Wednesday, September 9, 2009

No cupcakes for little Johnny

By Alison

cupcake and little boy The article When Parents Try to Control Every Bite (MSNBC) is an excellent synopsis of how to balance healthy eating habits without restricting your child to the point of secret binges and an eventual eating disorder. As a mom-to-be and dietitian, I want my child to have a peaceful relationship with food. Childhood obesity and food has become such an issue that society makes it difficult for kids to simply be “normal eaters”.

Growing up, my mother was great with offering a balanced diet. It was okay to have Golden Grahams for breakfast on occasion. She packed us healthy lunches, but allowed us to buy lunch on “pizza” or “hot dog day” at school. Dinners were always a balance of a lean meat, starch, and veggies. Desserts were not a daily habit, but offered in moderation.

So why when I went to friends' houses would I guzzle soda and shot-gun candy bars? And when my mom started leaving me home alone for short periods of time, I started “sneaking” cookies and downing ice cream floats. My sister, raised under the same roof, didn’t seem to think these foods were as exciting as I did.

So when is a mom taking things to extremes?

The MSNBC article mentions a mom who makes her kids bring home junk food from a party goodie bag in exchange for a fun toy. She also has her older son call from parties so she can advise him on what to eat. I would imagine this poor boy is teased terribly by his peers.

Another woman, referred to as a “food nazi” by other moms, tried to ban processed foods from the cafeteria. She also packs fruits and veggies in her kids’ lunchboxes vs. other junk foods. My mom did this too, but then I would borrow money from my classmates to buy Devil Dogs or Twinkies. My mom would never know!

I am not undermining any mom’s task of trying to keep her children healthy. I would pack fruits and veggies in my kid’s lunch as well and hope for the best. But I do think there is a line that can be crossed, turning food restriction into food addiction.

The article offers great tips on how to create a healthy food balance for your little ones. Here are a few highlights:

  • Eat it all, or else! Threatening your child to clear his plate can teach him to eat for reasons other than hunger. This can lead to future overeating. Bribing a child to finish her meal in order to get dessert is another no-no. Offer the meal and let your child determine how much she will eat. Caveat: I am not suggesting that if your child persistently does not eat and is losing weight, you should continue to let her eat as little as she wants. If your child is simply picky about certain foods, remember to have patience, add variety to her diet and reintroduce foods down the road vs. giving up and cooking what she wants (another big no-no).
  • Give your child a reason to love spinach. Don’t just say, Eat that spinach, it’s good for you! Try to associate the spinach with something he cares about: The vitamin K in spinach will help build your bones, making you stronger on the soccer field!
  • Set a good example. If you are battling with your own food and weight demons, try your best to hide this from your child. Talking about diets, fat-free-this, sugar-free-that, calories, and fat grams in front of your child will only teach food obsessions. Instead, offer a variety of foods to your child, including dessert in moderation, and stress physical activity.

So why did I act like a sugar-deprived addict as a child and my sister did not?

I think the personality of a child has a lot do with food issues as well. My mom continued to treat us the same way with food, offer the same things, and she kept packing those healthy lunches. Eventually, my sister and I went on to become registered dietitians, so I guess it all worked out in the end!

Photo from

1 comment:

  1. I think it's such a shame that moms who over-restrict seem to be driven by fear. It's easy for someone like me to judge, but they are doing that they honestly feel is best. They love and care about their children so deeply that they want to protect them from all harm. The sad part is that they don't realize that they are probably causing even more harm by their actions than any potential "harm" a cupcake would cause.

    My son is being raised vegan at home (since that is the way my husband and I eat), but he eats cheese pizza, ice cream, and cake at parties, because I feel that the emotional suffering he might endure, as the only child who "can't have" something, is far worse than following some "perfect" diet.

    Interestingly, children who follow any restricted diet **by parents' choice** are treated much differently than children with food allergies. With allergies, it is socially acceptable to bring an eggless cake, for example, or soy ice cream. When it is a choice (whether we're talking about a "Food Nazi" mom, a vegan, kosher, or whatever), there is far more judgment there.

    It would be so nice if we all could be just a little more tolerant and understanding of all parents who care so deeply about something as important as their children's health, regardless of how extreme it is. If we open the doors of communication, perhaps we can help them to see that extreme restriction can be harmful.