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little kids and nutrition education, or “grass-fed” squid

Posted by on Jun 7, 2011 in Blog Posts | 22 comments

A few months ago, M had a bit if a gagging episode with a tough hunk of steak. My husband casually asked me if it was “grass-fed,” and it happened to be that time. (He’s dubious of the benefits and even more dubious of the cost, but I do the shopping…) 🙂

Now more than a few times since then, if M has a tough piece of food, like the calamari at a restaurant last week, or a piece of over-cooked grilled chicken,  or even a dried mango, she will ask, “Is this grass-fed?”

It reminds me that little kids don’t know or understand nutrition, and they don’t need to. Awhile back I wrote about how M’s teacher would have the preschool class go around the room at lunch and tell what “protein” they had in their sacks. After a full year of this, then 4 year-old M said, “Mom, is lettuce protein?” I bet it would have floored the teacher to think that these kids had no clue what they were talking about all year.

Or recently, we have started talking about “energy,” as in, “If you only eat candy for snack, or only an apple for breakfast you might not have long-lasting energy. We eat from different foods to give us longer lasting energy, like meats or beans, fat in milk or meats…” I thought this was simple enough, but after a bowl of “sweet cereal” and a mention that she might not have “long energy,”  she replied, “Well, if sugar gives you quick energy, if I eat more of it, I will have longer and more energy…” Hmmm. Breakfast is not her meal, she eats a little fruit, maybe some milk or yogurt, a little cereal. It’s hard for me, even with all I do to not worry about this “most important meal of the day.” A good reminder to me to back off…

It seems like children’s books, PBS shows, schools and parents all think we have to raise little nutrition experts in order to help kids learn to eat. Appropriate food education for little kids is experiential, focuses on flavors, textures, color, positivity, maybe in the Kindergarten years categorizing foods into the food groups… It should not be about “nutrition,”  avoidance of food groups or particular ingredients (salt, sugar, fat, calories…). Do you know what your kids’ schools are doing? Have you been talking up the nutrition benefits of milk or carrots?

BTW, the notion of “grass-fed squid” makes me giggle.   🙂

What do you think?

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  1. Slim

    A lot of our nutrition talk is the silver lining in various problems — when we were low on fruit before a long trip and I didn’t want to buy it and have it rot, one of my kids ended up constipated. It was awful for both of us, and it drove the point home. I’d rather he’d learned another way, but . . .

    One of my kids gets migraines, and we’ve had to talk about eating enough protein so he doesn’t get hungry and trigger a migraine. We’d always talked about different food making different parts of you feel good, so it wasn’t a big switch to include protein. My kids have all gone through stages of asking “What does this have in it that’s good for you,” and “Yumminess” is a perfectly acceptable answer.

    The other day, one of my kids wanted ice cream for a snack, but we didn’t have his favorite flavor. Rather than eat a kind he didn’t like that much, he decided to have a bowl of Cheerios. He wasn’t hunting for the Special Treat!! so much as a food he likes. It gets easier (or it did for us).

    • katja

      Definitely! This was a few years ago now! I think that relating it back to having energy, feeling good, not having headaches etc is a great way to talk about what food does for our bodies. As M reads more, we’ve had some interesting discussions: how an English muffin claims to be healthy because it is low sodium… or sweet cereals with fiber… We talk a lot about how our bodies feel and how much easier it is to listen to our bodies, and that if we have the chance to eat regularly with a variety of yummy food, we’ll do much better than trying to figure it out with labels!

      • Slim

        I know! When I think about where we were two years ago, I feel so relieved to be past that.
        The infuriating messages from outside sources are the beast that won’t die, however.

