Why and How Long You Should You Wait Before Teaching Your Child the Benefits of Healthy Eating

Mar 11, 2009 by

Kids scared "What’s Eating Our Kids?" asks writer Abby Ellin in a Feb. 25 New York Times article. The answer? "Fears about ‘Bad’ Foods."


Bad food Many American parents are finding out just how effective it can be to bring out the boogey men of diabetes, obesity, cancer, heart disease, along with the goblins of sodium, calories, and trans fats. Anxiety has been found to be an effective motivator. These kids willingly eat what their parents want them to eat. That's what we want, right?

It’s not a bad thing that parents are getting concerned about what their kids are eating. I believe it to be of extreme importance. But the tide of mass carelessness about children’s diets has turned to mass hysteria. While using fear to get children to eat right seems to work, at least short-term, it may not be so good for these youngsters’ mental health, according to the article. Furthermore, is it right? Is such unpleasantness necessary? Must feeding children well be difficult and tortured? Or is there a better way, somewhere between the extremes, to build healthy eating habits in kids?

Conventional wisdom is that we need to start early teaching—even warning—kids of the importance of eating healthy foods and the dangers of eating the wrong ones. But until a child builds a solid foundation of love of healthy foods based on pleasure and enjoyment, information on the importance of healthy eating is of little use at best. A child who is offered flavorful, healthy Real Food regularly and has positive experiences at the table naturally learns to enjoy and value good food itself.

It’s like teaching children to read. We can start out by talking about verbs, participles and gerunds, or how high SAT scores can be achieved by reading certain books and memorizing Latin roots. We can give kids t-shirts that say "Reading for Success." We can warn first graders that if they don’t learn to read, and quickly, they will fail. They will never get into college or get a good job, and will end up living in a box on the street. Or we can read aloud to them all the best written stories we can find, the most exciting, interesting and stirring tales. We can pique their interest and give them joy in reading. If we seek first to condition them to love reading as its own reward, all these things will be added unto them.

Likewise, we can introduce a class of kindergartners to great music by telling them how it can make them smarter (they used to say that anyway) and improve their math and spatial reasoning skills. Or we can introduce them to great music, the best music we can find and only the best. Let them dance, let them make their own music, let them fall in love with it.

We can teach science as something that will help them make a lot of money someday. We can tell them if they don’t memorize their science facts, they will fail the standardized test and flunk third grade, the start of a slippery slope to destruction. Or we can introduce science in all its amazing intricacies and fascinating interrelations, and fan their inborn desire to know about their world.

Similarly, we might introduce a child to Jesus, not as the loving, forgiving, life-giving Good Shepherd, the Light of the World, who suffers the little children to come unto him and transforms our hearts, but as an alternative to eternal damnation in hell. There is meaning in our methods.

Kids don’t care about getting a job and making money. At least they shouldn’t. If they do, they’ve been done a great disservice. If they’re worried about trans fats at age six and are motivated to eat what they don’t want to eat by information instead of enjoying healthy food with a healthy appetite, another disservice is being done.

As parents, we should be like water fowl: our feet churning madly below while all serenity on the surface. We need to be concerned and take great care how we feed our children. But is it right, is it normal, that we should we lay our own burden on our little ones, any more than we should share with a child our worries about having enough money to pay the bills, or problems with a spouse?

When it’s age appropriate, once the foundation of love has been solidly laid, a child will discover the facts that affirm his healthy eating habits, habits he enjoys. He’ll be glad to hear about it. And a little fear isn’t necessarily completely out of place at times. But first things first.

We ought to take great care about what our child eats, but we can and should base good habits on love of good foods, rather than with fear of bad ones. Consistently offer healthy, delicious Real Food, and hunger will take care of the rest.

© French Kids Don’t Get Fat / Anna Migeon / 11 March 2009 / All rights reserved