A study by the Journal of American Dietetic Association last year indicated that parents of kids in daycare centers in Texas don't know how to pack a proper lunch. The study was tiny -- just 74 kids -- but half the lunches provided less than a third of the recommended intakes of key nutrients (like carbohydrates, protein, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C), most provided too much sodium and not enough fiber, fruit, veggies, or milk.
Parents regularly beat themselves up about what they're feeding their kids. But there are also people who, battling their own eating disorders, inadvertently pass their food phobias on to their kids. The issue usually has to do with weight, but not always; yesterday I read a fascinating article about parents who are so obsessed with eating well that their kids end up terrified of food.
“It’s almost a fear of dying, a fear of illness, like a delusional view of foods in general,” Lisa Dorfman, a registered dietitian and the director of sports nutrition and performance at the University of Miami, said in the article. “I see kids whose parents have hypnotized them. I have 5-year-olds that speak like 40-year-olds. They can’t eat an Oreo cookie without being concerned about trans fats.”
Now, I'm concerned about trans-fats -- to an extent. And about high-fructose corn syrup and excess sodium and Red Dye No. 40. After reviewing "The Hundred-Year Lie" by Randall Fitzgerald a couple of years ago, I started paying more attention to the chemicals in our food. And then, my youngest daughter got really picky.
All of a sudden, she was only willing to eat cheese, pasta, cheese, whole-wheat toast, cheese, apples, and cheese. She might have nibbled at other things from time to time during that phase, but those were the only things she really ate.
I started to fret, and then obsess about it. She wouldn't touch meat, not even kid-friendly chicken nuggets or burgers. She lobbed her roasted sweet potatoes at the dog. She constructed vast forests out of broccoli, and left them on her plate. She wouldn't even eat her multivitamin... how could she possibly be getting adequate nutrition?
And then I stopped fretting. Our older kids are omnivorous and, eventually, she would be, too. I kept offering her a variety of foods at every meal, instituted the "polite bite" rule (one bite -- just one! -- and if she didn't like it she didn't have to eat more at that sitting), made sure she saw the all of us eating plenty of different things, and you know what? She got curious -- and hungry. She still avoids meat if she can help it, and she certainly doesn't devour everything I put in front of her (she is 4, after all), but she eats a good variety of foods and is fit and healthy. She even gets sweet treats now and then. And, as for what's going into her lunchbox... I'm not beating myself up about it.
Everything in moderation, right? Isn't that just common sense?
What food issues are you facing with your kids? How do you handle them?
Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at email@example.com.
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