Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD - What's for Dinner? The Polarized World of Feeding Children - Part III
The state of nutrition: Parents in charge—or are they?
Continue the discussion about What's for Dinner? - Part I: Navigating the Gap: healthy food choices versus rising food costs and Part II: Sound Bite Nutrition: How perception drives food choices
The challenges all of us face as we attempt to feed our families has never been greater. Parents are charged with making sure that they are feeding their children nutritiously while minimizing the risk of everything from malnutrition to obesity.
Parents are warned that their responsibilities include minimizing the risk of eating disorders as well as every disease associated with one’s lifestyle. Type II diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases top the list.
In an environment of indulgence it is easy to overfeed, feed poorly, or help cultivate a fear of food. We live in a food environment that is challenging because it is both abundant and adulterated. This is as much of a problem for those that can afford whatever they want to eat as well as those who struggle to put food on the table.
I am sure that there is not one single right approach to food. As all parents struggle to feed their families, I find three scenarios that immediately raise a red flag.
- WHEN FOOD IS INADEQUATE –The cheapest foods in our food supply are often the most refined sugars, starches and added fats. Current farm policy makes these foods much more affordable per unit of energy (calories) than whole fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and animal protein. In addition, children who are not fed adequately are likely to be metabolically challenged as they age.
One of the body’s greatest capacities is to adapt to scarcity. The compensatory adaptations are not without cost. The success of surviving scarcity is often a set up for metabolic complications like obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, even cancer when food becomes more plentiful. That is especially true when the food supply is highly refined, processed and adulterated.
- WHEN NO ONE IS MINDING THE FOOD SUPPLY -- Families who use their dollars to purchase food as entertainment and reward often end up buying the most adulterated food in the marketplace. Highly refined sweet and starchy foods (with and without added fat) are colored, shaped and advertised for maximum appeal.
When no one is minding the food supply, it is easy for shopping carts to be filled up with adulterated convenience. Our relatively cheap food supply seduces even the poorest families to use treats to reward, celebrate and self soothe with something to eat. Food is sometimes the most accessible way for financially strapped families to access the barest hint of indulgence.
- WHEN FOOD PURCHASING IS AN ILLUSION OF CONTROL --Families who adopt rigid food standards often exercise an illusion of control. What happens to children raised in the most discriminating homes? Are these kids that much healthier when parents behave almost cult-like in their pursuit of perfect food?
What happens when these kids gain access to food outside the home? As soon as children reach preschool, parents lose more and more “control”. School budgets often determine what kids will be fed for lunch and snacks. School policies determine what is sold on campus, what is sold as fund raisers, and what is allowed in the classroom to celebrate October birthdays.
As children age, play dates, clubs and sports teams feed the kids. Other parents plan snacks. They offer treats and design parties that don’t necessarily meet more restrictive expectations.
I wonder if kids whose parents vigilantly monitor food access will be healthier than those who are raised in more tolerant households. I wonder what will happen to kids who live in households where no one is minding the kitchen. How will all of our children learn to successfully, healthfully navigate the wide range of choices in our current food environment?
The food supply grows more abundant and more adulterated every year. Our ideas about feeding children become more polarized. Only time will tell. It is an interesting experiment we are conducting.
Bonnie Modugno, MS, RD
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