Are American parents making too many nutritional excuses for their kids?
One look at children’s food habits around the globe and that seems to be the case. While some Americans are in the midst of a “real food” movement involving school lunch standards, processed foods, animal treatment standards, and GMOs, the French, for example, are conditioned to like the “right” foods from the start.
“Taste training is part of the national curriculum and kids get tested in year four,” writes Jenny Anderson, “they learn that science shows you need to try a new food many times before you like it. By the time kids get to school, stinky cheese is not going to scare anyone.”
But is it really that easy?
All other things equal, children should have the capability of being “trained” to like certain foods through repeated exposure, but there are a number of other factors in play.
The Tastes of the Mother
Infants develop taste preferences within the womb, swallowing amniotic fluid flavored by foods consumed by the mother. Breastmilk has the same impact as amniotic fluid, shaping taste preferences in the infant. This means a mother who has a narrow range of flavors in her diet will impact that child, and tastes will also differ based on foods generally consumed in each culture.
Dependent on taste receptors and texture aversion, some children do carry a higher sensitivity to certain foods than others. Lisa Leake, creator of 100 Days of Real Food, says on her blog that it occurred to her that not every parent is dealing with the same level of picky eater.
“Some readers have said their child will eat no more than 5 different foods or literally vomit at the table when attempting to try something new,” she says.
So while forcing your child to try a variety of foods may seem like the answer in theory, dealing with a gagging, vomiting child hardly seems worth it. The question is whether this is happening in other countries as well or whether it is a phenomenon conditioned by American culture.
Karen Le Billon wrote of the year her family spent in France(her husband is French): “From my many conversations with parents and teachers, doctors and scientists (and from the research I did to back up what I was hearing) I learned that feeding children well doesn’t need to be conflict-ridden or complicated.
“And I learned simple tricks for teaching children to enjoy eating a wide variety of foods. I also learned that nutrition and healthy eating habits, while important, don’t need to be the main focus. Rather, enjoying your food is the focus, and healthy eating habits are a happy byproduct.”
An adjustment of overall mindset makes all the difference in the world. Eating a variety of foods is something you do in other cultures, no questions asked, and kids follow that protocol. It isn’t that way in the United States, making it increasingly difficult for individual families to make a change.
When food variety is the exception and not the norm as it is in the United States, it is easier for children to regress into that limited mindset. Le Billon’s children were taken out of America and injected into a culture that embraces a different way of eating and her kids followed suit as a result.
This circles back to the original question: are Americans making too many nutritional excuses for their kids? Should it be so easy as setting rules as a parent and expecting children to abide by them?
The French certainly think so, and they have the track record to prove it works.