Why Teaching My Child to Eat Nutritiously Is So Important to Me
When I was a child, I was the pickiest eater in our household. My mother would roll her eyes every night at dinner when I invented new hiding places for uneaten forkfuls: in my shirt pocket and under my seat cushion. I was a skinny little thing, una flaquita, fragile as glass because I wasn't getting nearly enough necessary nutrients in my diet. My mother had to sneak vegetables, vitamins, proteins, and calcium into the few dishes I would willingly eat. Yes, it was as miserable as it sounds. But my mother had a magical way of making me crave the very things I'd once complained about.
One Saturday, she pulled up a stool next to the stove and showed me step by step exactly how she made each dish. I tasted every ingredient and found words for each flavor. On the menu was changua, the soup we started our mornings with. My mother showed me how to measure out the milk; I'd mimic the sizzle and hiss as she poured it into the saucepan. That ingredient alone provides calcium, potassium, vitamin D, and high-quality protein. With my mother's help, I cracked the eggs on the edge of the bowl, dropping the yolks into the boiling broth. She helped guide my knife as I carefully diced and sliced the cilantro and scallions. As soon as they hit the pan, the savory smell filled our kitchen.
What my mother taught me in those moments was how to take pride in providing nutrients for my body; it wasn't a chore but a challenge I was ready to take on, and when the time came, I knew I wanted to pass down the practice to my own child.
Unlike my mother, I was blessed with an adventurous eater for a child. My son came out of the womb craving carrot sticks and turmeric. Our recipes have changed over the years, but the tradition stays the same. I set up the stool for him and teach him how to slice smoothly. I sing him the songs from my childhood, and I tell him the stories that always made my mother laugh. I explain to him how important it is to feed our bodies and our bones with the nutrients we need to grow up big and strong.
On the weekends, my son and I wake up with a warm mug of chocolate santafereño. He whisks together the cinnamon and the semisweet chips into the steamed milk until we have a delicious drink, filled with vitamin D and other nutrients that milk provides and perfect for dipping the arepas paisa we love to make next. They are a staple in our household. My son digs his little fingers into the dough while I shred cheese over the bowl. We take turns pouring the milk until we've made the texture we need to slap the mix into perfect patties. He tells me jokes as he passes each arepa from palm to palm until they're finally ready to be baked.
We sit down together and say grace, just like my mother did with me. There is no hiding food or complaining, because my son craves foods that are good for him. Milk has been braided into our family traditions as long as I can remember; it is a staple, like cilantro, lime, cumbia, and comida Colombiana.
As he grows older, the kitchen has become our sacred space. We are collaborators, creating nourishment together. We stand side by side against the counter, chopping, slicing, singing, and telling stories, knowing that what we are feeding ourselves is helping us grow up strong.