Thursday, November 23, 2006

Eat your peas

The Wall Street Journal has offered tips for parents in getting children to eat their vegetables [see this link from Marginal Revolution]. Here is the list:

1. Try many times -- fifteen or more -- to get your kids to eat their vegetables. Most parents give up too soon.

2. Bribing, punishing, and celebrating when the kid eats the vegetables are all counterproductive.

3. "Use tasty toppings."

4. If the kid doesn't eat the vegetables, grab them from his plate and gobble them up yourself.

5. Eat your own vegetables in great quantity and with great delight.

For our own part, we have tried each of these -- whether the WSJ advocates them or not. And our conclusion: it all depends on the kid. Our 5 year old son, loves vegetables. He will eat them in enormous quantities. It just isn't a problem.

Our eldest daughter used to only respond to incentives: "eat your peas or there is no second course." Her issue is that she loves to eat and will continue eating forever. We have to limit her to three courses with the final course coming only if she has completely eaten the first two. So there are always vegetables there. In recent times, she has responded to 'health concerns' and so will eat vegetables on the argument that she needs to have a balanced diet. Ultimately, this is a good way to go but let's face it, not many kids are going to buy that one. After all, it is a tough sell to we adults!

For the two year old, she will go for the 'tasty toppings' route. Indeed, we could feed her cardboard so long as there was tomato sauce available. But mixing something good with something not so good seems to defeat the purpose. Instead, our sure fire way is to put vegetables on our own plate and not hers. Then the 'grass is greener' effect will take over and she will happily eat from our plates. This is some sort of variant of 4 or 5 above.

In the end, we do have a sure fire way of getting kids to eat anything: starvation. We discovered this when, during some busy days, we forgot to feed the kids a usual meal (like lunch). Boy, do they eat their dinner well! It turns out that hunger is a great motivator.

[Update: this interesting article in Slate suggests children will balance their diets all by themselves.]

Monday, November 20, 2006

The 4 Losses of Parenting

Shane Greenstein (a Professor at Northwestern University) has four young children and along with them has developed his list of the four losses of parenting. With his permission, I thought I would publish them here:

  1. With child number one, you lose your time.
  2. With child number two, you lose your money.
  3. With child number three, you lose your ideals.
  4. With child number four, you lose your home office.
For different people, these losses might manifest themselves with different children. For our part, we definitely lost our time with No.1 and lost money as our household income fell to accommodate No.2. For No.3, we lost rooms but also our ideals. TV watching, treats, time spent reading to our children, time spent reading about our children, time spent keeping an interest in what they were doing in school, time spent knowing where they were and what they were doing. All these were core values that have flown out the window as the number of children accumulated. We are all high and mighty until the costs rise and it turns out we could care less. The sad thing is the compromise occurred for far little than we ever expected at the outset.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

This was a movie?

For me The Red Balloon was one of my favourite books when I was 5 or 6. It took me ages to hunt it down for my children. It turns out that it was a movie and what is more that movie is on YouTube. Click here.

Saturday, November 4, 2006

A world first: A kids Tupperware Party

I am going to claim a world first for our family today: my daughter became the first 8 year old to host a Tupperware Party. Now, before you say "what the ..." I might have to provide some background.

Tupperware holds a place of high esteem in our family. My daughter's mother is an engineer. Now while that usually tends to drive her preferences against things that are, shall we say, 'housewifey,' Tupperware is the exception. She and a whole group of her women engineering friends have been obsessed with Tupperware from years. They held a very successful series of combined Babylon 5/Tupperware parties in the 90s and never looked back. And as we started to accumulate children, there was no force that could hold back Tupperware purchases now that they were actually likely to be of use. (This could all by plastics related given our other obsession of Lego; giving us a substantial collection of the two greatest retail plastics brands).

Near as I can tell, we have the entire Tupperware range. Our entire pantry has been Tupperwared and if you haven't seen such things, it is an amazing site. We have held a stream of Tupperware parties that, near as I can tell, have been extraordinarily successful. Moreover, we have routines dedicated to keeping the Tupperware itself in order. Sets together, lids in one place, other things in another. And I thought the Tupperware was to help us order other stuff. The folks at Tupperware need to develop a new meta-Tupperware range to help us keep the Tupperware in order. Our current use of non-Tupperware means is a travesty.

Now my daughter, whose preferences are not, shall we say 'girly,' has inherited her mother's love of Tupperware. She has stayed up late and participated in the parties. She has learnt the lore of Tupperware. I discovered today that she knows that vegetables can breathe and can tell you what setting to put broccoli on. This is all the more surprising given that she would never eat broccoli but is willing to tolerate it in the house as we clearly have a container for it!

