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Lessons on Raising Healthy Eaters From My Grandfather's Fig Tree


healthy eating - growing your own food

Fig Tree

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My grandfather grew up on a farm on the Eastern shore of Delaware. A place where the laundry was hung on the line, food was cooked in a cast iron skillet, and raw milk from my great-grandmother's Guernsey cow was said to heal all manner of illnesses.

But Granddad hated rural life. So the first chance he got, he moved to the big city -- Washington, D.C. Washington offered him everything he couldn't have living on a farm: easy access to culture, the buzz and excitement of city life, and a chance to build a business from the ground up.

Granddad worked hard and became quite successful, spending what little free time he had playing golf. Yet he still found time to have a garden. Now, D.C. isn't one of those paved-over cities where you have to garden on the rooftop, or grow tomatoes in a container. He had a backyard with some green space, rocky and slanted as it was, and he grew all the usual garden produce: tomatoes, peppers, squash -- and figs.

Who grows figs at home? Somebody who grew up on a farm. Whose taste in fruits and vegetables was dictated not by what could be grown and shipped over long distances, but by what the family enjoyed growing and eating.

Now let me be clear, gardening wasn't my grandfather's passion. He didn't pore over seed catalogs or spend hours pruning and weeding. As I said, he spent his free time playing golf. Gardening was just something he did. It was just a natural part of life for him, in the way that some folks get haircuts every six weeks and others make daily trips to Starbucks.

Despite being the first on his block to own a microwave oven, despite his fascination with the city and politics and cars and all manners of gadgetry (he would certainly own an i-something if he were alive today), he had a garden. In the middle of the city. And he grew figs.

What does this have to do with picky eaters or getting kids to eat vegetables? Nothing really, except it seems to show that kids will develop the eating habits you model for them, whether you work at it or not. They'll also develop your attitudes toward food and eating, whether they include growing your own food, family meals or drive-through dinners.

Somehow, in our text-crazy, twitter-happy, instant gratification world, we've become unwilling to let children grow out of natural food aversion phases. We serve spinach quiche or crispy kale once, and if our kids don't gobble it up the first time (or even the third), we throw our hands up as if to say, see? Nothing works!

Yet most parents are willing to let nature take its course in other parenting areas. We realize that sullen 15-year-olds who are embarrassed by everything we do will eventually grow into adults who come to appreciate our wisdom. We accept this, even though it takes time -- usually years, sometimes decades -- because we know it is a natural part of growing up.

Perhaps we might accept our children's limited palates, aversion to green vegetables or picky eater behavior in the same way.

Whenever I get frustrated by my little one's eating habits (which do not yet mirror my own), I remember my grandfather. For all he tried to do to become a city boy, my grandfather was a farmer's son at heart. It was in his blood. He never grew out of it. In fact, you might even say he grew into it.

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