Am I a Control Freak? — A Reader Pushes Back

by Bettina Elias Siegel on August 27, 2010

Yesterday I expressed some minor disagreement with the goals of a new website, Zisboombah, which claims that it will end “kid friendly meal battles” in your house by allowing “children to take control of meal time, and pick their own chow!”  Kids play a game to come up with menus which are then sent to the parents to prepare.  I questioned the seemingly stringent nutritional analysis used to evaluate the kids’ meals (which are assigned one to five stars) and said that while I’m happy to involve kids in menu planning, I wasn’t quite ready to hand over the keys.

A reader named Jade responded:

I think zisboombah.com is a fabulous idea! I went on and played with it and think it’s awesome!  “Handing kids the keys” is teaching them to make their own decisions when it comes to food. We can’t stand by our kids forever and say “do you want celery or carrots.” Parents need to release some of that control- maybe that’s why we have such a huge problem with child obesity and eating disorders…hello?

I gave this comment a lot of thought.  It’s true that I am currently exercising a fair amount of control over my kids’ diets right now.  Is it too much control?  Here’s what I finally decided to write in response:

I don’t disagree that kids need to eventually assume full control over what they eat.  My ultimate goal is to raise two adults who live a balanced life with respect to food, never fearing any particular food as “bad” or off-limits and understanding the basics of a healthy lifestyle.

But to my mind, reaching that goal is an evolutionary process.  My infants ate only what I fed them.  My toddlers got to pick between two offerings of my choosing.  My school-aged kids request favorite dinners, want to make dessert for our Friday night Shabbat meal, like to search through recipes and experiment with cooking, etc.  That said, I’m still the master Menu Planner, and they still have limits on the amount of sweets they eat at home (and believe me, we do eat plenty) or that they can purchase with their own money.  If I removed those controls, I’m fairly certain that our dinner rotation would consist only of fish tacos and pasta and they’d be eating ice cream and candy seven days a week.

But in just a few years, the ball is going to be entirely in my kids’ court when it comes to making food choices.  I can only hope that by then, following the example my mother set for me, I’ll have trained them to listen to their bodies’ hunger and fullness signals, to balance indulgences with more healthful food, and to keep relatively active.  Who knows if I’ll succeed, but it seems to me that, as with all the ways in which we hope our children will become self-sufficient, each day’s learning builds on the next.

Turning to Zisboombah specifically, I was actually excited when I first read about Pick Chow!  I like the idea of a game that teaches kids how to put together a balanced meal.  What I didn’t like was (a) a feeling that something was “off” or unrealistic about the nutritional analysis and (b) the message to parents that the solution to healthy-meal battles is simply to cede control to the child.

As noted in my original post, if parents had a rule that a Zisboombah meal had to meet a certain star rating to be served, and if parents felt confident that those ratings reflected a their own nutritional values (as, for example, commenter Anthony did not), then I’d have no problem with a family letting kids feel in control of the menu — some of the time.

But not all of the time.  And that’s because — totally apart from nutrition — one aspect of menu planning (in my opinion) is expanding children’s palates.  The options on Zisboombah are generally what we’d call “kid-friendly,” and that’s fine.  But a lot of the things I serve – ethnic foods like Greek, Morrocan and Indian, for example  - aren’t intuitively kid-friendly, yet  my kids now like them.   Those opportunities to learn new flavors would be lost if we were confined to the roster of foods from the site.

To Jade, please respond if you like and I’ll be happy to post your reply here.

And to everyone else, feel free to chime in.   When you’re trying to raise kids to eat healthfully, there’s always a question of how much control is too much.   I’d love to hear where you draw that line.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

NotCinderell August 27, 2010 at 8:36 am

Is there any historical precedent of children having a great deal of control in menu planning for their family? No. There’s a reason for this, and there’s no reason to change it now.

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Viki August 27, 2010 at 8:51 am

I was so with Anthony that Zisboombah’s idea of ideal nutrition is not my idea of nutrition either. So far from mine I was disgusted with the site.

As parents it is our job to lead our children to be Thinking adults.
To give them the mental tools to be able to make good decisions.
Part of that is Show them How.
Teach them to cook, not just to dictate a menu.
You will be teaching them so much more than how to make a meal.

I have a teen, I often say, “what’s for dinner?”, when I’m tired. She and I will figure out what we have on hand and then she helps prepare it. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a set menu for the week. I have a general idea of what we will be having this week, but not a day by day plan.

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Jamie August 27, 2010 at 9:44 am

For me, the idea of this food game didn’t have the slightest appeal. My first thought was, “Okay…so they won 5 stars for the meal they picked…does this REALLY go to the table?” I have a 4 year old and don’t allow him on the computer as of yet so this all theory to me anyway. However, I think of my 13 year niece and nephew and just can’t see it translating from game to table. Maybe at the very least, it would give a smidge of an idea of what might compose a healthy meal.

Isn’t shopping together and preparing food together the same thing?

I don’t know…maybe I just can’t envision it in action…Mom! I got 5 stars, can we have beets?

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Scatteredmom August 27, 2010 at 9:54 am

I went and checked the site as well. At first, I liked the premise. After checking out the “pick chow”, I was disappointed.

