There’s been a lot of scary stories about food lately, from the peanut butter recalls to the discovery of mercury in high fructose corn syrup. Many parents, myself included, have become more critical about what finds its way onto the dining room table. And when the kids ask why, well, I tell them.
But how much information is too much? Many doctors, dieticians, and eating disorder specialists feel that putting too much emphasis on the foods we eat is creating anxiety in children, possibly even setting them up for future eating disorders. According to the president of the School Nutrition Association,
“We’re driving our kids absolutely crazy…. All the stuff about preservatives and pesticides. All an 8-year-old kid should know is that he or she should eat a variety of colors, and don’t supersize anything but your water jug.”
Dr. Steven Bratman refers to a fixation on health foods as orthorexia, or “righteous eating”. I like this particular choice of words because it gives me perspective; in all my green endeavors, I try not to appear “righteous” in any way. I don’t want my kids to feel guilty about what I might say if they eat Snickers ice cream bars at a birthday party, and I don’t want them worrying about their health if they stop at McDonald’s with their uncle. But I do want them to understand that packaged ice cream bars and fast food burgers aren’t ideal choices.
Here’s what I think we as parents can do to encourage a healthy diet and a healthy mindset:
- Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad”. By extension, many kids will feel they are bad if they eat or even want “bad” foods. (Ever eat a bag of chips and tell someone you were bad today?)
- Talk up the positive, downplay the negative. By all means, eat organic, but don’t emphasize the pesticides in non-organic.
- Serve healthy snacks without being overly critical of unhealthy choices. I think being too critical sets up eating junk food as a form of defiance. I have an 11 year old, I know defiance when I see it.
- Be flexible; this gives your kids permission to be flexible.
- Cook with your kids. How they see you prepare foods is how they will instinctively prepare their own foods as they grow older.
- Eat slow family dinners. I think this is so vitally important: take time to eat mindfully and savor your food and time together as a family. Show by example that good food is meant to be enjoyed.
The key, as in all things, is balance: educating our kids about healthy choices without instilling fear.
It’s a fine line to walk. How do you achieve it?