It’s natural for parents to give their children the foods they remember from their own childhoods. Food traditions are as much a part of culture as language; they bind families together and link the present to the past. On the other hand, we’ve learned that some diets are healthier than others. For many of us, the more we know about nutrition and health, the more determined we are to change our own diets and what we give our children.
Awareness of the role of nutrition in health has never been higher. In fact, there is so much information coming out all the time that it’s easy to become confused. If you were actually to follow each new recommendation, you’d never know what was going to show up on your plate.
There are some basic concepts, though, that almost everyone agrees on. Healthy diets contain less saturated fat and refined sugar, and more complex carbohydrate, lean protein, and unsaturated fat. Simple foods – whole grains, fruits, and vegetables – provide a complex mix of nutrients that support health during childhood and throughout life. If you offer healthful foods in a predictable and pleasant setting, you can count on your children to eat enough to meet their needs. The sections that follow should help you to figure out how make these principles work for you and your children.
Food preferences are learned early. Children who are cheerfully and regularly offered a variety of healthy foods learn to prefer these foods. The trick is to make them a regular part of the family diet, without putting too much emphasis on the fact that they are “good for you” (with the clear implication that “nobody really likes to eat this stuff”). Telling a child, “If you eat your broccoli, I’ll give you some dessert,” just makes him hate broccoli. If healthful foods are part of the family routine, children accept most of them naturally.