Childhood Nutrition – Taking a Closer Look at the Mixed Messages We Send Our Kids

Children’s nutrition is a loaded subject. At no other time in our lives is building a solid foundation for health more important. Yet, at no other time in our lives are we so completely at the mercy of others making decisions for us.
That means it’s up to the grown-ups in a child’s life to understand the importance of healthy food (and beverage) choices in order to introduce healthy habits to their children.
Easier said than done! It seems as though, in the case of children’s nutrition specifically, the simplicity of healthy choices becomes muddled with strange connotations of what a “happy childhood” should be and what our oftentimes skewed views of food are as adults.
Our society is familiar with the concept of an early window of opportunity to teach children things like foreign languages or a skill, like playing a musical instrument. We’ve heard that children are at peak developmental stages very early in life, and therefore we should maximize their opportunities by teaching them these advanced concepts at early ages.
Whether you agree or not, have applied it with your children or not, it’s a socially acceptable concept that seems to make sense to most people. It’s peculiar that, as a society, we don’t yet understand that the very same principles apply to the health of a child.
The early developmental years are a critical time for creating a solid foundation for nutritional health, as well as movement and mindset. What we feed our children (or what we passively allow them to eat or others to feed them), and what we teach our children about nutrition NOW will impact their health for the rest of their lives.
Our family is certainly not perfect in any way, including our nutritional choices. But, we stick to a few basic principles overall in an ongoing, concerted effort to make the healthiest choices possible. We apply the simple Wellness Formula to all of our lifestyle choices, including the nutritional ones.
The Wellness Formula describes how health is created and how sickness is allowed to develop. In order to create optimal health and function, we must make pure and sufficient choices. As described by Wellness expert, Dr. James Chestnut, these are things that meet our body’s innate genetic requirements for health. The two types of choices that move us unequivocally away from health are toxic and deficient ones. Toxic choices are things that work against our body’s efforts to create health – they are not requirements for health.
In applying this to children’s nutrition, we simply talk about what food choices the body truly needs in order to build a strong, healthy body and a brilliant mind, as opposed to which choices are interfering with our body’s efforts and are leading to a loss of health. Kids get this. There are building blocks for health, and then there are things that come by and destroy what you’ve been building. You get to choose.
Another concept that works around here is, “fill up with health first”. It’s not about saying you can “never” have that cookie or that birthday cake or that less-than-healthy food choice. It’s about making sure you’ve given your body what it needs first – the raw materials for building health. If you know you’re going to be eating something more toxic later in the day, then make sure you fuel up with lots of healthy choices first, that’s all.
It’s also about teaching responsibility and accountability to kids when it comes to their health. There are limitations to matter! They can’t fill up with health first, then choose toxic garbage every single day. That’s too much for our physiology to overcome. A toxin is a toxin, no matter how much broccoli preceded it!
As grown-ups, we sure do pass on some odd beliefs and customs to our younger generation regarding food. One example is how we talk about food. When a food choice obviously doesn’t create any health, and in fact moves us away from health, should we really be calling it a “treat”? Isn’t that completely mixed messaging we’re sending our children (and ourselves)? It’s not a treat if it’s contributing to chronic illness!
Let’s call it like it is. How about a “tasty toxin”! (Thanks to Dr. Chestnut for that little gem!) Sure, it tastes great… and you should go ahead and enjoy it in that moment once you’ve made the choice. But let’s be perfectly clear – it’s not good for you and making that choice with any regularity has devastating consequences over time.
That’s the crux right there. If we truly understood the consequences of the choices we’re making on behalf of our children, we’d choose differently. If we clearly understood the consequences of that toxic choice, maybe we’d pass on it. If we clearly understood the consequences of making that pure and sufficient choice, maybe we’d make it more often.
Another odd ritual that we’re passing along to our children is that every gathering or social event seemingly must revolve around food. And, all too often, it’s not the healthiest food we provide a group of children. In all fairness, maybe it’s just where we live… maybe this doesn’t happen where you live. Sadly, I doubt it.
At school, it always shocked me that the powers-that-be found it necessary to dole out completely toxic food for every “special” event or activity. Returned all your library books? Here’s a toxic piece of garbage. Learning do math with manipulatives? Let’s use toxic candy to count with then, of course, eat afterward! Pizza for this, candy or cupcakes for that… it was never ending! Poisoning someone should never be a reward!