  2. Jess

    My husband bought my 4 y.o. son a Dora the Explorer book at Target the other day without looking through it before he bought it (if it’s Dora, it has to be good, right?). Turns out it was a “Healthy Habits” workbook that expected the kids to do things like draw a sad face next to cake and a happy face next to carrots, not to mention identify foods from different food groups and learn about calories. I showed my husband (who has a big sweet tooth) and he said, “What! Any book that expects someone to put a sad face next to cake is outta here!” Since my son can’t read yet and wanted to keep the book, I just told him to put smiley faces next to his favorite foods– he put smiley faces next to the carrots AND the cake. Sheesh, when will people realize that making our kids neurotic and fearful of food is not the way to raise healthful eaters!?

    • katja

      I HATE this stuff… It is everywhere and spreading… We should all revolt, maybe call the publishers that this stuff is garbage…
      Any ideas? I bet I could get the ED action network riled up about this stuff too…

      • Jess

        It’s even more annoying when it is part of public school curricula– I’ve seen this kind of stuff in elementary school health lessons. Meanwhile, food companies like Coke and KFC sponsor “educational” materials that are given free to schools. *sigh*

  3. Bobbini

    I’ve mentioned here before (I think) that my kindergartner was asked to make a list of “good” foods and “bad” foods in school. He put some of the same foods on both lists. He’s asked me several times what “junk food” is, and I explain that no food is really junk–different foods have different tastes and different nutrients and we need to eat a lot of different foods to be healthy. He said his teacher and his best friend say there definitely is junk food out there. Then he asks if he can have cheetos as a a snack.

    I do feel like I’m starting to swim upstream a bit, against the messages he gets at school about nutrition. Thankfully, the division of responsibility is still working at home. (He turned up his nose at chicken salad last night, choosing to make an asparagus sandwich instead.)

    • katja

      Yup. I too am swimming. It’s hard. Just had to really fight for her right to not have to eat a novel food when a guest in someone’s home who kept insisting she try a “no thank you bite…” It gets old. Hang in there!

  4. Twistie

    I have little of a useful nature to add, but I just wanted to say that the next time I’m at the fishmonger’s I’m totally asking for grass-fed calamari! LOL!

  5. Jacquie | After Words

    I struggle with how much nutrition information to give my kids. We’ve experimented with the Satter method, but after a few weeks of my kids eating pretty much exclusively bread and butter at dinner, I’ve had a minor freak out and pulled in the reins again.

    How should you explain to a four year old why you shouldn’t have ice cream for snack every day?

    • jaed

      I’m not sure… why *shouldn’t* you have ice cream for a snack every day?

      • katja

        I probably would try to offer more of a variety, just like if I were in a rut just serving crackers or cheese or fruit alone for snack every day. I think variety is a noble goal. Is ice-cream inherently bad for snack every day, probably not within the context of balance and variety, but we like to also spread out our sweets over desserts, sometimes chocolate milk at breakfast…

    • Twistie

      You know, in Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, it’s up to you – the parent – to decide what goes on the table. If your kids keep eating only bread and butter out of everything you put out… you could always choose not to put out bread and butter with every meal. If you don’t want them to have ice cream for a snack every day, you can offer something else and simply tell them ice cream isn’t on the menu for this snack.

      Satter’s methods aren’t about removing all power from the parents, but to offer the children an appropriate amount and form of control over their own bodies. Parents still have to decide what choices are available at each meal and snack. It’s really not a case of being the Big Bad Food Police vs allowing them to live the rest of their lives on bread, butter, and ice cream. Sometimes bread just isn’t a part of the meal. Then the kids have to decide between hunger and some food that isn’t bread. Sometimes snack is a choice of fruit or nuts, not ice cream.

