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Taking back family dinner: A healthy, affordable and convenient escape from processed food

Published: Monday, May 20 2013 3:40 p.m. MDT

Long before it was fashionable to read food labels, Warner’s mom was clogging up grocery store aisles, squinting at jars and boxes in search of food dyes, chemical preservatives and added sugar.

“She refused to buy any food that was, in her words, ‘gooped up,’ ” Warner said. “It was, of course, incredibly annoying to my brother and I growing up.”

Over time, however, Warner internalized her mother’s perspective, and what then seemed irritating now looks smart.

Today, at age 83, her mom is in “incredible health,” doesn’t take any medications and doesn’t have any illnesses or chronic conditions.

"Some winters she goes through without getting even a cold," Warner said. "I attribute that to her approach to food and her common sense about food."

When asked for advice for parents today, Warner stressed the importance of teaching kids while they’re young, just as her mom did.

“It can become a slippery slope with food,” she said. “Don’t start with white bread and white pasta and then later try to get them to eat the whole wheat version.”

Dr. Mark Stephens, who practices family medicine in Maryland, said the principle applies to juices and fruit. He also said that parents often give up too easily.

“Parents say to me, ‘Johnny or Sally doesn’t like tomatoes.’ How do you know? ‘Well, I gave it to him twice and he made a face and just couldn’t stand it.’ ”

Stephens, who is also a professor at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said it’s well established that with young kids particularly, parents have to present a food at least seven to 10 times before accurately assessing whether the child likes it.

Another tip, he said, is to slow down and enjoy both the food and the social context of the meal.

“The fellowship of the table is an important thing,” he said. “I would argue that, historically, the kitchen or table is the epicenter of social life within a family or community.”

In his new book, “Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation,” food activist Michael Pollan argues that “cooking has the power to transform more than plants and animals: It transforms us, too, from mere consumers to producers,” thus yielding “deep and unexpected satisfactions.”

Blomgren knows this better than most. “They love being in the kitchen,” she said of her five children, who range in age from 3 to 12. “It’s kind our thing we do as a family. The mental hurdle of starting is bigger than the actual hurdle is. I think it’s something more people should take a crack at.”

David Ward is a writer living in Salt Lake City. Contact him at davidbward@gmail.com.

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