At a recent after school group activity for my daughter, I saw this strange messaging being passed along from the grown-ups again. The message that everything involves food… “treats”. The kids met an hour after classes were over to do a one-hour walk with the intention of picking up trash. One hour.
In that tiny bit of time, the kids had been fed snack crackers and juice boxes – both completely laden with high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial colors, and a variety of toxins. I thought, “Seriously! Was that really necessary?” Would anyone have starved in that one hour? How about teaching them something about health and giving them water to hydrate their bodies while they walked. That’s the equivalent of an adult going to the gym for an hour and not being able to get through it without a junk food snack! How ridiculous!
They had plenty of time to eat their after school snacks before the walk, and dinner was just around the corner. Why did they even need any food, let alone a group feeding of toxins? We wonder why childhood obesity is sky rocketing like we’ve never seen before! We’re teaching kids that even a healthy activity involves being “rewarded” with garbage! I see the same thing at every sporting, athletic, team event or class I’ve taken the kids to. There’s always a grown-up waiting to “reward” with junk. Strange.
We somehow think we’re depriving children of some rich experience of childhood if we don’t provide them with these tasty toxins. We think, “But they’re kids… they’re supposed to have cake and ice cream and candy and treats… it’s part of their world, it’s part of childhood… every kid has it!” It’s a dangerous mindset to pass along.
I’m certainly in favor of allowing children to have those tasty toxins once in awhile. But let’s get real. The frequency of these toxic feedings is insane! We’re not depriving a child of anything but a healthy future and their full potential when we allow this type of thinking to prevail.
We’re kidding ourselves if we think this doesn’t set the stage for every chronic illness we suffer from today. It gives me absolutely no peace of mind when I hear people say, “We had all that stuff when we were kids, and look at us now!” Exactly. Look at us now. Chronic illness is pandemic. Our lifestyle choices are destroying us.
Again, we don’t have to say “never” to our children. But, we can help them make better choices that are still fun and enjoyable. In addition to making healthier choices, like making homemade, less-toxic sweets or buying non-toxic ice cream and snacks, we could also teach kids that something as simple as fruit is really actually pretty good. It’s amazing how delicious a bowl of mixed, fresh fruit can be when there’s no junk around to scarf down! We could also teach them they don’t actually require food at every turn!
Depriving a child. Give me a break! (Maybe it helps us justify eating our junk!)
Another component to the childhood nutrition issue that I find completely strange is that we allow other parents to make nutritional choices for our children. (Like the coaches, teachers, and the various leaders I referred to above.)
We wouldn’t allow other adults to just hand out a round of antibiotics or pain relievers to a group of children, would we? Of course not, that’s absurd! Whether or not we give drugs to our children is a choice left up to the parents. What we fail to realize when it comes to food is that food choices have a very real effect on our physiology, just like a drug does. Food will either move us toward health, or away from it.
Until my children are old enough and responsible enough to make healthy choices on their own, consistently, their health and safety is still MY responsibility as a parent. I’m not sure why we’ve crossed that line in our culture, with grown-ups freely passing out toxins to other people’s children, for the sake of “childhood privileges”! How very strange.
Even more strange, and shameful, is that a child trying to make healthier choices is often made fun of and ostracized for not choosing the junk… not just by peers, but by grown-ups, no less! What’s a kid to do when everything revolves around food… and the food’s not healthy? It’s a tough world we’re bringing them up in!
Now, if a child has a diagnosed allergy or food sensitivity of some sort, suddenly grown-ups all stand at attention and handle that situation seriously and with respect. Unfortunately, we fail to recognize that ALL children have food sensitivities. We all have negative responses to toxins like artificial sweeteners and colors, high fructose corn syrup, refined white sugar and flour, and so on. We just don’t show the outward signs quite as quickly. Those sensitivities to toxins are not being taken seriously.
Until we take a closer look at the real consequences of our children’s food choices, and clear up our own distorted beliefs about food and childhood experiences, our children will continue to develop the same devastating chronic illnesses that were once reserved only for adults.
Childhood is the ideal time to begin a journey of healthy choices and a healthy mindset. As a parent, it’s part of our job to teach our children to make healthy choices and to keep them safe. No more excuses. This is too important. It’s time to wear the nutritional pants in your family!
If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting… sicker kids. That can change. All it takes is adding healthier choices, one simple choice at a time.