“Good” Food/”Bad” Food Cont’d: Readers Scuffle Over Semantics

Well, my post yesterday entitled “‘Good’ Food/’Bad’ Food – How Do We Teach Healthful Eating Without Driving Our Kids Nuts?” certainly generated quite a lot of reader response!  So much so that I thought it would be worth circling back today for more discussion.

First of all, I’ve apologized off-line to Lenee, the reader whose comment appears first in yesterday’s post, in case she felt that I took her original quote out of context or seemed to intentionally set her up for attack by other readers.  She’s already graciously assured me that there are no hard feelings.

If you read the string of comments that followed yesterday’s post – and I suggest you do, as they’re well worth reading — I think you’ll see that the reader dispute is really more an issue of semantics versus underlying philosophy.   All of the readers who commented on the post seem to be in general agreement that high-fat foods like fettucine Alfredo, brownies and the like can and should be part of any child’s (and any adult’s) diet.  We all agree that there are no per se “bad” foods (except maybe, the dreaded Candwich).

The problem — and this is exactly what I was trying to get at in my first post — is how do we teach kids moderation without creating invalid (and potentially damaging) distinctions?  What words do we use?

Categorizing foods as “good” and “bad” can set children up for all sorts of problems, including, as one reader mentioned, a desire to wildly gorge on forbidden “bad” foods at the first opportunity.  But I believe (and this is where some readers may get off my boat) that we have to use some kind of language to explain that certain foods can be freely enjoyed while others ought to be consumed only in moderation.  “Healthful” and “less healthful”?   “Foods we eat all the time” versus “special treats”?  “Go, Slow and Whoa“?

I also think part of the problem is that, to my mind, at least, there are two distinct universes of “less healthful” food.  There’s the high-fat or high-sugar item made of entirely recognizable ingredients, like the reader examples of fried chicken, fettucine Alfredo or homemade brownies.  And then there’s that category of highly processed, chemical-filled “food,” some of which our great-grandmothers wouldn’t necessarily even recognize as edible (to paraphrase Michael Pollan).  I’m talking about most fast food, the 51-ingredient Uncrustable, fluorescent blue “fruit” snacks, Flaming Hot Cheetos, and all the rest.

I don’t forbid my children from eating anything, but I want them to understand that the former category is a delicious part of life, to be indulged with gusto (though not as the mainstay of your daily diet), while the latter category consists of curious novelties that can be sampled now and then, but which ought to be generally avoided.   So that’s just one more layer of complexity to grapple with.

Maybe the reader named Lindsey got it right when she said that “our children will learn what we want them to by modeling our behavior.”   For better or worse, how we eat probably teaches our children far more than any labels we may or may not attach to food.   Along those lines, I encourage readers to look at Lenee’s full explanation of how she raised her own two children (now adults) to have what sounds like the ideal relationship with food.

It’s so gratifying as a blogger to generate such thoughtful and passionate discussion with a single blog post. Thank you to all Lunch Tray readers who commented, or who will comment, on this tricky topic.

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