Valley Parents: Have the Healthy Eating Talk

  • Alessio Piantanida, an executive pastry chef, (not pictured) preps a desert tray with chocolate onboard MSC Cruises' newest ship, Seaside, as it was docked at PortMiami on Friday, Dec. 22, 2017. The line has announced it plans to introduce four new luxury ships that each will carry 1,000 passengers. (Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/TNS)

Valley Parents Correspondent
Monday, November 05, 2018

“Is cheese healthy for you?” My preschooler asked, staring at her afternoon snack.

“Pretty healthy,” I replied, keeping things simple as my mind whirled through the dozens of articles I’ve read that debated whether dairy is, in fact, healthy.

“What about strawberries?”

“Strawberries are healthy,” I said confidently. “They grow from the ground and foods that grow from the ground are the most healthy.”

Over the next few weeks, this line of questioning became common. At first, I wasn’t sure where my daughter’s fascination with “healthy” came from, until I heard myself tell her that she needed to choose a healthy snack. I was happy that she was thinking about what I had said, but frustrated with the fact that my daughter, who had just turned 4, was already consciously thinking about her food choices.

I wanted my daughter to be educated to make the most nutritious choices for her body, but I also wanted to keep her relationship with food casual and intuitive, as it so often is for young kids, before social pressure, marketing and peers transform food into something that has to be carefully considered.

As an overweight child, I had also learned to focus on food from a young age. I realized that I got disapproving looks when I took a treat or a second helping, things that other children were encouraged to do. Before I was a teen, I knew that fats and carbs were bad, protein was good and fruit was OK, as long as you didn’t eat too much of it.

As an adult, I feel lucky to be very at peace with food. I make nutritious choices most of the time but certainly indulge on occasion. I’m not above grabbing fast food in a pinch when it’s quick and easy, and I’ll never say no to ice cream. This is what I want for my daughters: to fuel their bodies with wholesome choices and find joy in food, without being bound by perfection.

When my daughter started analyzing her food choices I realized it was important to me to teach my child about nutrition without passing judgment. I was happy that she was identifying foods as healthy, rather than “good” or “bad” for her. I didn’t want to vilify chips or cakes, but I wanted her to know that produce has much more to offer her body. I also wanted to reinforce that what people choose to eat was their choice alone, and said nothing about how healthy or responsible they were. In short, it wasn’t her business.

Over the summer, we spent a lot of time cooking together. While my daughter loves making cookies, she is almost equally thrilled to chop mushrooms for a stir-fry. We focus on having fun in the kitchen and creating healthy habits of cooking at home and eating together as a family.

Some nights we have fruit for dessert, some nights we have ice cream. No matter what we’re eating, I try to encourage my daughter to savor the tastes and textures, experiencing her food rather than just gobbling it down.

I know I’m unlikely to wholly insulate my daughter and her infant sister from the complicated relationship that many Americans — especially women — have with food. However, I hope to lay a foundation that they can come back to, one that teaches them that foods aren’t “good” or “bad,” but that making choices that benefit them physically, mentally and emotionally can feel great.

Recently, my daughter and I were sharing a square of chocolate, my favorite treat with a cup of coffee.

“Is chocolate healthy?” she asked.

I paused. We could probably do without the added sugar, but my chocolate and coffee ritual was about much more — pausing, savoring and taking a moment to myself. I would say it no doubt increases my overall health.

“Well, sometimes chocolate makes me happy,” I said. “Does it make you happy?”

She agreed that it did.

“So, chocolate can be healthy too ... as long as you don’t eat too much of it.”