Many mothers have asked me seriously whether juice is something I would “do”? They seemed worried that they were serving a child drugs in a little cardboard box with a bendable straws. How sad that there is so much to worry about. And sadder that we focus on such tiny things and become distracted from joy.
Playdates can be complex negotiations about foods that are ‘off-limits.’ Anaphylactic shock, risk of diabetic coma, these are reasons to focus on your child’s intake. Mere calorie-counting is not. The current war on obesity must be waged on the right battlegrounds; these battlegrounds are usually neighborhoods without safe outdoor space and schools without healthy snacks. Many families and communities need real help and education about nutrition.
But we are besieged by a new cult of thinness. Anorexia has arrived again wearing the mask of health. And worse: “good mothering.” Parents and children now protest as they restrict: “I just want to be healthy. I just want to eat healthier. The news science of health tells us we will live longer the less we eat.” I have heard children recite caloric intake and name trans-fats. I have heard children tell little friends that their food “isn’t healthy ” for them. A six-year-old girl asked her playmate: “Why does your mother let you eat food that is bad for you?”
Making children focus on their food is not healthy. No young child needs to worry about nutritional values. Recently I spoke to an oral surgeon who told me proudly that none of his children had one cavity. However, he added, they did have eating disorders.
Cavities or anorexia?
The French have a real tradition of afterschool snacks, ‘une gouter.’ Nutella, anyone? Taste—they understand—is part of what makes life rich.