s success is that I’d been making myself try beets in those other recipes. It probably also helps that veggies straight from the garden are better-tasting than their counterparts from the grocery store.

  3. Stacy says:

    This is a terrific write up. I love the reminder and assurance that compromise can be ok – and a description of what that can look like.

    Very helpful.

    Thank you for your blog. I really enjoy it.

  4. If the Western diet kills people, how come we’re living longer than ever? Which is simply a fact.

    The reason for obesity is not our diet; Americans ate more fat, meat and starch 100 years ago than they do now. More total calories on average than today, and plenty of sugar, too. Take a look at an Edwardian cookbook.

    My great-uncle Albert used to eat lard sandwiches until the day he died (in his 80′s) — they’d been his favorite food since he was a teenager back before 1914.

    The reason there are more obese people nowadays is simply that we don’t burn as much off with physical effort.

    Great-uncle Albert went around the Horn as a foremast hand on a windjammer before he was 15, fisting up canvas covered in ice, and then worked on fishing trawlers all his adult life after he came come from WWI. Sweating-hard physical work every day, and mostly while being cold, wet, or both.

    The fact of the matter is that before the development of agriculture, humans ate almost nothing but meat(*), seasoned with the occasional sweet fruit or (in hard times) raw vegetables. Stable bone ratio analysis has proven this.

    We’re genetically programmed to eat a lot of meat, and to enjoy fats and sweets. In the environment in which we evolved this made perfect sense; the meat was extremely lean wild game, people ate the whole animal (most hunting peoples prize organ meat over muscle, because it tastes stronger), and they worked hard a lot. Fatty or sugary things were rare treats — valuable concentrated energy.

    Our instincts treat a largely vegetable diet as starvation, because our Stone Age ancestors only went down the food chain when there was no choice.

    (*) Neanderthals ate large game animals. Cromagnons got about half their diet from big grazing animals, and the rest from a mixture of small game, birds and fish. Neither ate much vegetable matter at all.

  5. Neil says:

    Nice ideas.

    1. You enlist them in the name of self-improvement and being better people. This has worked to an extent in that my wife put us all on a diet. She stopped buying nearly as much cheese and no biscuits at all.

    2/3/4 haven’t worked except with the oldest who is less fussy than me.

    5. yep mainly 5.

    Nice blog Neil co-author “No oil in the lamp”

  6. Chris says:

    When I first mentioned to my daughter we were growing leeks in the garden to make leek soup, she asked what a leek was. I showed her. She baulked because it was green – her nemesis colour in the veggie world.

    One night we had soup though (pureed so it looked white) and she loved it! She asked what was in it. I said, it’s leek and potato soup. She loves leek and potato soup now, literally eats it like candy always asking for more.

    So I think the trick is to remove the look of green leafy vegetables, and they might actually find they like it. ;)

  7. This is where a g-tube comes in really, really handy. :0)

    Tammy and Parker

  8. Roy Smith says:

    I just ran across this little issue, and was wondering what your perspective on it might be: Apparently, the Department of Justice definition of a “potential terrorism suspect” includes those who have more than 7 days of food stored in their home. Chris Hedges mentioned this in a blog, and I have found a number of other websites that talk about this; for instance:

    A number of writers have predicted that as governments try to hold on to their power by getting more repressive, self-reliance and localism will be criminalized. Is that future already arriving?

  9. Misty says:

    Vеrу greаt pοѕt. Ι ѕimply stumbled upоn your wеblog anԁ
    wanted to mentіon that I have truly enjoуeԁ suгfing аround your
    blog pоstѕ. Aftеr all I’ll be subscribing to your rss feed and I hope you write once more soon!

Leave a Reply