Friday, August 31, 2012

Nourishing Our Children with Good Food Messages

School is back in session and the kids are gearing up to learn. As parents, let’s take this as an opportunity to learn something, too. Let’s think about we’re teaching our children about health, nutrition and body image. Our children will reflect back to us what we teach them and I’m here to say that it’s not always good.

The childhood obesity rates have been slowly rising and public health experts have officially pushed the panic button. A world strewn with processed foods is now being condemned and shamed – and, possibly, taxed. The pendulum of eating fast foods and gaining weight is shifting towards being “healthy” and everyone is desperately trying to define what that means exactly. As we scramble to reverse the obesity trend, too many mixed messages are being impressed onto our children’s minds.

Everyone seems confused, but, for children, we must pay particular attention to these messages.

My daughter was informed that it’s OK to bring a corn muffin to school as a snack, but not a small bag of potato chips. Kids are now starting to talk about food like they’re experts, regurgitating the latest nutrition factoid they hear at home or on the news.

“Corn is fine because it’s a vegetable, doofus,” says one of the kids at school.

“But my mommy says corn muffins are like cake and cake is fattening,” says the other child. “And my mommy is always trying to lose weight.”

It’s bad enough that the Twinkie-taxing people are fighting with the food libertarians in the adult world, but now we’ve got a whole generation of kids confused about what to put into their bodies.

The implications? For the fearful child, a serious eating disorder could be lurking in her future. There are new ones popping up every day with kids being afraid to eat now. Food is “fattening” or “bad for me” or “dangerous”.

We have a generation of children in need of nourishing words about food – not confusing and negative ones. This means focusing on the whole and unprocessed foods, putting them at the center of our kids’ lives and teaching them where food comes from, how it grows, its strengthening values. However, it also means allowing them to enjoy foods that might be processed or “fattening” so as not to instill fear at such a young age.

Our goal should be to empower our children with knowledge and discernment, not to scare them or teach them to be judgmental towards others who like to eat six cupcakes for lunch.

“Well, it seems the corn muffin ingredients look an awful lot like what we see here on the Betty Crocker cake mix,” we could say. “I suppose potato chips could be considered a vegetable like the corn muffin because potatoes are a vegetable, too, no?” These words might be a good place to start.

Then it is important to empower them. “What do you think?”

Rather than have the kids fighting over the virtues of a corn muffin or the potato chips, just have your child toss the apple in the backpack.

Most importantly, teach them to think for themselves. Empower them with knowledge and the ability to discern the crazy messages being tossed around.

This might mean doing it for ourselves first.

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