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new recruits to the food police: kids

Posted by on May 30, 2012 in Blog Posts | 42 comments

This weekend, M was enjoying a Rice Krispies treat at a social gathering when a tween boy came over and loudly said, “You know those have marshmallows, and that’s made of cow hair and hooves and bones (I tried cutting him off here but he continued) so what you are doing is stuffing your face with dead cow skin.” Luckily, between the crunchy chewing and me trying to interrupt him, M didn’t hear what he was saying. I finally got loud enough and said, “We don’t talk about food that way,” at which point he walked off.

-Last week, M reported that two friends told her her 1% milk had “too much fat” and that it was bad for her.

-A reader shared that her six year-old complained that she put “fat on everything ” when she added olive oil to broccoli.

-A seven-year-old birthday party attendee declared she wouldn’t eat  “food dye because it’s poison”,  as the other girls were about to enjoy some birthday cake.

-Or take the nine-year-old (whose sister is in treatment for anorexia) who passes by a “healthy” food tasting station at school where kids encourage her to try the “low-fat, low-calorie!” dish.

And a recent letter from a reader shared her children’s experiences and threw in some other thoughts: “I have begun seeing more kids critiquing each other’s food choices. With many parents trying to eat healthy foods, the message that they are trying to pass to their children is one of nutrition and good food choices. While admirable, the problem manifests when their kids start repeating those messages to other children at school.

My third grade daughter came home upset when I put something in her lunch containing red dye #5 and some kids commented. She is afraid to buy her lunch at school because of what the other kids might say about the food (too greasy, not organic, too much high fructose corn syrup, etc.). My daughter plays soccer and is in the 25% for weight. She eats a wide variety of food from all food groups. She is an adventurous eater and will try new foods. She is not afraid to try new things. She cares about health and nutrition.

Today the ice cream man made a trip through our neighborhood. I let both of the girls get a treat (the kindergartner and third grader). One of the neighborhood kids came over to report that ice cream from the ice cream man is “bad for you”. The third grader immediately felt shame for having the treat.

I’ve started to teach my girls that other people get to choose what they put in their bodies and that to comment on others’ food is rude. Instead of forcing my daughter to explain it, I let this particular munchkin know that one should not comment on another’s food choices. In short, I think I can help my girls navigate this situation.

My larger concern is for those children in school who have no choice about what they eat. The are on the free or reduced lunch program. Should they simply not eat? What choice do they have and how do we keep them from being shamed for things that are far from their control? Why are we creating a society of food police where those who can afford it eat the best available then feel entitled to make others who do not have the option or the knowledge feel badly?

Nutritional and health awareness is one thing but it seems to be turning into something that causes shame and is a class differentiator.”

a few additional thoughts:

  • young children aren’t able to process the nuance of nutrition messages (so all fat is “bad”)
  • young children can feel guilt and shame when they eat “forbidden” foods—the food is “bad”, therefore I am “bad”. (It was 4-6 year old girls in the study I am referring to.)
  • what parents choose to feed their children is their job, and it’s an important one, and being thoughtful and reliable about it is admirable
  • but… is all the talking about nutrition and the fear-mongering helping?  I remember eating lunch with friends, and the mother had a running commentary about eating more veggies, not too much mayo, only allowing organic grapes, and reminding the girl several times not to eat too much meat (every time the mother looked away, the little girl shoved a full piece of deli meat into her mouth, eating about 1/2 a pound, and little else).
  • I am guessing that all the constant commenting at and to kids when they are eating helps them feel it’s okay to do the same to others. (For example you are at the store and purchase an organic real-fruit frozen treat, and announce, “We only buy organic real-fruit frozen pops because the high-fructose corn syrup is bad for you.” Consider just popping them in the cart and moving on…)
  • when does this tip into bullying (if it hasn’t already) as in, “You’re going to eat that? You could use some low-fat dressing and a little less cheese.”

How can we arm our kids against this intrusive commenting that is often encouraged and praised by adults and even school nutrition programs and clubs etc.?

  • When children are actively encouraged to “inspire” and “motivate” their friends and family members to eat “healthy?”
  • When they are literally surrounded by posters bombarding them with the same ineffectual messages, “Eat low-fat!”, “Eat more fruits and veggies!”, “This is a no-sweets zone!”

