Joel and I have four children, ages 8, 15, 18 and 22. So, we’ve had a lot of experience in dealing with childrens’ food issues, particularly socially. In my house, my children love the way we eat, yet when they are in the Standard American Diet (SAD) world, they become different human beings. Depending on their age, they have reacted very similarly. Here is a recounting of what we’ve experienced:
Basically, when the kids are 6 and younger, they know of only what you feed them. They are dependent on their family, not friends and like and do what their parents and siblings do. This makes it very easy for all. One interesting example was when our son was 3 years old and he and I attended my daughter’s school fair I was talking to my girlfriend (who knows how we eat) when my son started looking at a tray of chocolate chip cookies. If you can picture it, the tray is on a table that is the same height as my son’s eyes. It is a huge tray and a huge amount of really big, soft chocolate chip cookies. It really caught my son’s attention and just as quickly he grabbed a cookie and took a bite. I stopped talking, watching him and said to my girlfriend, “He’s never had a cookie!” Well, as soon as he took the bite, he spit it out of his mouth and said, “Yuk!” Both my girlfriend and I were astounded, as we certainly did not expect that response.
The above event let me see how much children’s preferences are dictated by what they are used to. My son never had a cookie, ice cream or processed sweet food in his life and once he tried it, he didn’t like it.
As I’ve watched my girls grow up, particularly after the age of 6, I have not had such luck with them disliking such foods. They all did not like chocolate for the very longest time, but they enjoyed ice cream and certainly pizza once it was offered to them. The social events at school were the way my children were introduced to the many unhealthy foods we never had in our home. This has always infuriated me and I was looked at like a leper whenever I brought up the idea of no candy being allowed in school. I can now happily state that our school district has implemented a policy where no foods with sugar as the first ingredient can be brought in. However, when my daughters were younger this was not the case and is probably not the case where many of our nation’s children go to school.
With the hope of keeping my children as psychologically healthy as possible, my philosophy has always been not to make my children feel guilty by the food choices they make. I recognize that food can become a big psychological issue if you let it. I also knew of people whose children rebelled and I certainly didn’t want that. So, I rarely ask them about what they ate during their time in school or with their friends. I do know of instances where they have had candy and I know that they may eat what is offered at a friend’s house that we may not approve of. I accept these times, with the knowledge that whatever they eat in our house is healthy and that has got to be at least 80% of what they take in that day. One of my daughters orders a “salad” pizzas (where it’s only the pizza dough with lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic and italian dressing) when her friends are ordering regular pizza. It's her way of compromising both worlds. To be honest, I tried it and it was good.
This attitude has enabled my children to talk freely to me about their day and to acknowledge that while they have their SAD foods once in a while, they love our food at home. They also chose restaurants that offer salads and veggie dishes when they go out with their friends. All of my children prefer the food we serve at home and whenever they are away, they can’t wait to get back to our house to get good tasting, healthy food. I have even overheard Joel speaking to one of my daughters telling her, “Don’t worry about it, it is no big deal. Your overall excellent diet keeps you healthy and there is no reason your healthy body cannot tolerate an occasional stress. Just have a fun time.”
We feel good that our children know how to take care of their bodies. They have the knowledge that what they eat has a large effect on their health. And that puts them way ahead of the game!