One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.-Virginia Woolf
I grew up on macaroni and cheese with tuna and peas in it, bratwurst, eggs and whatever was in the garden during the short mid-western summers. Mom and dad exposed us to food from many areas of the world and successfully made adventurous eaters, by most standards, and we had a family dinner most nights. But they were crazy busy most of the year and my mother, our primary but not sole meal provider, was best at baking cakes, not whipping out a fancy meal in the twenty minutes she usually had. Remember, this is before everyone had cable and Rachael Ray, with her famous quick dinners, was probably a kid herself. So we ate from the blue box many times a week and we liked it. I used to go to my best friend’s house and get so excited to eat white bread and drink still unidentified “red punch.”
We hadn’t yet started trying to add the nutrients back into our processed food because those not fortified boxes of cereal were still a treat that we had to beg for and knew we would almost never get. We loved road trips to see my grandparents because we knew there was a chance we would get fast food on the way there or home. My parents’ generation, born during and just after WWII, had been freed from many of tasks traditionally tied to food. Theirs was a different world than their parents’ before them, much like technology has changed the world for us and our children.
We are still trying to adjust to these changes, even as changes in food, convenience, division of labor, culture and ethics swirl around us in a dizzying mess.
My own kids used to get kosher hot dogs every Saturday and just this week I waved them off to eat some candy from bowl while I was having conversation after a meeting. Do you know what happens when you cook some whole, ancient grain and make raw nut cheese to mix with it and then call it macaroni and cheese? Your kids tell the Dr that mac and cheese is their favorite food. I didn’t even bother to explain it. It was too perfect, in some cosmic sense, that after all the effort to give them a better alternative, that was the answer they gave.
We all do what we can. We do what seems right and possible. At least that is what we tell ourselves. Sometime we are just tired or distracted or done.
Food is a moral issue. Being ignorant of that fact does not absolve us or our children of the consequences of our food decisions.
Our children face a decreasing lifespan, type two diabetes at a rate of 1 in 3 for Caucasian youth and 1 in 2 for minority(1). They are approaching a life full of metabolic syndrome and daily drugs. Cancer rates and infertility are up and 1 in 13 kids currently has allergies, a number that has been skyrocketing in recent years.(2)(3*)(4*)(5) As part of this unfolding tragedy, they are the most obese generation in history.(6)
We know but don’t always think about the fact that we literally are what we eat and our children are what we feed them. Their bodies are still growing and forming. They are smaller and metabolize things faster. We need to figure out how to feed them real food despite our culture or they will live shorter, sicker lives.
You are what what you eat eats.-Michael Pollan
It is hard to really get it through our heads that our government does not protect us from fake and dangerous food but we need to do just that. Most of what is considered food in this country doesn’t meet muster. (If you missed it, we covered defining real food in Part One) Much of what you can buy in the store you should never put in your mouth or the mouth’s of your children.
The regulatory agencies are over extended, regulate only some concerns while legalizing the ingestion of other toxins, and they are hopelessly in bed with industry. The famous revolving door between the USDA, FDA, and industrial/chemical agribusiness shows no sign of stopping. The number of synthetics in our food and our bodies is shocking and literally cannot be tested in concert with each other. This is what we need to navigate but it starts with feeding our families real food that gives our bodies a fighting chance.
But we look around us and see that our culture has decided what children will and will not eat and ruled that quality is not the measure to be used.
It is to our children’s detriment that we feed them the standard American diet and their lives are negatively impacted by our laziness and ignorance.
(For more on our cultural problem regarding children’s diets, read We Have Failed.)
Let’s talk about what is possible, from one parent figuring this all out to another.
The first step is to get rid of the excuses in the back of our heads. Our perceived obstacles are self fulfilling prophecies.
We should never, ever say a child won’t eat something. They hear us both audibly and in our actions. We give them permission not to eat things by just saying this and it takes a while to correct once the damage has been done.
We must never say something is “kids’ food” or “adult food.” There is only food and fake-food.
We can never, ever use the cop-out that something “was good enough for us as kids.” The stuff considered food has gotten progressively more absurd and damaging since we were young and only the survivors use that excuse.