I find this a particularly difficult issue because the message is coming from children. These kids are so literal, and so convinced they are right, and probably think they are doing a good deed, but their actions are inappropriate and potentially harmful to other children.

Can you help me brainstorm some phrases kids can use? (I’ll admit, I’m asking for myself too, I don’t quite know what to tell my own daughter…)  While the mom in the letter helped stand up for her daughter at the ice-cream truck, what can she teach her daughters to say at school? How about, “I’m in charge of what I eat, you are in charge of what you eat.” Maybe, “Mind your own business” for the older child?

Note, I am not criticizing anyone’s choices when it comes to feeding their children. I think it is appropriate to teach children that we don’t comment on what others are eating, and maybe we can start teaching by example. Serve the organic grapes without a lecture, or choose and enjoy foods with natural dyes without comment. If a child doesn’t want a piece of cake with dye, how about we just teach her to say, “No, thank you.” Somehow I can’t imagine a French child in his cafeteria chiding another child for putting butter on his baguette…

What do you think?


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  1. Caroline

    This is so scary! But I’m not surprised. This is the direction we will continue to go in if fat and overweight are continuously villainized.

  2. frenchmum

    I have been reading Katja’s blog for a while. I really think children mimic adults and their parents particularly. These remarks about healthy/unhealthy foods come from parents who are concerned and lost! we live in France and I have asked my 12 and 9 year-old French daughters who eat at the cafeteria 4 days a week if anybody had ever commented on what they eat or how much, over lunch or when they have a 10 am snack. They looked at me as if I were a loony; apparently it never happened. However my daughters comment a lot on what is on their plate at the cafeteria: usually it is soggy veggies with unchewable meat but they also mention the yummy ultra ripe avocado or delicious strawberries they had. Food is not the best there and there are days when the 4 o’clock snack is required! I suspect some days go with a super light lunch (bread and fruit) but they won’t starve! I was 17 before I got to know what “carb” meant! When we talk about food, we say it is over/under cooked, we comment on the egg plant addition in the Lasagna, we comment on the cheese we bought at the market, we say “this is not my favourite” I say “but this is your daddy”s/sister’s/my favourite”, we make a point of never leaving one in the family have dinner all by himself. We just love food, the variety, the seasonal aspect of it, the cooking, and the sharing. I also do what AcceptanceWoman does at home, there are things I don’t buy on a regular basis like chips for example; When they are on the table, it is a party!
    I admire Katja’s way of dealing with a hostile environment: talking about calories, carb and whatever is not food, it is biology, pretend science! Let us talk about food as pleasure.

    • katja

      thanks for the comment Frenchmum!I think you just burst our fantasy that the French cafeterias all had four star cuisine with salad and cheese courses… You are right, the kids are parroting what their parents say to them and it’s pretend science. Recently I heard from a nutrition PhD who says she wished she’d studied literature as it is a more exact art! Thank you for your kind words and perspective!

  3. Mercy

    I expect you’re wrong about kids in France… I live in Bavaria, where schools are still half-day (yes, really) and kids often go home for lunch (well, mid-day dinner in the families I know), especially in elementary school ages, and they still make this kind of comment, and not just to each other, to adults, too!

    • katja

      Hello, or should I say Guten Tag! Germans seem to be a whole different bag, from my brief observations. I was born there, my parents lived bear Oberstdorf for ten years (are you near there? Gorgeous country!) Also, here in the US, I belonged to a German mothers group. Boy, they too made tons of comments. Everything had to be “selbst gebacken” (when they brought a treat, it was always home-made) with apple-sauce, not sugar, and fruit. They didn’t mind the fat and cream, but were really careful about preservatives, sugar and food dyes… I was always in shock with my toddler. How did they have time to bake home-made cakes, and get two kids on the bus for the play group??? Always had me feeling a little inadequate! Thanks for the perspective though! Is that your sense, that Germans are OK with fat, but wary of the chemicals etc.? My brother and family live in France, and I haven’t noticed the same level of discourse, but I wasn’t there too much, and of course, all the treats come from bakeries with the families I saw. I do remember my last visit in France being shocked at the entire grocery aisle to pre-packaged snack foods for kids… How does this going home thing work? Are most of the moms not working? Sounds like a nice pace of life. Tschuss!

