Wednesday, January 9, 2013
Food Fright: A Dietitian's Parenting Mistake
Somewhere along the way nutrition news and recommendations can begin to generate fear in us though. And it's understandable, especially when it comes to our children. If you hear artificial food dyes are linked to ADHD or food from genetically modified organisms lead to tumors in rats, most likely you aren't going to put those items at the top of the grocery list. We want the healthiest start for our kiddos and there is a tremendous amount of pressure on parents since we provide most of the food and are responsible for teaching them how to make the best choices on their own one day. But there's a right way to teach them..and a wrong way.
Here's where I went wrong (please insert a 'gasp' here):
One day I was preparing for a talk on food labels. I got my boys from school and popped over to the grocery store to pick up a few products that I wanted to compare in my presentation. One was a box of Pop-Tarts. As I pulled it off the shelf (which was right at the kids' eye level), my youngest said "Ooooh can we have those for breakfast tomorrow?" to which I, somewhat distracted by wanting to get the helloutta there before the dinner shopping rush, responded very much off-the-cuff "No way! These things have all sorts of chemicals and yucky poisons in them."
I looked up from my list to see shock and horror registering on my then 5 year old's face as he stared at the Pop-Tarts box. I rushed to his side and asked, "What's wrong honey?!"
"Oh no! My friends eat those! Are they eating poison?"
*OOOOOOOPS* MAJOR dietitian and parenting faux pas.
In what I thought was somewhat of a joke loosely based on reality, I had managed to connect 'food' and fear in his mind. (Don't worry--I corrected my mistake and all is right in his world again.)
It's terrific to educate your child about the healthiest foods possible but NOT okay if, in doing so, you make them fear foods that aren't 'perfect' and wholesome. This can lead to a bigger problem. What happens when you or your child aren't in control of what is offered? It could be a birthday party, dinner at a friend's house, or a treat at his grandparents' house.
One meal, one food-dye snack, one high fructose corn syrup treat...none of these things INDIVIDUALLY will destroy your child's health, their weight or the healthy eating habits you routinely follow.**
People are often surprised when they see my kids having cake at a birthday party or eating chips out at a restaurant. I get comments like "You let your kids eat THAT?" Believe me, it doesn't happen often! But part of my kids' nutrition education is learning how to LIVE in a world where these foods are offered. How do we handle it? Can we have these yummy but no-so-healthy foods? Should we freak out because no veggies were offered at lunchtime at your friend's house? Um... no. Kids, here's how we live in reality and find the right balance between the once-in-a-while foods and the majority-of-the-time foods.
GOAL: NO FOOD FRIGHT!
If the not-so-desirable foods are offered more than once-in-a-while (e.g. every day at school or in after school care), that IS a problem--especially if it affects your child's weight or health--and you need to speak up. Feel free to contact me and we can brainstorm some solutions.
**(DISCLAIMER: the above is ok advice, unless your child has a medical issue or food allergies. Then you have to exercise extreme caution and good caring people will understand why you have to bring special food or avoid what is offered)