What, me worry about food?

When parents worry about the food their kids are eating

Choose dark green and orange vegetables and fruits more often.

Two cups of milk a day ensures adequate vitamin D intake.

Watch out for hydrogenated oils.

Food advice occupies one of the major lanes on the parent information highway. But the one theme I suspect that parents would most like to follow is sometimes the hardest. That’s the advice to relax. You know, Make mealtime enjoyable, and Don’t fight with your kids about food.

I couldn’t agree more that a relaxed and positive atmosphere around family eating is the way to go. I’ve felt that way ever since the days when I honed my creative intellect devising ways to get out of drinking milk. I still feel that way, even though — as the main shopper and cook in my own family — I’ve been as guilty of worrying about food as anyone in my parents’ clean-the-plate generation.

There were the times I struggled to mask my frustration over yet another barely touched school lunch: “So, like, what did you actually eat?” There were my machinations to get my older kids to eat fruit for an after-school snack.

I’m telling you this so you know what I’m about to say is coming from a sinner rather than a preacher. It really would be better to relax about food. Fretting can work against us, sometimes by setting up food rebellions in our kids, but mostly by creating a negative atmosphere around eating. Parent food angst is hard to avoid, however.
Throughout much of history (and still, for parents in many parts of the world), the fear was over getting enough to eat. Most Canadians don’t have that problem. We traded it for the issues that go with too many easily available — and marginally nutritious — calories, along with lifestyles that have shrinking amounts of built-in calorie burning.

I also think the health system sets parents up to fret about food. Some get their first lesson when their infant is only a day or two old and health professionals start tracking the baby’s nutritional status in minute detail, by weigh-ins or blood-sugar tests. (I have to ask, how did humans survive for centuries without testing the blood sugar of day-old infants?)

A short time later come all the rules about starting a baby on solids: veggies before fruit, one new food at a time (so you can watch for allergies) and foods to avoid early in life.

All this time, doctors are checking our kids’ progress on growth charts. If, like one young parent I know, you hail from a family of smallish people, you may be subject to monitoring and advice that will mostly make you worry about something you can’t control. And need I mention the details now available about which micro-nutrient is found in exactly which vegetable? Finally, there’s the cacophony of voices saying our kids are too fat. Not only are we bad at feeding our children, we’re blind about it. According to a Canadian Medical Association study, only nine percent of Canadian parents think their child is overweight, while Statistics Canada reports 26 percent of kids are overweight or obese.
If you’re having a hard time relaxing about food, forgive yourself. You’re being pushed in that direction. Trying to resist these influences has become part of a modern parent’s job.

So, do what you have to do to find that tricky balance between surrendering completely to what’s easiest (lots of fast food and prepared food that comes in boxes) and trying to micronutrient yourself into madness. Little kids can live for a long time on apples, cheese, crackers, bread, bananas, peanut butter, juice and water. And if they see you eating more interesting and better stuff, most of them will eventually learn how much there is to love about good, varied and nutritious food.

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