  4. AcceptanceWoman

    I’m a fan of “don’t yuck someone else’s yum” — we also somehow have conveyed to our 7-year-old that if she’s offered something she doesn’t want, instead of saying “yuck” or “I don’t eat/like” that, she says “no thank you, I don’t care for that.” Which is charming and disarming.
    We had an interesting thing happen the other day. We were at a restaurant and were eating with another family. We don’t keep strictly kosher, but we don’t eat pork or shellfish, and generally don’t mix milk & meat. Her friend’s parent asked if he wanted to taste a crab cake, and my daughter, who lately has been not very adventurous with food said she wanted to try some. I was really torn about what to say to her, but I said that we don’t eat usually eat crab, because it’s not kosher, but that she could try it if she wanted it — I checked in with her dad, too. She then didn’t want to try it, but I think it might have actually been empowering for her to hear the rule but have the freedom to try it or not.

    I too get really torn about what to say about some foods — when she asks for a specific food like potato chips, we usually don’t have them, but we get them sometimes, for picnics or a party, but we don’t have them all of the time. This to me is part of the division of responsibility — I decide what we have in the house, and she can ask for things she likes but it’s my job to have them or not.

    On that same trip to the restaurant, she really wanted ice cream before we left, and we said no, but that she could have it with the meal. When we got there, we ordered a small ice cream sundae with her meal and she ate them at the same time. The other child wanted it, too, but accepted that it wasn’t the same rule for him — he had two large dinner rolls with butter instead. And I think that my daughter gets that different houses/parents have different rules, and that’s okay.

    • katja

      What a great story. I love that you have her the choice. I have a small section about eating with religious considerations in my upcoming book. I know it has come up in some of the families I work with. M too knows there are different rules at different homes. It’s all so interesting to observe. So far, I am happy with how we are all navigating things, but this relentless “health” education will be a tough challenge. Sometimes I admit I pull the “I’m a doctor, and I know about this stuff” when teachers in the past have just made crazy statements, but it gets harder and harder.

  5. Emgee

    How about, “Beep, Beep! Stay in your own lane!” OR
    “Thanks for sharing that with me,” and walking away.

  6. E

    I wonder if a kid could say “I get to choose what’s best for me, and you get to choose what’s best for you, and sometimes those choices might be different”. The real meaning of that might not translate (because of the black and white thinking that young kids experience), but it might stop the discussion (or at least open the door for a more peaceful interaction), give the kid who speaks it some confidence, and give the food policing kid some food-for-thought (even if they only really “get it” later in life).

    • katja

      That’s lovely. And yes, that black and white thinking is why all this “nutrition information” is not appropriate for kids. They can’t get it.

  7. RachelB

    I teach composition to undergraduates, so my “kids” are somewhat older. But I’ve said before, in the classroom (in response to someone talking about particular foods being a “guilty pleasure”), “I don’t believe food has moral value, positive or negative. Unless you stole it out of someone else’s hand, there’s nothing to feel guilty about. It’s just food.”

  8. Kris

    Ragen Chastain over at the Dances With Fat blog has addressed food policing in adult friends and family members (one such post from last year is here: While some suggested responses might need to be toned down for kids, some of them are appropriate as they are.

    This kind of social interaction can be really difficult even for grown-ups. I can’t imagine how confusing and stressful it must be for a child.

  9. ruth

    Children policing other kids has always been around, but I think it’s different because so many people do not identify this behavior as rude. I still remember the first time a peer told me I was overweight by telling me, “You are overweight because you overeat.” Strangely this was the comment I got as a kid that made me feel the most threatened and still brings sense memories of the pit in my stomach and burning tears behind my eyes. It’s so much worse than the drive-by insults I have always gotten.

    I have been in the grocery store with my kids and had people use me as a cautionary tale, which they do not pick up on, but I resist talking about foods as good and bad or even people as good and bad for what they eat (I totally talk about people as good and bad for doing stuff that is actually good or bad). Recently the whole family was all at a luncheon and all the skinny ladies at the table turned down the appetizer (chilled melon soup) because they “wanted to save their carbs.” Eat or don’t eat, ladies, but don’t burden the hostess with your mishegas (mishegas is yiddish for ridiculousness).

    How much do I love “Who’s milking this frog?” I will use it immediately. I was already a big Twistie fan, but now: more so.