The quick pics needs to be removed. It looks like a kids menu from any mid priced restaurant in the USA and isn’t remotely healthy. I probably wouldn’t let my kid even play the game because that alone sets up a battle.

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bettina elias siegel August 27, 2010 at 11:06 am

Welcome, Scatteredmom! I was happy to discover your site and am glad you’ve visited The Lunch Tray. – Bettina PS: As you may know, I sent you an email offline yesterday.

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Alyssa August 27, 2010 at 10:27 am

I believe that we are giving too much control to our children as it is. In this instance, what is the difference between giving them control over menus and giving them control over picking what their homework should be? Their teacher’s don’t allow them to choose what their homework should be each night. If that were the case we would have kids never learning math (at least that is the case in my house). We as parents should not be handing over that sort of control to such young and inexperienced individuals. This will only lead to allowing them to control so many other things in their and our lives.
I know that this is a discussion about trying to teach our children about good nutrition and healthy eating choices. But sometimes we must step back and look at the bigger picture; take a moment to see how some of the choices we make in one area can have a greater effect that resonates in others.
That being said, I do agree in including our children in the meal planning and making process. Not only is it a great hands on way for them to learn, but it is another way to find a few more precious moments to be together.
As for the Zisboombah, I too question their nutritional information. There is more to a meal than just protein, carbs, fat and fiber. Where is their information on vitamin content? Why does choosing something like iceberg lettuce have the same star ratings as kale? Why doesn’t guacamole have the same the same ratings as an avocado? (last I checked guacamole was mashed avocado plus onions, lime and tomatoes?)

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Brandon Saranik August 27, 2010 at 11:01 am

Thank you for your review of ZisBoomBah—we are constantly improving the site upon consumer feedback. I also wanted to touch upon a few of your concerns.

First, the nutritional values of the foods listed on ZisBoomBah come directly from the USDA nutrition dataset. Your statement about “handing over the keys” is also a valid concern that we have addressed. Accordingly, the parent must approve any meal that the child builds on ZisBoomBah. In order to properly utilize this feature, you must be signed in as a registered user (an option free to everyone). Once the parent approves the child’s meal, the child receives a message showing that their meal was approved.

If you have any other questions, please feel free to reach out to us. We love talking with families who use our site!

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bettina elias siegel August 27, 2010 at 11:05 am

Brandon: Thanks for stopping by The Lunch Tray. As you can see, ZisBoomBah has stirred up a bit of conversation here! As noted in my original review, I do think there’s a lot to offer on the site for both kids and parents, and I applaud your creativity in trying to engage children in learning about nutrition. Keep us posted of any developments. — Bettina

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Viki August 27, 2010 at 12:00 pm

And there you go Brandon, I don’t think the USDA has it right.

Too many people who have a hand in creating the National Dietary Guidelines put out by the USDA have ties to the beef, dairy and corn and other industries.
This means that there are a lot of scientists out there that are getting paid to push products while pretending to be objective. It is all about the money.

Your site is using the same information that the national school lunch program uses to feed children so poorly. Unfortunately, so few people seem to be able to think for themselves anymore that they will take this information and believe that the all white meal that Bettina created to get all those stars and think it is a good meal.

Do You believe it was an acceptable meal?

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Em August 30, 2010 at 11:48 am

Plus, what if the parents want something else? Seems unfair to me that the family’s cook would either have to make something different for the grownups or else be bound by what the kids say. I think shopping and cooking should be cooperative so everyone has some say, but Mom & Dad still have the decision-making power. That’s what I understand the role of parents to be, after all.

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Jenny September 27, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I think you’re all missing the point – the website is to help the childhood obesity epidemic and help educate kids what choices are healthy and which are not. They don’t claim to want you to completely hand over control to the child, but they want you to know that children like making their own decisions and this site lets them do that and gives them a feeling of responsibility that kids love.

How many times do you see your children making pretend dinners in their tiny play kitchens? They are pretending to be adults. They like to feel responsible for things and just once, maybe you can give them the option of being responsible for picking out what they eat. This will show them how to do that so they feel and receive their much coveted sense of independence.

Let go of some control and let the kids have their fun. They’re not out to harm anyone. If you want to negatively talk about something, discuss McDonald’s not a website that’s actually trying to do some good for the families and the children.

Love and positivity to all of you and your families.

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Amanda @ Tales of an Amateur Mommy July 7, 2011 at 8:17 am

I know I’m commenting pretty late in the game here… but I found the website to be pretty over-stimulating. I wouldn’t have any objection to a child playing with it, and if it works for another family as a step towards healthier eating and happier mealtimes, then good for them. I don’t envision it working in my house. I’m the cook, I make the choices, and that’s just the way it is. Even with my husband. Making a meal is enough of a responsibility, and so even with my spouse, he gets two choices– this or that– and if he’s hungry for something else altogether, I’ll consider it. But unless he’s going to volunteer to cook, I’m the ultimate decision maker. Therefore, it will be the same with my daughter until she is old enough to make a meal for our family herself (which I did quite a bit when I was a teen myself.)

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