Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Will Children Starve Themselves Instead of Eating Healthy Food?

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A friend recently asked me what do you do if your kids just won't eat the healthy food. I thought about this for a while. I thought about how it has taken time for my tastes to change and truly appreciate and desire a nutrient-rich plant-based diet instead of the highly processed nutritionally bankrupt food I used to eat. If it took time for my tastes to change then most likely it will take time for kids as well (duh, right?). If they used to eat the "standard" SAD diet for kids of chicken nuggets, fruit snacks (how they can even call these fruit is beyond me), fishy crackers, etc. then giving them healthy, nutrient dense food is a big change. An apple cannot compare to the gratification a person's brain gets from salt, fat, and sugar (fruit snacks!! Potato chips!! Granola bars!!) Processed foods usually contain lots of these "anti-nutrients" and they become highly rewarding to the brain when you eat them. For more information on this phenomenon read The End of Overeating by David Kessler.

The solution I came up with? Complete and total elimination of these unhealthy foods. After all, they are not contributing any meaningful nutrition just empty calories and harmful (salt, fat, and sugar) "anti-nutrients." If you quit cold-turkey and don't even have them as an option for your kids then eventually their tastes will change. BUT. If you offer healthy food and also "bad" food then guess which one your kid will pick (which one would you pick if you had no idea of the nutrition content?) You have to get those "foods" out of the house altogether and have them not even be an option.

But what if my kid doesn't eat the healthy food at all? I highly doubt the ability of anyone (especially a small child) to starve themself if there is ample food around. Have lots of fruits, veggies, healthy dips, nuts, seeds, whole wheat breads and tortillas, veggie pizzas, PB&J, applesauce, pearsauce, smoothies, brown rice, burritos, "quesadillas" (vegan cheese and beans on whole wheat tortillas), avocado toast, etc. to offer them and they will begin to eat it. If they see you eating it and that is all that is there then they will eat it.

Furthermore, they did studies on mice and they found that if they offered a low-calorie, highly nutrient dense diet that the mice actually lived longer then mice eating the same nutrient density but more calorie heavy diet. Basically, the only difference was the number of calories the mice ate each day. Guess which group of mice lived longer? The mice eating less calories! So, by my estimate, if your child is eating less calories but those calories are more nutritious (one stalk of broccoli instead of a plate of white refined pasta covered with butter and cheese) then they are actually better off! This is assuming all the nutrient and mineral needs are covered either through the diet or with a good multivitamin. If they eat half an orange instead of a cup of fruit loops they are way better off!

Your child might not eat as much whole wheat pizza as they used to eat of the refined, high fat kind....GOOD! That is the point! And if they are getting a healthy tomato sauce, whole wheat in the dough, and some fresh veggies on top then they are actually coming out way ahead of the kid that eats the pizza with refined dough, high fat sauce, and cheese. One child is consuming way more calories with far less nutrients. The other is getting less calories overall but those calories count big-time! Which child should have a healthier and longer life, according to the mouse study?

I think it is Chef AJ that coined one of my favorite new phrases, "If you aren't hungry enough to eat an apple then you aren't hungry!" The kids will eat. It is true that you can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink, but if that horse is thirsty and all he has to drink is water then you can bet he will! However, if you offer the horse apple juice or water which one do you think he will drink? And who would ever give apple juice to a horse! How unhealthy! ;0P

Please let me know your thoughts on how to best get kids to eat a healthy diet. I am always looking for tips.

By the way, doesn't that bento box look delicious? Do you really think your child wouldn't eat something in there? What a delight for all the senses!


  1. What a great post! Absolutely love it--and you are an inspiration to all moms & dads struggling with kids who love to eat junk, and hate to eat the good stuff. You're 100% right--kids will eat what's put in front of them when there's no alternative.

  2. I think it boils down to two things, presentation and preparation.

    Kids love stories and colors and anthropomorphism! It's not broccoli, it's trees and you're a giant who loves eating trees..nom! How many colors can we eat for breakfast? Red strawberries, brown raisins, white soy yogurt, orange juice, blue berries... Let's draw a face on our sandwich! Let's make a man out of our carrot sticks.

    I think healthy food can be fun for kids with a little help.

    It's also about preparation. Some kids might actually really dislike mushrooms. But if they are chopped really small and put into soup, they will eat them! Or perhaps if it's a huge chunk of raw tomato, they won't eat it. But turned into marinara and put over pasta and veggies, they love it. Spinach? Ew! But throw it into a blender with banana and make green "ice cream!" Yum!

    With enough creativity you can get your kid to eat anything.

    Oh, and I think involving kids in food acquisition, growth, and preparation also helps. A good project is to grow sprouts in a jar in the kitchen. Or grow herbs in the backyard! Or go to the farmers market and sample the fruits and pick out a favorite. Make a fruit salad!

  3. Yes! I love your ideas, Kat. I completely agree that when you get kids involved in the growing or the getting (and sampling!) they are more likely to try things. And it's really all about opportunities...if they have many opportunities for healthy foods (vs. non-healthy) then they are bound to end up eating something healthy once in a while!