    With our 7 and 9 yos, we are big on not yucking people’s yums. Springtime seems to be the season for grade-schoolers to police each other, so we have been focusing on it a lot. I offer my kids a lot of healthy foods, but I also offer them foods that are peer-acceptable, like fruit leather and pudding cups, because as an early dieter and now fit fat person, I spent a couple of decades thinking that I could not eat certain foods (olives or almonds, for example) but knowing that I could not stop eating others (strawberry-rhubarb pie, crackers). Now I can do either/both.

    I also have stopped offering my kids foods in the original containers because it leads to calorie talk at the table; just this afternoon my 9yo was saying that there are 150 kcals in a bottle of salsa, because at 15 calories a serving and 10 in the jar, etc… I tried to explain that we don’t talk about calories at the table, but it is easier if we talk about something else. I am glad he can multiply, but sheesh!

    I am getting a lot of good ideas here, but I think in general shifting the focus from how many calories/fat/sugar grams there are in the food to how grateful we are for the food is the key.

    • katja

      Hmm, I like the idea of not serving food in the containers. My friend was dismayed when her 6 yo was reading the ingredients on the ketchup bottle and complained about how much sugar was in there… I love your feeding and parenting philosophies. I’m sorry you were told that by another kid. With this war on obesity, this is what kids are told all the time, by teachers, nutrition staff, and everyone else talking about healthy weight, isn’t it? DO you remember being given that message in school by adults? I feel such sadness for kids today having to grow up with this.

    • katja

      Oh, and on the saving carbs commenters, this is particularly irksome. I go to a regular meeting with a bunch of women who constantly talk about the food. Can’t eat pasta, too many carbs, want a plain chicken salad, only a bite of dessert, oh, it’s such a special treat to eat a dessert, or skip the dessert, or comment about all the butter in the sauces. Just eat it or don’t. The running commentary is annoying. There is a moral tone to it, a public show of self-control, or something. It gets so, so old…

  10. Twistie

    My family had an all-purpose response to people randomly telling any of us what we should or shouldn’t be doing or how we should do it: Who’s milking this frog?

    Not only does it make it clear that this is purely the business of the person doing it, it also confuses people, giving one the chance to get away cleanly.

    Of course it did give us odd reputations, but you know what? It also gave us confidence in our own decisions. We got to decide things for ourselves, and it was nobody else’s business. Mom and Dad supported us in that.

    Food, fashion, hobbies, or taste in music, it’s a great response to people butting in.

    Ultimately, though, the most important bit, I think, was the fact that it was our parents telling us to believe in our own ability to make choices that made the phrase so helpful. I got grief on the playground about nearly everything I did or said, but when I got older I was used to bucking trends and never got sucked into anything potentially disastrous because of peer pressure. Any bad choices I made were mine, and I actively made them. And you know what that taught me? That if I could make a bad choice, I could just as easily make a good one. It was up to me to figure out what was a good choice for me, and what was a bad choice.

    So really, I believe that anything a parent can do to instill and encourage confidence, self-reliance, and independent thought in a child is the best thing you can do. Just keep telling them they are the bosses of their own bodies. It doesn’t make the toxic messages go away, but it can help them to decide those messages aren’t right for them.

    Oh, and Katja, if M’s scout leader was blown away by her eating yellow pepper, I giggle to think what she would have thought of me! I was the kid who always requested spinach for her birthday dinner, after all. Why? Because it was presented to me, I was allowed to decide for myself whether or not I liked it without a lot of power play, and I found I adored it. Still do.

    • katja

      Oh, Yay! I love my readers. “Who’s milking this frog.” Another keeper. Thanks again for the great perspective!

    • Kate

      Twistie, I’m totally stealing that line, but I’ll always add “tm Twistie”.

  11. Lisa

    If this happens to my kids, I’ll first roll my eyes, then give them my standard reply for everything: “Everyone’s parents are doing the very best they can do. We all make decisions for our families that we feel are best. We don’t all agree about what is best, and that is ok – because the world would be a really boring place if we all agreed on everything.” {I leave out the part that the world would be a *better* place if people saw everything my way:)}

    And the comments about fats really makes me crazy. Kids need fat for proper growth and development. I buy my children whole milk. They need the fat. I would much rather them drink whole milk than drink something that is “enhanced” to taste like whole milk when it isn’t.

