Helping kids find a healthy balance without stress

>> 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.


laura March 6, 2009 at 8:01 AM  

Nice post. I think it must be very hard to be a parent (!). I am not one, but I say good for you for obviously listening to your kids and loving them to pieces.

Mark March 6, 2009 at 11:18 AM  

I think it is important to lead by example and like you have mentioned often...if the junk isn't around the kids won't eat it. (paraphrasing of course!) Have a nice weekend!

Hanlie March 6, 2009 at 12:10 PM  

I have no idea how we're going to handle it when we have kids... but I'm glad that we're making the transition before the time. That way there shouldn't be any confusion - it would just be the way we do things! As you say, having plenty of healthy food around should make it easier. We also won't have TV, so they wouldn't be exposed to advertising so much...

I really admire you for what you're doing!

Sagan March 6, 2009 at 12:15 PM  

It sounds like you have an excellent way of handling the situation. That would be a huge issue I'd have as a parent... I'm not sure that I would be able to keep the balance necessary for the kids to grow up with healthy attitudes. Good thing I'm not planning on having kids, then!

cathy March 6, 2009 at 1:12 PM  

Laura and Mark - thanks as always for your thoughtful comments!

Hanlie - Good job setting up good eating habits BEFORE the kids come. It will serve you well!

Sagan - I suspect you would surprise yourself. But hey - kids are not necessary for eating healthy or for living a fulfilling life!

TwinToddlersDad March 6, 2009 at 5:11 PM  

I did read this article in NYT and I am glad you decided to write about it. In my opinion, this is another example of how the mainstream media highlights something extreme to catch our attention. I did not really like the tone of that article. It seemed to me that they tried to put parents on the defensive if they cared about the nutrition of their children. There will always be a few people who would take anything to the extreme; it does not mean that all parents are like that. And by no means should we stop caring about the eating habits of our children!

Super Healthy Kids March 7, 2009 at 4:54 AM  

I do not think this is a problem in the least. Like TTD, they have taken a very small problem and made it look extreme. I know many kids and not one of them have anxiety about their diets. For the kids that do, it was never about food. They would have anxiety about anything and it happens to be food for the kids in this article.
I even had a friend who was very extreme. A raw foodie, and her kids ate the same way. They had no qualms about accepting a treat at my house. No anxiety, no fear of death...nothing!
The only trouble my kids get is that I head up the healthy lifestyles program at my kids school, so when their teachers see them choose a laffy taffy out of the prize box their teacher will say, "does your mom want you choosing that?" My son just laughs.
Lets give the kids a little credit here. They are resiliant, easy going, smart people who understand more than we give them credit for.

cathy March 7, 2009 at 6:11 AM  

Twin Toddlers Dad & Super Healthy Kids - I see this article struck a nerve with you too - but in the opposite way. I'm SO glad that you both chimed in. I think that you both make VERY valid points. Of course the media latches on to an extreme - it seems to be what they do these days. Thanks for pointing that out and injecting a little common sense here!

Lori March 8, 2009 at 6:33 AM  

I think you are passing on such an amazing message in such a positive, healthy way. I'm so glad you brought up the issues of feeling superior and obsession. Both are important to remember when it comes to health. I don't have kids myself, but it sounds to me like you are doing a darn good job!

My Year Without March 8, 2009 at 8:55 AM  

I don't have kids yet, but shoot! I may need to chill out a little before I do! My overall thought on the subject is that I will only be able to "control" what my kids eat for the first few years of their lives. After that, I'll have to let go of that perceived control and let them decide for themselves. Hopefully, fruits and vegetables will taste best to them by then, and packaged food taste like cardboard....we can dream, right?

KaNtWheYt2012 March 9, 2009 at 12:29 PM  

Great blog and very motivating. I read about your blog on another weight loss blog ( I'll visit again soon. Happy losing!

Jenna March 12, 2009 at 11:50 AM  

interesting article. i think you sum up my approach with this sentence: "these changes are about teaching my kids to like really good food that happens to be good for you. " i look at "diet" as what I eat, NOT what is restricted. i do eat whole foods from plant sources. i do eat animal protein in moderation. i do eat sugar in moderation. i do eat processed/packaged food in moderation. i choose natural colorings/flavorings over artifical. i teach the kids the same thing. it's ok to eat foods that aren't "grow" foods in moderation, and we enjoy them. they aren't feared. if parents are afraid of chemicals, fat and sugar then kids will be too.

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