Monday, January 08, 2007

Children and Food


I think it's clear that we have a problem with eating in the US. Either we are obese McDonald's-eaters, or we are anorexic-bulimic fashion model wanna-be's. Somehow we have lost the ability to just enjoy a variety of foods in moderation. And not surprisingly, this problem has filtered right down to our children.

When I read about 6-year-olds worrying about their weight, I feel sick. Children should learn to love food and to eat in a reasonable fashion. They should not worry about being too fat or too thin, or about calorie intake or fat grams. They shouldn't have to think about food much at all, other than how yummy it is.

Evidently even those public officials concerned with our children's health can't seem to see clearly:

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated [body mass index] reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast.
Um, OK. Part of the problem is economic: the article goes on to say that the district tried to offer field greens and kiwi fruit in cafeterias, but due to high costs they went back to the old iceberg lettuce and canned fruit. Because of government subsidies, processed foods are often much cheaper than whole fruits and vegetables, undermining any public health drives toward better nutrition.

Part of the problem is cultural. I remember savoring baloney/mayonnaise/white bread sandwiches as a child. Now I couldn't choke that down, but that's after many years of reprogramming my taste for healthy food. I imagine many of the kids in the NY Times article eat more pizza at home than kiwi fruit.

I'm doing my best to encourage my kids to have healthy appetites for a variety of foods. I acknowledge that I have unusually game children: for lunch we had homemade seaweed salad sushi rolls made with brown rice. For dinner we had homemade split pea soup and whole wheat biscuits (savory scones not cookies, for my UK and Australian blog friends!). They regularly chow down on mixed green salad. I know it's not uncommon for small children to want nothing but, say, yogurt three meals a day. But I think the key here is to serve nutritious food, model the behavior of enjoying the food, and not make a big deal of it.

And get off your duff and play outside!

2 comments:

Helen said...

Kiko was above the 98th percentile for weight for most of his first year, then, in the past couple of months has begun to lose weight and has plummeted through the percentiles. The last time I had him weighed he was in the 80th percentile and had lost a kilogram. Since six weeks of age he has been an incredibly fussy eater. His enormous size has never been a reflection of his appetite or what he eats (which, quite often, is nothing). I've been so worried about it. I think there is far too much reliance on scales and charts and very little recourse to commonsense. But the doctors are so oblivious. They just shrug when I bring up my concerns. The only "advice" I have been given was by a nurse who told me to stop feeding him (I'm not kidding) because he was above the 98th percentile at 6 months old. I tried to impress on her that he wasn't actually eating anyway, but this information didn't seem to get through to her.

So anyway, I find it hard to get him to eat at all, let alone eat healthily. I can see why parents fall into the trap of: "Little Bob will only eat junk food." The one time Kiko had hot chips he went nuts and cleared the whole plate, which he would never do with anything else. I'm trying to follow the rule of "one healthy choice at mealtimes and if that is rejected then nothing". I stick to it but often it means he doesn't eat. He also doesn't eat much fruit, either, which I worry about. Partly it's because he's intolerant to certain kinds, and partly because, well, he doesn't eat. Oh - I did discover recently that he'll eat raisins. He is slightly better with food these days, although getting him off formula is our next big hurdle.

Heather Lynne said...

I think this is so important. It's so easy to get caught up in what is convient and what is easy (fast food or bagel breakfasts) I myself find meal time to be unrewarding with just my boys and I. something is missing so I choose to go out and get something exciting. I am making big changes in this and have created mantras to fill food with love homemade and cared for. I think this alone will uplift my family into health...yeah Kale...