    Also, regarding the students who are on free/reduced lunches: this may be the only meal they get all day. They can’t afford to skip it.

  12. Lisa

    I struggle with this issue. I am one of those moms who discusses healthy food choices with her children a lot. Coming from a family with a history of diabetes, and living in a world where my children are constantly offered “food” products full of sugar, I do not agree that all foods are healthy (please don’t flame me, this is my opinion, and it is based on my experiences and personal health history. YMMV)

    I believe the real issue is that we need to create a food culture where it is easy to eat healthy and our children are not bombarded with unhealthy messages by large corporations at every turn. I agree that children should not be policing each other. I wish that I didn’t need to police what is constantly being offered to my children either. If we lived in an environment that protected people’s health rather than protected big food businesses’ pockets, then we would see fewer parents hyper stressed about what their children eat and fewer children who pass that message on to other kids.

    • katja

      Hi Lisa,
      Thanks for writing in. I think discussions about food choices can be OK, and I think it depends mostly on the child’s age and also temperament. I wonder if your just offering those foods (it’s your job to decide) and not talking as much might instill in them a natural love for those foods? For example, recently the girl scout leader approached me with awe that M ate a plain yellow bell pepper with her sack lunch. I happened to cut it into a spiral, and the leader remarked how no one could believe it. I don’t talk much about the nutrition choices, but we all enjoy whole fruits and veggies, and sometimes I wonder if all the talk actually turns kids off the very foods we want them to learn to love?
      I TOTALLY agree about kids being surrounded and constantly offered unbalanced options. I don’t think kids need snacks most of the time when they show up, and I’d love to see more balance. I can tell when the snack at the end of the day is a gummy snack versus crackers, cheese and grapes for example. (I don’t know what YMMV means, but I’m curious 🙂 I am starting to ask M at almost 7 to think about food groups to round out choices. So, when she is thinking about snack, and asks for popcorn (I air pop and add butter, a little salt and sugar) I say she can choose a fruit or a veggie to go with it. But, at Subway, I also let her choose and enjoy Cheetos if she wants, and she usually doesn’t finish the bag, while she enjoys her sub with lettuce, tomatoes, extra pickles, and cucumbers, all that she chose on her own.
      I also agree that whole, gorgeous fruits and veggies need to be more available and more appealing, but know that the harder we try to “get” kids to eat them, the more many of them will resist. The psychology behind it all is amazing! I also wish foods were not advertised to kids, and would love to see health promoted, with more walking paths, more activity in schools, safe walkable neighborhoods etc.I also would like to see all schools have as great a school lunch as my child enjoys (black bean and edamame salad anyone?) Great points. Thank you! I do hope you will feel welcome contributing here.

  13. maggiemunkee

    my favorite retort comes from joy nash in her fat rant videos, paraphrased as “shh, don’t say that too loud or everyone will know you’re an asshole!”

    this can, of course, be adjusted to meet language appropriateness for children. 🙂

    hopefully i will remember to use this myself, as it’s so wonderful a sentiment.

    • katja

      I remember those videos! Thanks for that tip. Probably not going to go over well in Kindergarten, but I will tuck it away into my consciousness 🙂

  14. Lisa

    “Don’t yuck someone’s yumm”.

    That is one of our family mottoes, because it is the absolute HEIGHT of bad manners to criticize someone’s food choices. Remember the scene in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when Scout was scolded for expressing dismay at the little boy pouring syrup on his meal? Where are peoples’ manners??

    Back to the world we live in today…. So far, my daughter has (apparently) gotten minimal critical feedback from peers about her food choices. She has occasionally explained to me that a food is “healthy” to which I always reply “ALL foods are healthy, honey”.

    We are trying to raise her to be a critical thinker about all sorts of things: what she sees in the media, messages about what makes a “real” family, what is it to be “healthy” etc… etc…. Food choices are just one more category where we’ll continue to explain to her that People Get To Be Different And That’s OK and one of my favorites: Some People Are Idiots

    Only (half) joking about that last one!

    • katja

      Oh yeah! I remember you writing that before. PERFECT! I’ll post it on FB. I also like the some people are idiots, but when it’s her friends and even other trusted adults it gets tricky 🙂 I love how you are putting it into that larger context…

  15. Amber

    How do you talk back to someone if it’s a fellow college student? I’ve had students come up to me saying “Don’t drink that diet soda! That’s bad for you, and I know that because I am a nurse ( or other person in the medical field)!” while they are downing a huge mocha latte.

