How Do You Answer, "Is this healthy?"

 

Photo Credit: Abdulla Al Muhairi via Compfight cc

Recently, both of my boys have been asking the question, “Is this healthy?” Billy asks, “Is hummus healthy? Are hummus and pretzels healthy?” Bobby asks, “Is yogurt healthy? Is pizza healthy? Is Gatorade healthy?”

Kids ask so many questions, and the way we answer them shapes the development of their beliefs and habits.

I’m not exactly sure why both boys have started to ask this question. I just know they keep asking. And it can be hard to give a simple “yes” or “no” answer when my primary concern is trying to instill them with a moderate view of food. Here’s how I go about answering their questions quickly, yet also with thought.

Hummus? Yes, hummus is healthy. It helps your heart. (FYI, Billy eats hummus almost daily for dinner. He loves it so much that he eats it with a spoon at times.)

Hummus and pretzels? Yes, hummus and pretzels are healthy—if you also eat other foods like chicken and pasta. (I say this because Billy refuses to eat chicken, pasta and other seemingly normal foods. It’s my small trick for getting him to try new ingredients.)

On a related note, I can honestly tell Billy that pretzels are healthy because the ones he eats (unknowingly, of course) are made of either whole wheat or spelt. When we refer to chicken, again, it’s organic and hormone-free. And pasta is organic and whole wheat. The kids don’t need to know these details, and I don’t specify this regularly. Healthy ingredients are simply the norm in our house, and I think the boys will get this message over time. I do not want to inundate them at ages 3 and 5.

At times, I think parents and teachers can make children overly—and unnecessarily—anxious about the food they’re eating when using complicated details such as ‘whole wheat,’ ‘antibiotic-free,’ ‘hormone-free,’ ‘saturated fat,’ etc. Kids need to first understand the basics, like the difference between an everyday food versus a sometimes food. It’s okay to eventually teach them about the aforementioned specifics, but at the right time. Otherwise, your children could eventually rebel.

Keeping this in mind, I try to answer Bobby’s questions in this same manner. Greek yogurt is an everyday food in our home. The protein in yogurt helps us build muscles and strong bones. Pizza is a sometimes food, as long as we eat other foods like fruits and vegetables. Gatorade is a sometimes drink for athletes, like someone who is training for the Olympics or exercising at an intense level for more than hour.  Yes, you can have a sports drink, but not every time you swim or skateboard.

So, as I’ve discovered, and as I hope you can see, the answer to, “Is this healthy?” is not a straightforward one. But you can use these small tricks for helping your children to understand what they’re eating in a positive and healthful manner. How do you answer your kid’s questions about healthy and not healthy foods? Do you use words like “everyday foods” and “sometimes foods” in your household?

For more information on everyday foods and sometimes foods, read A Blueprint for Your Child’s Nutritional Intake.

Mom, I don’t want to be fat.

As I was walking home from Chelsea Piers last week, my 5-year-old son said, “Mom, I don’t want to be fat.”

I thought about how to answer this. “Why do you say that?” I asked. “Were you talking about this at school last week or holiday camp?” He said no to the above, so I asked him what he thought it meant to be fat and how he thought someone could get that way. “You get fat from eating too much food all the time,” he replied, to which I responded, “Right, so just eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full. Keep active and you will be fine.”

Meanwhile, I was pushing Bobby and his brother in the single stroller—Bobby who was standing on the stroller frame and leaning against me rather than walking as his brother slept inside. I assumed he couldn’t be all that worried if he let me push him home despite what his new concern.

As we walked along the city streets, my thoughts swirled. I began to wonder whether I should have explained to Bobby that bodies come in different shapes and sizes. Should I differentiate between healthy and fat? Should I take advantage of the moment and give him a reason to eat more fruits and veggies, which he tends to veer away from? Should I stress that some people are just destined to be larger due to genetics?

As parents, we need to think about how to answer these questions before they come up—something that would make addressing them when put on the spot a whole lot easier. I’m not sure that I ever considered that Bobby would make such a statement, especially since we don’t allow words like ‘fat’ in my household—but he did.

While we’ve discussed that it’s not nice to call someone fat, especially to his or her face, I know that both my boys are exposed to the word all the time; we even heard it used in the Muppets movie. He hears his cousins and friends use it all the time. And just, the other day, his friend called our cat fat. (Bobby made sure the child knew we don’t identify things by that term in our house.)

It’s both funny and frustrating, because sometimes, even when we try to raise our children one way, the world around us doesn’t necessarily let us. Ban certain kinds of language in your home, and they’ll pick it up in the park, in the supermarket or on a play date. But whatever we decide to allow (or not allow), I encourage all caregivers and parents to think about this: What message do you want to send to your child?

Have you ever had to discuss weight issues with your child? How do you view the word “fat” in your family, and what words do you use to facilitate a positive body image in your household?