      • katja

        Twistie, you make some great points, but Ellyn often says, serve bread and butter at every meal, so the confusion here is fair. Jacqui, you make some great points. Alas, your situation is so common. I hear from parents who read a little of Ellyn’s work, try it without fully understanding or implementing the DOR fully (it can be very challenging if behaviors and habits are entrenched.) Then, parents are unprepared for challenges, the difficulty of the transition period from a control to a trust model. the kids invariably freak out the parents, confirm their worst fears by eating exactly opposite of how parents want them to eat (less if they’ve been pushed to eat more, no fruits and veggies if that has been the sticking point, and massive quantities if the child has been restricted.) Most parents without support will panic, and resort back to the old temporary tricks and battles that might have “worked” to get a few bites in here and there, which seems better than the scary transition eating. I am finding that supporting parents through this transition period, anticipating struggles, brainstorming strategies, ways to keep the faith, looking and building on successes is what I am primarily doing with parents.
        Once you give up, and go back to the old ways, it may be harder for kids to trust when you try again. It’s really tough, and I sympathize.
        As to the other point, my M would eat Ice cream all day if I let her. Kids love it. I think Twistie is right, there is really no explanation of bargaining, or lectureing necessary. I often said, “We’ll have ice-cream another time, today we’re having pears and crackers and cream cheese. Let’s go sit and have snack.” (The whining will decrease within a few days, but there is a whole “forbidden food” strategy that is part of this too. Again, this goes to the point of feeding this way being more of a general philosophy, rather than picking and choosing a few of Ellyn’s “tricks” and still bribing with dessert or pushing milk etc…) I hope that makes sense. Again, great questions, and you are far from alone. I had to work really hard at this all the first 6 months, and occasionally I still have to think about things, but it does work, and it can get easier. If you’d like more help, you can email me privately. Good luck!

  6. Heather

    Our nutrition talk has been similar to what others have mentioned. The only way I’ve talked about it with my 5-year-old that different kinds of foods have different kinds of energy, so we have lots of different foods to give our bodies the different kinds of energy they need. This first came up when he wanted to have noodles for every meal!

    He starts kindergarten next year and I’m a bit anxious over what messages he will hear at school. I’ve already gotten peeved at his pediatrician for asking him to label different foods as healthy or unhealthy, at his 5-year well child visit.

    • katja

      that’s how it started with us… Then M figured it out. She would ask if this was a long or short energy food, or I’d talk about how only eating short energy foods might make you feel tired and hungry sooner. that’s how the short+ more short= long thinking came about 🙂 Keep us posted!I agree how maddening the peds and school folks can be. Argh. I am gearing up for the talk with the new summer camp folks who say they will teach “good eating” during lunch (which I know for a fact from a friend who attended last year is eat all the “good food” before the treat…

  7. Heidi

    I’ve steered away from much talk of nutrition with my five-year-old, aside from explaining that we need to eat lots of different foods to stay healthy, and that’s why I’m offering him, oh, red pepper (his fave vegetable) instead of more chocolate, when he’s already had candy/sweets earlier in the day. It’s too hard for me to get into nutrition without having it be quite triggering for my recovering-from-ED brain. I make sure he is offered lots of different foods, which he generally accepts quite readily, and leave it at that.

    • katja

      Good for you for being so aware of your own triggers, and what works and doesn’t work for your family.I am a huge fan of the “variety” method and wording. “Aren’t we lucky we get to eat so many different foods!”

  8. Lisa

    Your daughter’s leaps of logic are very cute – and a good reminder to all of us that little children do not reason as adults do. My daughter gets super-basic nutrition info, informally presented, at pre-school (milk helps your bones, sweets can make cavities in your teeth) which I will validate at times and modify at others (yes, sugar CAN cause cavities, but that’s why we brush our teeth. It’s only a problem if you let the sugar sit there). I try to consistently give her the message that ALL foods have vitamins and nutrients that are good for our bodies, and her body will tell her what foods it needs. I am super-vigilant about any signs of good food/bad food thinking because I think it’s so damaging.

    I have occasionally emphasized that fruits and vegetables help her body poop because constipation has been an issue. Other than that I try very hard to back off and leave her alone. Sometimes this is hard, but I know that’s my problem, not hers.

    • katja

      It is hard, particularly with constipation issues. has it helped to remind her that fiber helps poop, or not? I can see some kids where that would backfire…. Is it getting easier or harder to back off in terms of food pressure? I find for me it has gotten much easier over the years, but there are still times when I too have struggled. Like this weekend, staying with a standard model family. More on that in a post to come!