    • katja

      Hmm, how about, “Wow, thanks for your concern. I was taught that unsolicited comments about what other people are eating is rude.” or “Huh, I heard caffeine gives you hairy palms” or some other snappy come-back that I am clearly not very good at coming up with 🙂 Or, how about. “I like how it tastes, and I think I can manage the decisions about what I put in my body, thanks.”

    • Kirsten

      Amber, I too have had this comment, or very similar ones, way to often for my liking since relocating to an office that is made up primarily of displaced Corp suits and women desperate to finally punch through those glass ceilings. What is it about coffee? It’s so pervasive in urban and wanna-be Corp settings.

      Anyway, if I choose to have a regular Coke because diet is out and I don’t like the other options I get the ‘agh, dont drink that, you’ll get fat(ter) and get diabetes!’ If I drink the diet I get the ‘agh, don’t drink that. You’ll get cancer/MS!’. Mind you, I have soft drinks only occasionally, if I have a hankering for it, so its not like I’m marinating in it. Unlike the coffee drinkers who can’t get through the day with visiting the coffee machine at least every couple of hours……some are there almost every time i go past it. I ask you: who seems to have the bigger problem here? But it’s none of my business if they want to get a fix by drinking coffee or eating spent coffee grounds……….and so I have no reason or need to comment. In other words, “Do what you gotta do and leave me out of it!”- George Carlin

      So I’ve started saying,” thanks for the concern trolling. by the way I recently read (because someone has always ‘read’ ‘heard’ this stuff) that too much caffeine is linked to testicular cancer and penile disfunction / breast cancer and vaginitis.”. Obviously you tweak the response depending in the gender of the offender. Harder to do in mixed groups, so in that case I’ve began to use, “awesome! I’m half-way to goal!” with a good firm fist pump and a cheesy victory grin. People are terribly uncomfortable when you suggest their bits are going to become cancerous, start to smell, or not work properly as much as they are uncomfortable with the implication that your TRYING to damage yourself and that they’ve just spurred you to keep going. The plus / down side (depends on your POV) is reduced interaction unless professionally necessary. For me, Plus! I don’t want to interact with you if you’re such a creep / Creepette that you can’t be polite enough to mind your own business.

      I still don’t eat in front of people though. I do all my eating at home, or where I can do it peacefully in solitude (scarce few places for that outside the home, let me tell you!).

      • katja

        LOL, though probably not for the preschool set 🙂 I like the “I’m half-way there!” Thank you for your perspective and for sharing.

    • Kirsten

      Naturally, my response is not child-friendly. I don’t have children, sadly, and am around them very little, so I think in that case I’d just go with, “it’s impolite to comment on what or how much someone is eating. Please mind your own business and I’ll mind mine.”

      I meant to add that at the bottom of my original answer.

      Love your new blog Katya. I have sent links to a lot of moms with i know with “picky” my own mother uses it as a resource at her school (wish the concept had been offered to her when I was growing up!). She’s a special needs assistant and some of her kids have sensory issues which can be difficult at snack and lunch times. DOR can be practiced with a child of any age and stage of development.

      • katja

        Kirsten, I’m sorry you don’t have kids in your life, sounds like they are missing out too. This blog is meant for adults to discuss these issues, and I LOVE when adults write in about their experiences, particularly how their childhoods, or past experiences effected them. I think it’s often a wake up call for parents. I know I learned so much about HAES and helping me overcome my biases by hearing what my readers shared. Thank you.Which new blog? This one? FB page? It’s the same content, just a new name since no one could remember the last one, and everyone kept saying, “You’re the feeding doctor, right?” Thanks for sharing my info, and tell your mom to keep an eye out. I’m writing a book (or 3) on feeding, and one will focus on picky eating, sensory issues and feeding therapy and how the Trust Model of feeding is such an amazing asset! Thank you!! After the comments from the post a few weeks ago (ironically about kids policing other kids), these comments have been a real delight.

  16. Pearl

    I’ll be following this thread (and blog) closely as my daughter gets older. As someone with my own continued issues with food, I’m terrified of this for my daughter. I don’t even know how to properly deal with this myself (when other adults talk too much about what to eat/not eat, what diet they are on, how “bad” they’ve been with food, etc) How the heck is a child supposed to understand and not get effected by it? It seems we’ve just gone way too far.

