Healthy eating has become an increasingly important aspect of everyday life in recent years.
We have more knowledge than ever about where our food comes from and what it contains. Some people are much more obsessed with it than others. But the majority of people do want to know what they are putting into their bodies. They’re even more keen to know what they are putting into their children’s bodies.
Being vigilant about what your children eat is a natural part of being a parent. Yet at what age should your children be involved in these decisions? Should our children care as much as we do about what they eat, or is this a worry we should protect them from?
My Personal Thoughts
I am a strong believer in children being armed with knowledge. Kids are inquisitive creatures and will ask an incredible amount of questions. If we’re honest with them, we’ll teach them the tools they need to make considered choices.
I see no reason why this shouldn’t apply to food. We should teach our children about healthy eating, which foods they can eat more of, and which things they should have in moderation.
I’m sure most parents limit the consumption of sweets and fizzy drinks, and encourage the consumption of fruit and vegetables. What do you say to your children if they ask why you’re doing that?
“You’re only allowed fizzy drinks when we eat out.”
“Because if we had them at home you’d want them all the time.”
As you know when you have kids, the conversation goes on for much longer than that. (And contains about ten more instances of the word “why”.) But you get the general gist.
With my eight year old, the conversation gradually moves onto the next stage. We explain that you’re only supposed to have a certain amount of sugar each day and that just one glass of 7UP basically covers that. We then list the things that contain sugar that he would have to give up that day in exchange for the 7UP.
I never stop the children from having anything. As a family we believe in the ‘everything in moderation’ theory. I just like them to be informed on why I sometimes say “enough”.
I’ve always found it fairly easy to get the children to eat vegetables. Withholding puddings is a great start.
Lack of dessert gives them a good incentive to eat their vegetables – but it doesn’t tell them why it’s so important that they eat their vegetables. They’re likely to carry on resenting eating vegetables.
We’ve started to explain the benefits of eating vegetables, and they’re now eating them more. They’ve even realised that vegetables are actually quite tasty!
I’m not going to lie to you and say that they eat every vegetable going. Do you?! If someone presents me with a side order of swede I can honestly say I would rather lick under the lid of the bin than take a mouthful. I find the smell similar and would expect the taste to be too.
Some vegetables are easier than others. Take broccoli for example. We started off by telling the kids that they were giants eating miniature trees, which worked fairly well. When they got tired of that we casually mentioned that broccoli is considered a ‘superfood’.
Our five year old gets very excited when he finds out that some foods are considered ‘super’. He suddenly wants to find out which other foods are ‘super’. Then he’s soon trying spinach, lentils, avocado, carrots, kale and Brussels sprouts. He also wants to eat more apples and blueberries. I’m yet to find a ‘superfood’ he doesn’t like! (Though avocado does need to be turned into Daddy’s special guacamole first – cheers, Jamie Oliver.)
What Age Should You Start?
Tell them as much information as they’ll understand.
My five year old, for example, is perfectly happy to know he should be eating broccoli because it is a ‘superfood’. Yet, my eight year old’s natural follow up response is,
“Why is it a superfood?”
If I then tell him that it’s because it is good for our health and helps digestion, then he understands what that means and is satisfied with the response.
If he asks any more questions than that then I’m at the end of my knowledge on the subject. But soon he’ll be old enough to look it up himself!
I think that children should be able to pick and choose what they want and don’t want to eat. As long as they try it and can explain why they don’t like it. To reach a compromise they obviously have to be old enough to be able to explain.
The compromises with my kids can vary. They’ll eat it again but only sometimes, or they’ll eat it again but only if it is mixed up or hidden. Sometimes they never want to see it on their plate again (for my youngest, this means mushrooms, sultanas and anything Quorn).
Is There a Downside?
Giving children information comes with the risk that you are allowing them into the adult world of anxiety and worry. I would agree.
My children hate to see me worry and stressing out about things. If they aren’t told what I’m worried about, then they get far more stressed out about the uncertainty. In this case it’s just knowing what foods are fine to eat every day and which foods are bad to eat in excess. Then there’s not really much stress involved on either side.
One issue I do have with my eight year old is that he tends to take things to the next level. He’s started to read the nutrition details on food packets. Recently, he pushed some bread away declaring,
“I can’t eat that – it’s got gluten in it.”
I gently explained that it is very rare for someone to be gluten intolerant. But nowadays you hear about it more often than you should. I then pointed out that he was most certainly not, gluten intolerant.
(I lived through the MSG-free nonsense of the 1980s, I can live through the gluten-free nonsense of the 2010s.)
Calorie counting is another thing that’s only for adults. Children should not be counting calories. But they should be made aware of the importance of the sizes of portions. Why are they only allowed two scoops of ice cream when they could quite easily manage five or six?
Again it’s a case of everything in moderation, followed up with a simple explanation why.
Nutrition is important, that’s a realisation that we are all waking up to and it’s not something that is going to go away. It’s a good thing and should be seen as such, as long as it isn’t taken to the extreme (remember, life is still for enjoying!).
Introducing nutritional knowledge to a younger generation is important. It gives them the freedom to make their own choices. Importantly, they will also have a better understanding of the choices that we make for them.