In no way do I proclaim, in any sense, to be an expert on Nutrition or Eating Disorders, but like many things that I am not officially an expert in, I have still had enough training and experience to have formed an opinion on the subject!
Let me start by sharing a quote from the textbook I used when I took a “Realities of Nutrition” course in college a few years back.
“There is a division of responsibility when it comes to control of feeding. The adult is responsible for what the child is offered to eat, as well as when and where the food is offered. The child, however, is responsible for whether he or she eats, and how much.”
I absolutely could not have summarized my own personal beliefs in Child Nutrition any more accurately, even if I had written it myself.
There are certain things that you can NOT make a child do, if they don’t want to. One of them is toilet training, and another one is eating. The scenes around the dinner table, which, in a perfect world, would be calm and conversational while a family shares a meal, can too often end up in battles of will, anger, demanding, yelling, cajoling, begging, bribing, frustration, and eventually even tears, to try to get a child to eat. And all for naught, because you can not make a child eat!
These emotionally charged scenes around the dinner table (or during any meal) cause much more harm than good. What the child learns has little to do with nutrition, but more about manipulation, and they learn that this “eating” thing is a button that can be pushed to get a lot of attention from Mom or Dad, or any caregiver. It also puts a disproportionately high priority on eating.
“A person should eat to live, not live to eat.”
Okay, I didn’t write that either (and I don’t remember where I heard it, sorry), but truer words were never spoken.
A child who is raised to put too high of a priority on eating will possibly develop a mindset that the act of eating is more important than it is. It is important, to be sure. Without food we would literally not survive, but food should not be the source that our world revolves around. Mealtime battles teach our children the wrong thing, in my opinion.
However, by stating that I do not believe that we can make a child eat, I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t think that we, as parents and caregivers, don’t have a huge responsibility in the nutrition of our children. Our responsibility lies, very strongly, in what we offer our children to eat, and what we don’t.
I could probably go on and on about the value of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meat, milk and whole grains. But I won’t. I think the message I would like to leave here is what NOT to feed your child. What NOT to offer your child. What NOT to allow your child to eat, on any kind of a regular basis…
In this world of fast food and convenient, ready to eat meals, we have also become a world of salt, sugar, chemicals and preservatives whose names I cannot even pronounce. Not only are these things immeasurably unnutritous for your child, but they ruin their taste buds for the “good and good for you” foods in this world. French Fries soaked in grease and salt taste better than oven baked potatoes lightly seasoned in fresh herbs. Chicken breaded in 11 secret herbs and preservatives and then deep fried in cholesterol tastes better than a grilled lean chicken breast. Cereal that has been coated and bathed in white processed sugar and yet more preservatives, taste better than whole grain unsweetened cereal. I don’t know why. But it’s true. It is the way of the world, these days. And the only way we can prevent it is to avoid exposing our children to any more salt, sugar and processed foods than necessary, and offer them more fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and milk while they are still young.
Soda pop is reputed to be the leading cause of child diabetes and child obesity and child onset Type 2 diabetes. The answer is simple. Just don’t get them started! Young children should not be drinking soda pop! The only thing children should be drinking is milk, pure fruit juice, or water.
Anyhow, this page is entitled “…preventing eating disorders.” I’ll sum this up by saying that in my honest opinion, most eating disorders stem from these two points:
Parents trying to force their children to eat, and putting way too much emphasis on the act of eating rather than what they are eating.
Parents allowing their children to eat highly processed and non-nutritious foods, that “spoils” the child’s taste buds for good, fresh, “low on the food chain”, nutrient-dense foods.
And, in closing, as I step down off my soap-box, I will admit to you that I have formed these opinions not just from raising kids and taking nutrition classes, but also from personal experience. Anyone who has met me can see that I am overweight, and I will tell you honestly and without shame that I am a Type 2 diabetic that drinks a cup of coffee every morning. Well, okay, a little bit of shame, I suppose. These are things I struggle with every day in my life.
But I have grown and learned, and I don’t want your kids or mine to struggle or have the health problems that I do. Sometimes we grow and eat fresh vegetables from our garden. I think there is immense value in teaching children where food comes from, and if at all possible, let them get their hands dirty in a garden, or climb a tree and pick an apple.
My daughter digging potatoes in my best friend’s Idaho garden. How cool is that? She got to wash them, and help prepare them for our dinner that night.
We try not to eat fast food any more, and when we do eat out we try to stay away from the heavily processed foods. We aren’t entirely successful in our “getting healthy” endeavors, but I think we are on the right track.
When planning the meals and snacks for my family and TK, health is always in my mind, tempered with trying to be practical and feed the kids foods that they will actually eat. But rest assured that I try to offer a large variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains and milk.