A little story

I’ll always remember the first time I tried dark chocolate. Until that day, I always thought that the only chocolate worth eating was Milk chocolate and that Dark chocolate was only a pale imitation that grown-ups were force-fed for health reasons.

This all changed during a summer vacation at my grandmother’s house in my native French Alps. On a sunny afternoon my grandmother, forgetting that kids don’t usually like dark chocolate, handed me my first-ever piece of dark chocolate. I would normally have rejected the offer without thinking twice about it, but since I could so vividly feel the love and joy my grandmother had by sharing this treat with me, I had no other choice than giving it a try.

To my biggest surprise, it was delightful, the intensity of the earthy, woodsy, and nutty notes took me by surprise, why did I ever eat milk chocolate before! This was over 30 years ago and I have almost never touched milk chocolate since.

Thanks to my grandmother’s love, which I could so clearly feel that day, I learned to go beyond some of my preconceptions and limitations around food. My grandmother succeeded where my parents often struggled; grandparents have a superpower that parents don’t always have.

How about using that superpower to teach your grandchildren lifelong skills and help them develop a healthy relationship with food! And when it comes to a healthy relationship with food, small actions can go a long way. For instance, the simple act of eating together around a table, removing distraction like TV, slowing down when eating and offering small portions could have tremendous and long-lasting health promoting impacts on your grandkids. They will cherish and aim to replicate those memories once adults. The new Canada’s Food Guide reinforces those timeless values by encouraging us “to cook more often, enjoy food, be mindful of eating habits, and eat meals with others”. A healthy relationship with food starts now!

Food bonds us together
We forget that our best food memories are often related to a feeling, such as a sense of peace, safety or love, more than a taste per se. This may be part of what makes our memories so magical.

This idea that spoiling grandkids has more to do with undivided attention rather than a given food is very elegantly described by the ageless Proust’s Madeleine, a sponge cake made of flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. Marcel Proust was a French writer who became one of the most influential authors of the 20th century. In his novel In Search of Lost Time Proust shared this iconic memory that has since become known in psychology as a Proustian Memory. As an adult Proust described how biting into a madeleine, a simple sponge cake, could bring him back, decades earlier, to his auntie’s kitchen and how all of the sweet memories flood back in.

What this story tells us is that beyond a sweet treat to spoil our beloved grandkids, we can also offer our undivided attention. Great ways to achieve such a goal is to listen louder, focus on the sharing rather than giving by for instance baking together. Food is a fantastic tool to create sweet memories with grandparents, which is why we want to bond around food, not with food, this will help your grandkids develop a healthy relationship with food.

Just like a simple reusable food container may become a grandchild’s favorite toy over some very fancy, expensive store-bought substitutes, a simple homemade dish can become a time-traveling machine that can connect grandchildren to their beloved grandparents, who knew!

This simple act of sharing (making) instead of giving (buying) can have such a positive and long-lasting effect on your grandchildren. Not only cooking and baking together will give you an unprecedented opportunity to bond with your grandchildren, but as a bonus, you will teach your grandchildren lifelong, transferable skills. In a food environment where take-out and convenience foods have made their way to the dinner table, learning some basic cooking skills could be one of the best long-lasting gifts a child can receive from their grandparents.

Lentil Coconut Energy Bites
The best way to avoid giving treats with a lot of added sugar and additives, and a great way to create memories with your grandkids, is to make the treat yourself. The following recipe is taken from kristenyarker.com, a local dietitian’s website. This recipe is nut-free, dairy-free, vegan, gluten-free, no-sugar-added and protein-packed with lentils and pumpkin seeds.

Ingredients:
• ½ cup cooked green lentils (or lentils from a can)
• ½ cup of pureed pumpkin seeds
• 1/3 cup of dry oats
• ½ tsp ground cinnamon
• ½ tsp vanilla extract
• 4 dates
• ¼ cup of chocolate chips (optional)
• ¼ cup of coconut flakes unsweetened (to roll in)

Instructions:
• Cook the lentils in a pot with water for ~25-30 minutes on medium heat
• In the meantime, puree ½ cup of pumpkin seeds in a food processor until smooth
• Add in fresh dates and continue to puree
• Once you reach a paste-like consistency, add in dry oats, cinnamon, vanilla extract and cooked lentils.
• Transfer into a bowl and add chocolate chips
• Roll into small balls (should make about 9-10)
• On some parchment paper, sprinkle ¼ cup of coconut flakes and roll in the lentil coconut bites
• Enjoy!

Take home message:
The best way to spoil your grandchildren, beyond the comforting, holiday or celebration food, is offering them your undivided attention. This is the secret ingredient that turns a regular treat into a magical homemade dish worthy of a life-long sweet memory. So how about making treats that are a celebration of health and create bonding with your grandchildren around food, instead of with food.

Stéphane Lahaye is a Dietetic Intern with Island Health. Born and raised in France’s countryside, he enjoys sharing his passion for whole and local food.