Recently I was at a friend’s for brunch. I’m munching away on one of her homemade freshly baked banana chocolate chip muffins, and her 11 month old crawls over to my lap, looks up at me with googly eyes, drooling over the goods. As I reached out to offer him a morsel, I asked, “Can he have a bite?” Expecting a yes, I was surprised at the response. “I’d rather not, he hasn’t had anything like chocolate yet, and I don’t want him to expect sweets all the time.”
My son, 23 months at the time, had already scarfed a whole muffin, and by 11 months he’d been exposed to the whole pantry – chocolate cake included! In spite of this, my son doesn’t regularly ask for treats…
Regardless, the whole incident made me wonder. Have I been too cavalier as a parent when it comes to offering sweets? As a Dietitian I definitely don’t encourage regular treats, but are the few chocolate chips in a homemade, freshly baked banana muffin going to make your child a raging sweets monster? I believe the phrase everything in moderation applies to adults and kids alike, and a treat here and there encompasses my definition of a balanced diet. Luckily, for the first few years of a child’s life, you can monitor what all this means and set a good example.
Having a toddler at home myself, I have decided to offer my child small treats when appropriate. After dinner he will often get fruit, but he may get a cookie once in a while, too. I actually think this shows him how to balance healthful eating with treat eating; a skill we all need to learn and put into practice on a daily basis. Similar to the overly restrictive eaters I often talk about in my articles, I wonder if kids who never get the chance to experience treat foods, on occasion, may be more apt to burst at the seams one day. Think about it, if treats are akin to the forbidden fruit at home, when you’re not around, your child may well become that raging sweets monster you’ve tried to prevent.
The point of this anecdote is to begin the conversation of how to approach nutrition with your kids. Not sure there’s any right or wrong here. But, the example goes to show you the many different philosophies when it comes to food and nutrition, especially when it comes to our little ones. And these philosophies are being passed on as soon as your infant mows down on their first solids!
Recently a friend forwarded me this article and it got me thinking. Give it a read. It has an interesting perspective. The author, a dietitian herself, takes the viewpoint that overselling nutrition to your kids, for example, “Eat your broccoli because it’s healthy and you will get big and strong,” could actually steer them away from making the healthy choice. She would rather her kids eat those foods because they want to, and they taste delicious, not just because they’re healthy or feel obligated. She may be on to something. Studies showed the latter approach translated into kids choosing healthier options on their own. Why? Because when kids associated foods as serving one goal, i.e. being healthy, they necessarily felt the food was less likely to also be tasty and enjoyable to eat. As the author points out, adults get caught in this logic too.
Prior to reading that article, I think I likely would have employed the broccoli is healthy and makes you strong lecture with my kids, but now I will definitely think twice. Why not say, “Try your broccoli because it’s so colourful and yummy!” Furthermore, look for new ways to actually make it look and taste super delicious, and appeal to their sensory experience by making it fun to eat!
When it comes to kids asking for treats, her approach is great. Rather than lecturing them about how unhealthy treat foods are blah blah blah, the teachable moment here is to say, “We already had something sweet today so let’s skip it for now.” Without overdoing the health education, this signals two important messages: 1. that we eat these foods less often and 2. implies the importance of variety in our diets.
I have pretty much given my son everything under the son and started this at an early age. Ice cream, Dim Sum, a taste of my latte, a piece of a gummy candy, oh ya and of course all the wholesome fruits, veggies, meats and seafood you can think of, cooked in every which way. So far, he’s a great eater and willing to try anything.
Given that food and nutrition are my job, it seems natural that nutrition education would infiltrate my home. But truthfully, I hadn’t really given much thought as to how I would broach the topic of nutrition at my dinner table, especially once resistance to healthy foods starts becoming an issue. This article pointed out that labelling things as healthy or not healthy, and harping on all the benefits that a food can offer may not lead to people actually eating it! In fact, it may do the opposite. If this is true, perhaps we all need to stop labeling and eating foods just because they’re healthy, and focus more on expanding our flavour profiles to a variety of foods that taste awesome and look appetizing. With any luck this will translate to us and our kids eating more green veggies and whole grains not only because they’re healthy, but because they taste super delish!
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