So when we asked her this year what type of birthday party she wanted, it should have not come as a surprise when she said she wanted a Tupperware Party.

Now here is how I know this is a world first. I googled 'Tupperware' and variants of 'kids party' and found nothing. This is despite the wealth of other kids parties. Take a look at, for example. There are space parties, Dora the Explorer parties, Star Wars, you name it. One of the most amazing is this Wizard of Oz idea complete with yellow brick road through the house. But there are no Tupperware parties. So I am claiming this for us.

Unfortunately, our pioneering ways meant that we had to work out "what exactly is a Tupperware party for kids?" By the way, that very same question was asked by every single parent of the twelve children we invited. And, in the end, the answer was: a cooking party.

That idea came from our Tupperware dealer. I call her a dealer because she feeds the habit. It turns out our Tupperware dealer had thought about how to extend the franchise to a younger clientele. Like all dealers, you have to get them young. She had long desired to morph her business into one where she gave cooking classes for kids. And so we were the opportunity she was waiting for to try out her ideas.

Now, of course, my daughter wanted a real Tupperware party and so we had the display and the everyone sitting and looking very adult on chairs around the display. (By the way, half of them were boys and it is clear that, unlike our home where Tupperware is all inclusive, this was a new world for them; something they had for so long desired to see the inside of. They were not disappointed when the shroud of Tupperware was revealed). Then our dealer asked questions, what do you think you would use this for? What can you put in this square container? (I said, square fruit and, by the way, that turned out to be correct.) They played guessing games but sadly not the popular auction where Tupperware cult members bid for little bits and pieces of plastic.

Then we moved onto the games where the children had to sort the 13 shapes into the spherical Tupperware standard shape-sorter. (And when the audience was asked who had these when they were a child. We ALL put up our hands. Of course, my son pointed to his 2 year old sister and said "she is a child and she does have it now." Now you can't get that answer at other Tupperware parties).

It was then asked if anyone knew how "Tupperware" got its name. This drew blank looks. So I chimed in. My first attempt was that it was originally actually plastic clothing. And I demonstrated how a "Bake 2 Basics Sweet Keeper" could be used as a nice hat for Cup Day. This lead to a flurry of activity as the children tried on the Tupperware. Again something that doesn't happen at normal parties.

Apparently, I was wrong on that one. So I gave it another shot. I argued that when he was a child Mr Tupper lived in a time where the fridge was unordered. People used to just toss all of their fruit, vegetables, meat and cheese into the fridge. Then they would ask their children to find various things when they needed it. Mr Tupper's mother would should out "Tupper where's the beans?" or "Tupper where's the sirlion." So Mr Tupper had the idea that this would all be easier if he used plastic containers and based on his mother's catch-phrase decided to call it "Tupperware." This drew the response from my daughter "is that true?" Well, I guess not, but it turns out there was a Mr Tupper -- Earl Tupper. Who knew?

Then came the cooking which involved making melon traffic lights with a melon ball scooper (that they each got to take home as a momento) and then cutting pizza dough into mini-pizzas with another Tupperware device (and another momento). The winning team got some prize Tupperware key-rings (like the one above). The food was cooked, eaten and they were ready to go home.

Well, they may have been ready to go home but Round 2 in our dealer's -- now nakedly transparent plan -- kicked in. Various parents came by to pick the children up. Now you wouldn't think plastic would have a distinctive smell, but it does. The flocked to the display and half an hour later had in vast numbers dutifully placed their order. The order take was so large that my daughter earned about $100 in Tupperware 'gifts' as a reward. She didn't choose the broccoli thing but now has her very own collection. And as she pointed out "it has the distinctive feature of a life-time guarantee and I have a lot of life left." You didn't think of that did you, Tupperware people?

You might like to know about the cake and I am sure you would have expected it to have been cooked in the Tupperware way. Alas no. My daughter wanted a Battlestar Galactica ice cream cake and, by the Lords of Kobol, there is no way to do that with Tupperware -- they need to get a distinctive Galactica mould. So that was ordered but you will be pleased to know that it was dished out with the stock-standard Tupperware ice cream scooper. Let me tell you, it is one effective scooper.

In summary, I can highly recommend Tupperware parties for 8 year olds. For starters, they satisfy a deep need from children to do things that seem adult. But more critically, it is really cost effective. How many kids parties have you run that turn a profit?