Recently, I did a blog post on encouraging healthy eating amongst children. The post started out innocently enough – a mother posting on why she thought offering a healthy and varied diet to children was actually a very easy thing to do. I posted this with vim and vigour and my typical love for children.
What I didn’t expect was the barrage of negative comments that quickly ensued (along with lots of supportive comments, of course).
So how did this debacle begin? Well, I posted about a child who came for a day-long playdate last week – a child I found impossible to feed, unless it involved highly-processed, trans-fat-saturated or sugar-laden food – with not a vitamin or mineral in sight. I offered him a barrage of options for lunch but without white bread, he wasn’t going anywhere with sandwich ideas (we don’t have white bread in our house and never have – no, not even the stuff hiding ‘extra fibre’).
I instead tried offering a variety of – gasp – fresh foods. Carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, fruit, yoghurt, boiled eggs, slices of cheese (a no go because we didn’t have ‘wobbly’ cheese). “I don’t like that,” was the constant refrain.
So, I switched to canned and pre-packaged goods – baked beans? Tinned spaghetti? Soup? Ryvitas or crispbreads with a variety of delicious spreads? Tinned fruit? No go. Didn’t like any of them. Sheesh. What did this kid actually eat?
Desperate, I asked the child for clues. What did he have for lunch at home? He said “nutella on white bread”. Not having either of these products in our house, I said “what else do you have?” He said “nutella on white bread”. And what about on other days? Yep, you guessed it.
Hmmm. Little wonder our nation is now officially the fattest population on the planet.
Now, before I go on, please be sure to read this following statement carefully because it seems a large number of readers missed it on my blog post… My children eat trans-fat-saturated, sugar-laden, over-processed food. Yes they do. Most days, in fact. I ain’t no ‘party pooper whose kids have to stand by the lolly bowl at parties with their hands strapped against their sides because they aren’t allowed sugar’.
The thing is with my kids, though, is that when they do eat ‘junk’ food, I limit other junk foods that day, and I make sure everything else they eat is bursting with nutrition, vitamins and all the good stuff. Every day of their life, they are offered food that is high on nutrition and variety. They don’t always eat it, but it’s offered – and over time (they are now aged 6 and 9), both kids have developed a palatte that may not be perfect, but is certainly varied. Currently, the only thing my kids don’t really enjoy eating are offal (who does?) and leafy greens.
Nonetheless, I continue to offer leafy greens (no, I don’t offer offal) in the hope that one day they’ll take a nibble. I’ve also been known to hide ‘power foods’ inside regular meals, yes I have. Including leafy greens. By doing this, the subtle flavour is imbued in their regular meals, extending their palatte even further, and research shows that offering foods over and over ensures a higher degree of acceptance in children.
Recently, both my kids ingested an entire parsnip between them because I shredded it and fried it into ‘chips’. The subtle and challenging parsnip flavour was still there, yet they devoured every single piece and asked for more. I was delighted and quickly pondered other foods parents could use. Carrots and sweet potato would also work well – and if you fry quickly in very hot vegtable oil and drain well, fat-saturation is minimised.
Trying food in different ways is palette-stretching. That is – it adds variety and extends our kids’ enjoyment of a variety of foods. Consistently offering nutritional variety is highly effective in encouraging children to partake in foods they would normally shun. The higher the variety in food, the higher the vitamin-intake – yes, even if you have to hide the variety in other foods (like grated zucchini in spaghetti bolognaise) or present it in a way that is more kid-friendly, like chips.
And if my kids had not eaten their parsnip chips, let me just say I would not have thrown up my hands and offered them a white bread nutella sandwhich instead. Children eating naught but junk for lunch every day do so not because of their distaste for more healthy foods. They do so because it’s what their parents give them.
I mean, what did parents do in the Middle Ages before white bread and nutella? I’ll tell you what happened. They ate what they were given. Not sure there were many fussy eaters in fifteenth Century England, that’s for sure. Do you think the children of Inner Mongolia poo poo a diet high in fatty boiled mutton and mare’s milk? No. Nor are they taken to the local milkbar for a packet of white bread and a jar of nutella if they won’t eat their sheep. My point is, what children crave and demand is what we allow them to have.
When we went on holidays recently, we relaxed our stance on food a little because “it’s the holidays” and also because we’re not perfect and I’ve never pretended we are (although it seems that by espousing pro-nutrition, some people do think I think I’m perfect. Frankly, I’m flattered, but I’m humble enough to admit it’s not true).
Basically, the kids ate a lot less nutritional food and a lot more junk. They were subsequently more tired and lethargic. The sibling in-fighting increased, as did the shonky attitudes and behaviour. Markedly. Not only that, the kids both demanded and craved more junk than they ever do at home. Not having access to my fully-laden fridge of fantastic food, I acquiesed to these dodgy food demands more readily (because it was easy and we were “on holidays”), and both kids began to prefer and rely on highly-processed foods – in the space of only one week.
Imagine the reliance over a matter of years.
But back to my blog debacle. Let’s just say I refused to publish some of the comments I received because they were so nastypants. Who would have thought I’d garner such a persnickety reaction by suggesting we feed our children well? Was it because I hit a junk-food-padded nerve? One woman suggested I was very “self-satisfied and smug” that I’d offered my children blue cheese and they’d eaten and enjoyed it. Why the hate? Why did offering blue cheese to my kids and their liking it offend her so much?
Another woman suggested I was discounting the myriad of children with medical and behavioural disorders by commenting that offering a nutritional and varied diet is ‘easy’. Sorry, but if a white bread nutella sandwich is a better choice (or indeed, only choice) for children with medical and behavioural conditions, then God help the future of our country.
Another woman inferred that so long as a child becomes an upstanding citizen of our community, who cares if they ate nutella sandwiches as a child. If that’s not missing the entire point of my original post, I don’t know what is. It seems then, that it would also be okay for upstanding citizens to be overweight, diabetic and die at 45 of heart disease.
I don’t want our kids to die at 45 of heart disease.
Interesting that we have a country (and Western world) filled with children who are obese, riddled with disease and behaviourally disordered. I suppose that’s due to ‘genetics’ or ‘bad luck’ than to what we feed them (and how much exercise they get). Would offering these kids a more nutritious and varied diet, with a much healthier balance of junk food increase their quality of life? Umm… you decide. I wouldn’t want to say lest I have my eyes scratched out.
For me, balance and moderation is key. A little bit of everything is okay so long as the majority rule is on vitality, strength and health. Nutella sandwiches on white bread, too, are okay – so long as they’re not eaten in place of nutritious food, as is oft the way (clearly evidenced by the vilification I received for suggesting otherwise). Is it such an abomination to want vitality, strength and health for our country’s childen – or, God forbid, to want to educate them on living a healthy and vital life? Sad that I seem to have hit such a nerve with so many people about this issue. Evil, bad-doing me to offer fresh and varied food (and yes, ‘junk’ food, too) to any child that enters my house.
And what did I feed our little visitor for lunch?
Nothing. You heard it right. He told me he wanted nothing because I had nothing he would eat and so he wanted nothing. And guess what – shock, horror – he didn’t starve! I know! He ate some trans-fat saturated cookies for afternoon tea, followed by a sugar-laden icypole – and, much to my delight, a few pieces of attractively fruit I’d cut up and displayed on a platter and ranted about until he simply couldn’t resist.
Encouraging healthy eating in kids – you’d better believe it’s a parent’s choice.