You know the excuses you use. Write them down and throw them out. No excuse should justify what we are doing to this generation.
It is more than a little hypocritical to take the dog food from our toddlers hands and explain it is not food and then hand them something full of ingredients we can’t identify.
Once we have committed to dump our excuses, we need to have a real, helpful and functional grasp on what determines what a child eats because we are chronically full of bologna about it, literally and figuratively.
What are the major influences on a child’s diet?
Kids cannot eat what they do not have access to and they will eventually eat things to which they do have access. The idea that your child (excepting failure to thrive cases) will starve instead of eat is false. First, hunger isn’t when the stomach is empty. That belief is the result of our rich, spoiled culture. Hunger is when the bowels are empty. Second, it takes several days to starve and a child without a physical or mental complication will eat before that happens. Second, have you seen what young children will put in their mouths?! Chalk, lip balm, pet food, rocks, legos…they rely on us to guide and will eat whatever is around until we program them otherwise. We have fruit, veggies and raw nuts everywhere. Our kids help themselves and like it. If I leave a chocolate bar on the counter, they are going to eat that. Have only real food available.
More is caught than taught. Your kids are likely going to eat like their adults and the other kids with whom they have meals. Your ATTITUDE about what you eat has a huge impact on how they view food. Do YOU eat real food? Do you take pleasure in it? Fake it until you feel it here, parents. Moan about the veggies. Let them hear you talking about how amazing the combination of corn and black beans is in that salad. You can do this.
Talk to them about what their friends eat. Talk to them about what is available at school. Explain to them about the culture they see others participate in and praise them when they choose wisely. Don’t hold up participating in the SAD as a goal or a standard. Show them that a true friend is can handle them eating differently. And at a certain age they like to know it makes them seem very grown up to eat real food.
Junk food companies spend BILLIONS to market to your children and more BILLIONS to market to you. How do you compete with that? The same way you deal with it if your kids sees something overly sexualized or violent or anything else cultural you need to counter. You talk to them about it and you pull back the vale on the magic of advertising. Explain to them about the tricks, the manipulation and the dishonesty. Explain to them about motives and how they are being treated like stupid puppets. Teach them to understand what is happening in a real way so they can feel smart and even get skeptical about information from ads. Are you worried they are too young to understand any of it? Then they shouldn’t be exposed to them on your watch but you may be underestimating their ability to comprehend manipulation.
Number of exposures:
The more times a kid is exposed to a food, the more they start to see it as normal. The more times they try it, the more their tastes adjust to it. It takes about 12 exposures to a food that isn’t in a toddlers preferred taste range for their tastes to adjust. No, you can’t make everyone like everything but you can get your kids to the point that there are only a few flavors they dislike.
In addition to advertising, our biological desires for salt, fat and sugar are manipulated by food processors to get us to eat more of their product. Read Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss and Food Politics by Marion Nestle if you really want to understand how this works and how your “food” supply is being manipulated. Both books are proving iconic. Know that there is a lot of science that goes into addicting you to the garbage in the packages and manipulating demand and there is a political game that favors supplying you with fake food.
Teach your kids the truth about food. Explain why you eat real food. They can handle the truth.
I love to tell the story about taking my daughter to her favorite restaurant and being told that, “You can’t feed a kid Indian food!” My dad chimed in, “Why? Millions of kids in India eat it every day.” Thanks for having my back, Dad.
Chew on This
Most moms can tell you that dad looks at food differently. This study from Produce for Better Health Foundation (PBH) quantifies the discrepancy.
As seen in this and other studies, dads generally have weaker beliefs about the importance of fruit and vegetables for health and for their family. In fact, females have reported that male partners were obstructive to their efforts to increase their family’s’ fruit and vegetable consumption. -PBH Report
This short video from Nutrition Facts does a great job of expressing something everyone should understand: reductionism is the wrong approach.
Happy eating, Katy
*The CDC claims infertility rates in the US are slightly declining based on their definition of how long couples try to conceive. Women are having more and more trouble not just conceiving but carrying to term. Miscarriage rates are incredibly hard to pin down but all attempts to combine total problems with bringing a live child into the world seem to show a strong increase in the US and other westernized countries.