Food and Parenting    Permalink

September 25th, 2012

My wife gave birth to our daughter, Penelope, so please excuse my lack of updates over the past couple of weeks. Newborns need a lot of attention.

I can be an opinionated bastard at times. I get outraged with stupidity, ignorance, and lousy parenting. I don’t think friendship with your child should take precedence over teaching them good habits, respect for others and selflessness. In other words, I see (what I think is) a lot of crappy parenting out there.

As with most new parents, we have certain plans on how we want to raise our child. We’ve read a few books on French parenting methods, and I quite like the emphasis on healthy eating and structure. But most of all, I like the focus on the idea that a child is an adult-in-training. 

That’s not to say that kids can’t be kids, but that the ultimate goal is to turn them into well-rounded, emotionally and physically stable adults. 

This, I feel, is why it’s so important to teaching kids how to eat properly.

I have my own issues with food. I’ve been overweight for the greater part of my life. Much of that is my own doing, and I know I can’t blame it all on upbringing. For the most part, I eat relatively healthy; I eat fast food maybe a few times a month, and very little processed food in general. I do really love food. It’s a big pleasure thing for me. Everyone has their vices. For some, it’s drugs. For others, it’s exercise or fame. For me, like many, it’s food. As far as vices go, good food is a pretty socially acceptable one to have.

And as with many in North America, my love of food is carbohydrate- and fat-heavy. Lots of dairy, lots of breads and pasta. 

Kids have pretty acute senses of smell and taste. They can sniff out a mother’s breast and take comfort in the arms of those with familiar scents. Their sense of taste is just as impressive. The evolutionary wisdom says that the over-sensitivity is for protection’s sake. The super-nose allows them to know their caretakers from others before sight is developed. Their sense of taste is aimed heavily towards fat and sugar, two of the major components of breast milk; and they won’t eat bitter or sour foods (likely to keep them from ingesting rotting food and poisonous substances).

So ultimately, at least on a subconscious level, as adults we seek those attributes from food. They are a link to our childhood and a source of comfort.

The problem is, kids aren’t given enough opportunity to like foods that aren’t sugary, fatty or full of carbohydrates.

I know kids who — throughout most of their lives — haven’t had vegetables on their dinner plates. Their parents too eat few vegetables. Food to them is served with little structure, at varying times and with no celebration of what it’s made of. It makes me sad because this is the pattern these kids will carry into adulthood. Sorry, but chicken nuggets and hamburgers five times a week aren’t healthy.

In my youth, vegetables were pretty limited, too. There are numerous (common) foods I’d never eaten until I hit my 20s and started cooking for myself, including lentils, avocado, eggplant and asparagus. Our dinners were generally a plate of meat (chicken, beef or pork), starch and a vegetable (peas, carrots, corn or sometimes broccoli or cauliflower). This made me apprehensive for a very long time about trying new foods. I’m more adventurous these days, but still tend to lean towards the stuff that was familiar to me in my childhood.

Still, my experimentation gives me hope that the “lost” kids can learn to change their ways.

Search your memories for early childhood information about food. We learn the food pyramid, but it’s taught to us in a sterile, joyless way. We grow up believing that the bitter foods we may not like as much (like vegetables) are more like medicine than food to be enjoyed.

The French have it right because a lot of childhood education focuses on food. Lunches in French public schools are posh by North American standards. Kids are sung nursery rhymes about food, taught proper meal structure (3 meals plus 1 snack, always at the same times every day) and coaxed into savouring their food and asked questions about its texture or flavour. They learn first and foremost that food is a pleasure with a time and place. It’s not just fuel; It’s life. It’s tradition. It’s social.

By removing the focus on “healthfulness” and making it something kids want to do and look forward to, they ironically end up eating a greater (and healthier) variety of foods.

When my daughter gets to eating solid foods, She will know what celeriac or fiddleheads taste like. She doesn’t have to like everything, but by the time she gets to kindergarten, she’ll have eaten a wider variety of food than her father did at age 18.

This is my duty as a parent. Its my job to teach her right and wrong, love and respect for herself and others; and that includes eating and enjoying food, not scarfing down comfort.

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