    • katja

      It is very, very tricky. We are socialized also to be nice, so it’s hard for me to just tell somehow to take a hike. I don’t know how our kids will handle this. I can only hope that what they get at home helps, but it feels sometimes like I am standing with my arms around her as we are buffeted by high winds, hail, and I can see the tornado coming towards us…

  17. Dawn

    Oh man, has this been happening in our world. We recently attended a BBQ where children were told they weren’t allowed to eat the fruit salad before their hamburgers because fruit has so much sugar in it. My son said after watching this, “It’s like if the food is something a kid likes then people think they shouldn’t eat it.” (His theory rings true to me because I have definitely internalized from my parents that you should eat the food you don’t like before you eat the food you do because even as something as innocuous as fruit is a reward *one must earn* by choking down whatever it is your parents are pushing it. So I think this is one reason even fruit ends up being suspect.)

    I just asked Madison her advice (she’s dealt with kids acting like food police before) and she says, “I would say, ‘My mom says I should eat the foods I want to eat.’ I would say if someone tries to do that then she should say, ‘Well, I get to eat the stuff I want to eat and this is stuff I want to eat so I can eat it.'”

    • katja

      I wonder how old these kids were too. I see parents managing the eating of 11 and 12 year-olds to an exhausting degree. I LOVE Madison’s words. She is so wise! I have heard M say, “I eat what my body tells me to eat” before…

  18. Kate

    I can’t imagine trying to learn about food right now as a kid.

    I know a lot of health “experts” are now up in arms about people eating too much fruit because of the sugar in fruit. My husband got that lecture from his doctor; it’s fruit!

  19. Erika

    I am just starting to see this. Kids who come over my house ask if we have skim milk…my daughter just asked me if something had saturated fat in it, and that orange juice was the “best” juice because it had the most nutrition in it (they’re learning this at school, she’s 8).

    As someone who is attempting not to diet, eat more intuitively and have no foods as “off limits” it’s really hard for me to see my kids going down a path that I’m afraid will lead to the years of dieting and negative self-talk that I experienced.

    I would love some suggestions too. Right now, I keep telling my children that no matter what they hear at school or from their friends, ALL foods are OK, and that the most important thing is to listen to how your body feels when you eat. And that everyone overeats sometimes or eats foods that make them feel yucky, and that’s OK too…it’s just part of learning.

    I haven’t told them about not commenting on other people’s food (except to NEVER tell someone “that’s gross!”) but that’s a great suggestion…I’ll see if I can work that in…

    • katja

      It’s sad, isn’t it? Sounds like you are doing a great job. I have never seen M comment on food, and I think that again, you can teach by example. I imagine your kids aren’t spouting out comments at school either. I like how the mom in the letter just said, “It’s rude to comment on what other people eat.” I will try that. But part of my point is that it is no longer seen as rude, but as behavior to be encouraged. Heck, all the adults are doing it, the lunch-lady and school policy enforces the kids have to take certain foods even if they don’t eat them…”Kids, inspire your friends! Motivate your family!” Another anecdote, M came off the bus munching on a fruit roll-up a friend gave her. I asked her to save it for later (snack time since I don’t like the constant grazing) and she said, “But Mom! It’s healthy! A read the label, and it’s made with real fruit!” I don’t care what’s in it, I just wanted the structure. Ugh.
      It does feel like we are constantly pummeled with this “health” talk that doesn’t foster competent eating, and I think this will feel like a long, up-hill battle…
      Hang in there, and keep me posted!

      • Laura

        I love this comment and think the observation that “all this health talk doesn’t foster competent eating” brilliantly summarizes the issue. I grew up in Italy and our food culture is completely different. We don’t have such strong feelings about “healthy” and “unhealthy” foods (incidentally, it drives me nuts when people in the US think pizza is an unhealthy food). I don’t feel guilty if every once in a while I feed my 5-year-old a slice of (homemade) bread with Nutella. I refuse to buy skim milk or fat-free dairy. But we also eat regularly a whole range of fruits and vegetables: it is just a matter of fact, that doesn’t need any commentary.
        I wish people in the US were less concerned about eating “healthy” foods and focused on eating “real” foods instead.


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