Friday, March 19, 2010

Tell Me, Show Me, Involve Me

One of my sons' science teachers (who is amazing) has this quote at the end of her emails:

"Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand."

This is a great philosophy for a science teacher who works with 4th, 5th and 6th graders. It turns out that this gem of a quote can apply to all kinds of things besides teaching science. It can also work amazingly well with a 7th grader who has a bad bout of refrigerator blindness and a chronic case of "I'm starving."

A couple months ago, when my son turned thirteen, his food intake, which was not shabby to begin with, started to really ramp up. A check up with the pediatrician confirmed the start of his adolescent growth spurt. An inch in height since then has put us all on notice: this kid needs a lot of food. He even asked me, "Why am I always SO hungry?"

So what's the problem with this?

1. We don't have hot & cold running help that can plan, shop, prep, cook, and manage our family's food.
2. After all the effort I go through to provide healthy delicious food for my family, my teenager stands at the refrigerator with the door open and exclaims, "There is nothing to eat! I'm starving!"

The quote above is so true. I tell him what there is to eat. He forgets. So I started merchandising the refrigerator to make it easier to "shop" inside it for food (see How to Feed A Teenage Boy by Georgia Orcutt for tips). After showing him what was in the refrigerator, that helped. But it wasn't perfect, and he didn't always make good choices for snack or mini meals. So out of frustration, I decided to involve him. And I mean REALLY involve him.

I chose a day when we didn't have a booked schedule and let him know ahead of time that he was going to spend the day with me in the kitchen. We were going to have a "food day." He eyed me suspiciously, thinking it sounded good but not quite trusting what I had up my sleeve.

To prepare for this day, I let my refrigerator get disorganized for about a week and a half. I brushed up on the nutritional requirements of teenage boys. Then the day before our Food Day I went to Costco and the grocery store, stocking up on items for the week and ingredients to make a few recipes. I just stuffed everything in the refrigerator. Now even I couldn't find anything in there.

Then, the morning of Food Day, I had my son go out to the garage and find two big ice chests and bring them inside. Then I put an apron on him (so he felt he had a uniform) and we got down to business.

Emptying out the freezer. Gloves were very helpful to keep hands from freezing!

I had my son completely empty out the entire refrigerator AND the freezer, loading all the contents into the ice chests. As he handled all the food, we talked about his changing nutritional needs. I figured by the time he unloaded everything, he would know what we have. Then I realized this was an excellent opportunity to clean the entire inside of the refrigerator and freezer, so we did that too, talking about food safety a bit also (something teenage boys know NOTHING about by the way). Then I asked him to think about all the contents of both the refrigerator and freezer and how we should organize it and put it all back. We talked more about eating vegetables, fruit, protein, and how many servings of each thing you should shoot for a day. You know, the whole food pyramid thing. He learns about nutrition in school but we talked about specific foods as we were organizing them; what made good snacks, what needed prep or cooking and how to do it, what could be thrown in a soccer bag. What was good to eat just before dinner or after dinner if he was still hungry.

Taking a break from all this work, I taught my son how to make real macaroni and cheese. It was a fairly healthy version from the book mentioned above. He grated cheese, he made a roux, he made dinner for that night.

By the time we sat down that night to eat the macaroni and cheese, I was exhausted. But I was happy because my refrigerator, freezer, snack drawer and pantry cabinet were more organized than they had ever been, and there were TWO people in the house that knew everything we have in the house.

Proudly showing off his organization!

I think I started a tradition because my other two sons asked if they were going to have a Food Day when they become teenagers. I said, "Of course!"

Since Food Day, I have noticed a significant change in the way my oldest son eats at home. He knows where things are. He is making better and more varied choices for snacks. And he is doing a lot more in the kitchen independently, which means less work for me. He still goes for the easy and quick items, he still forgets to put his dishes in the dishwasher, and he isn't great at cleaning up after himself, but I see big progress!

Oh, and last but not least, we had fun together on Food Day. I realized it had been a long time since we spent the entire day together, just he and I, working on something. I think we will both remember the day with fondness and a sense of accomplishment: he as an eater, me as a parent.

"Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand."


Marsh said...

So wonderful! I should do this with my children. As always, you raise the bar!

Amber said...

I would recommend waiting until you have a teenager who is desperately hungry and interested in healthy eating to get a faster mile time and increase muscle mass. Then you will have their attention for the entire day.

Anonymous said...

Tell Bennett that will be his job when he next visits. I will add one more thing. Can he make up a shopping list for me also? What a clever mom you are. I have just the apron for him.