How Do You Answer, "Is this healthy?"


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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.

4 Replies to “How Do You Answer, "Is this healthy?"”

  1. Hi Laura! So I agree that it’s best not to overwhelm kids with too much info, but I have started talking to my 3 year old about the difference between homemade and non, and whole wheat vs. white, etc., because otherwise I’m not sure how I would explain to her that when we eat organic whole wheat pasta at home it’s a “go go go food” but when we get plain white pasta at a restaurant it’s a “slow” food…or that mommy’s homemade muffins are different than a muffin at a bagel shop. Since I make so much at home, things that might normally not be every day foods can be, but it’s really important to me that she doesn’t then go out and think she can order challah french toast all the time in a diner because we make really healthy whole wheat french toast at home! Any thoughts on making that distinction without going too crazy with the details?

  2. Alissa,
    I do sometimes make the distinction that we use whole wheat products or more wholesome foods, however I truly don’t think a 3 year old needs to hear this daily. Rather you can encourage yr child to eat home more often like you guys do as a family. It’s okay to have regular challah French toast when eating out or even at home. I know i did as a kid. If you place the regular diner French toast on a pedestal your child will likely rebel later and only want that special french toast. Most important is to allow your children to see food in a neutral light and understand their hunger and fullness. At the end of the day its not just about eating healthy but what is appropriate for your or their body’s needs. Focus on foods to include for positive reasons like strength and sight. The goal is not to make food a control issue. Let me know if you want more clarification. I am responding while multitasking. 🙂

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