>> Friday, March 6, 2009
I read an interesting article today in the New York Times - What's Eating Our Kids? Fears about 'Bad' Foods. The article talks about how parents' "righteous eating" habits can have a negative impact on their kids' psyche. Take a minute and go read the article...
Did you read it? If you didn't, here's a paragraph from the article that kind of gives the gist of it:
Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, says that she often sees children who are terrified of foods that are deemed “bad” by parents. “It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” she said. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”
So what do you do if you're a parent - like me - who has drawn a hard line on certain ingredients and is trying to eat healthier in general? I certainly won't belittle any parent's approach on this subject - especially since we're just making this up as we go along - but I'll tell you how we're approaching this.
We've given up HFCS and are phasing out partially-hydrogenated oils (more on this in a later post), but despite our extreme (by today's standards) diet, it hasn't been such a hard transition for our kids. They eat more fruit and vegetables now (not always by choice), but I've made an effort to find HFCS and trans-fat free substitutes for most of their previous HFCS-laden favorites. Sometimes that comes in form of something ready-made from the store and sometimes the substitute is homemade. I think that it's important for my kids to not feel deprived even as we're trying to eat healthier foods.
I'm also not preachy about our diet - well, outside of this blog. We eat healthier at home, and my son knows that I don't buy some things because of their ingredients, but he also gets his fair share of treats and, yes, occasionally HFCS-free "junk" at home. He also knows that as long as he packs his diet full of mostly good stuff, an occasional (um, or nightly) dessert or treat is a fine thing to be savored. We even go all out with homemade, sugar-filled birthday cakes. And, of course, if we go to a friend's house and they serve a snack or meal that we normally wouldn't eat at home, no worries.
Most of the time, we don't talk about our diet oddities at all. To me, this is not about teaching my kids to avoid HFCS or trans fat (or whatever else makes me uncomfortable) - these changes are about teaching my kids to like really good food that happens to be good for you. I really don't want my kids feeling superior about the foods they eat because I know that their friends' parents are doing what they feel is best just like I am. (And I'm also fully aware that it's more likely that their friends will feel superior to my kids as they eat the latest HFCS-laden packaged food du jour.)
Clearly this article strikes a chord with me. My son already knows about high fructose corn syrup, and he's only five. He knows that we avoid it. I'm ok with that, but I also don't want him becoming paranoid about the ingredients in the foods he eats. (Fortunately, he shows absolutely NO signs of being food ingredient paranoid outside of normal five year old fussiness.) Since giving up HFCS has become old hat around here now, it's less of an active discussion. It still comes up, but we're able to focus on eating good, healthy food and minimizing the junk (although a certain amount of junk remains and will remain).
I do think that it's important for us to continue to strive to eat healthier. I think (and hope) that the choices we make at home now will spill over into the rest of our kids' lives later when I'm not deciding everything that they eat. But an article like this hopefully reminds us that sometimes we need to just chill out a bit - or at least not make our kids paranoid about the food that they eat.