I have a bone to pick with the local public school my child attends. Granted, I am seen by the mass majority of people as reactionary, if not sanctimonious, when it comes to plying my child with all manner of junk food, but I can say with certainty that frosted supermarket cupcakes and candy corn have no reasonable place in the classroom. For this, I am sure I am not popular with some parents, but for other parents, who feel certain foods have no inherent value or place in the mouths of young children, I am a kindred spirit.
Moving beyond the difference of opinion, when considering certain foods, whether they be “treats” or junk food, is it fair to make some foods utterly verboten? I personally would like to put Spiderman cupcakes and orange-flavored soda on the “do not eat until the apocalypse” list for my child. That said, by prohibiting our child from indulging, are we sending the wrong message about their budding relationship with food?
Casey Sidenberg, co-founder of Nourish Schools, a D.C.-based nutrition education company, seems to think so. Sidenberg, who is also a parent, feels that, considering how many children grow up with eating disorders and unhealthy associations to food, it is best to take a stance that stresses an emphasis on healthful foods, but with measured tolerance for those junky items that make many parents cringe. In writing for The Washington Post, Sidenberg shares a few key suggestions to help develop in your children a positive association with food, in general. Here are a few key points:
Food, especially unhealthful food, shouldn’t be used as a reward. The common incentive used by parents “Eat your vegetables so you can have dessert” clearly communicates to children that vegetables are to be avoided and desserts are to be desired.
Labeling a food as “bad” can cause children to feel guilty or bad themselves when they eat it. Instead label unhealthful foods “sometimes foods,” as they really are the foods we should eat only sometimes.
Food should not be used as a punishment in any respect (for example, taking away dessert sends the message that dessert is a “prize”) and unhealthful foods shouldn’t be labeled “treats” either.
In addition Sidenberg puts emphasis on maintaining a critical distance between consumption of food (or drink) and celebration. This is all in the effort of reinforcing those positive associations with family, activity and friends over the sweet rewards of a pack of Twizzlers. Easier said than done, I know.
I would certainly like to add to this getting your child more involved with growing, cooking, and purchasing food, and giving them the tools to make informed and empowered choices. Allow them to make some mistakes (i.e. buying something junky, or even trying a food that may not be to their liking) and generate their own preferences and their own pride in keeping their bodies healthy, and their taste buds engaged. So as much as some of us may hate to admit it, short of caffeinated gum, we may want to step back a bit and allow a bit of experimentation with the junky realm of the food world, while promoting the pleasures of whole, nourishing foods.
How do you foster a positive relationship with food in your own children? Has it backfired? Do you have food rules or tips and tricks? Are there some foods you would never allow your child to consume?