The Mini-Rant: Discussing Food with Children Under the Age of 7

Okay, here goes the inflammatory rant of the day:  Stop talking to your children under the age of 7 about food!  Yes, we all want our children to eat healthy food, and to understand food choices as they grow and mature.  But here is the rub:  YOU are the one buying the food, you are most likely the one deciding the meals and what part of the meal prep your child is participating in, and the food is YOUR responsibility.

Here is what set off my rant here:  Many Waldorf homeschoolers seem to be either vehement raw foodists or really into Nourishing Traditions and I personally am tired of hearing about the health benefits of either dietary choice coming from the mouths of their children.  Does a six year old honestly need to know at this point the difference between raw and pasteurized milk?  Does a five year old need to know about food combining?  Yes, I think as they grow, children need to know these things and have more responsibility for food choices – but do they really need to know all this now?

I think it is Barbara Patterson who wrote in “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge” the story about being a Waldorf Kindergarten teacher and how one child sits down to lunch and says, “My mothers says milk makes me big and strong with health bones!” and another child sits down to lunch and says, “Well, MY mom says milk makes people stuffy and congested!” and then both children turn to the teacher and say, “Well, which one of our families is right?”  The teacher wisely says, “Well, they are both right.” (and thank goodness both children are satisfied with this in this story!).

So what can you say about food?  How about the very simple, “This is what we eat in our house.” I have one friend who said her under 7 child is walking around all day asking, “Is this healthy for me to eat?  Is this healthy for me to eat?”  despite the fact they really are trying to downplay the whole food issue/choice end of it.   I told her I think I would just shut it down by saying, “Anything in our house is fine for you to eat.” 

Please stop talking to children about making “better” food choices, this so throws them into their heads – YOU are making the choices, or giving them the alternatives of two choices that are acceptable to you.  And there is nothing worse than a five-year old telling seventy-year-old  Uncle Joe that what he is eating is bad for him and what he could be eating that is better!  What I think is appropriate here is just to say, “Uncle Joe eats “X” and you may have this.”  No guilt trip about what Uncle Joe is eating, and no increased explaining to your child about food choices.  Believe it or not, your child will pick up your food values by what you serve, how you prepare it, what alternatives you do offer to foods you don’t want your child to eat.  Don’t be all defensive about someone else’s food choices in an effort to justify your own – be happy with your food choices and model them happily!  That will be so much more effective to an under-7 child than all the verbage in the world about better choices, healthy choices, red light and green light foods, organic versus not organic, fresh-squeezed versus not, grass fed meat versus not!   Please!!

I just returned from a little island where nearly all the food people eat is imported.  There was very little organic anything.   Prices were very high, and if  the boat only came in with a certain amount of something, they may have sold out quickly and then you may  not be able to get what you were looking for for another two months until another boat came in.  It really made me think that here in the mainland of America, the land of good and plenty, how truly spoiled we are.  Most people around the world eat what they can get and have a good time anyway! (Okay, granted they don’t eat to excess the way Americans do, but still YOU are the model in your home!)  Around the world, the meal is not just about what is good for their bodies and what tastes good, but about warmth of family and extended family and friends, about lingering and laughing and enjoying children.  I would love to see some of us turn our obsession toward that instead of some of the other things we tell our children about food.

If your child has massive food allergies, then probably food discussion will have to entail that earlier than age 7 for safety reasons.  My oldest knows what her food allergies are, and she knew from a pretty young age, and we checked things out together.  That may be a necessity with deadly food allergies.  But, I didn’t tell her dairy, soy, peanuts or tree nuts were horrible for all of mankind either!  “Those things make you not feel well, but you can eat this.” was essentially what I said. 

As children grow, of course we can talk more about food choices, better food choices, the merits of our chosen diet…..but let’s not let food become a polarizing issue between our children!  When we talk about diet, let’s also talk about what different cultures eat, what people eat around the world.  Let’s talk about how in many places generations of  family sit down to eat and laugh and talk.

I have one dear friend who has lived in the United States, France, Saudi Arabia, China, Japan and visited a myriad of places around the world.  You can bet he didn’t always get organic food, you can bet typical breakfast foods were different in each culture…..but, he always exercised, he didn’t typically overeat, and he always had lots of friends and family to share meals.  He probably will live forever!

Let’s use food to bring us all together, not drive us all apart.

Okay, now you all can throw tomatoes at my head……….:)


10 thoughts on “The Mini-Rant: Discussing Food with Children Under the Age of 7

  1. I really, really like this post and I agree with what you are saying. I remember being at a group picnic and one child saying to another – “what you are eating is poison”. I can’t for the life of me remember exactly what it was she was eating, but it certainly wasn’t “poison”. What strong language to describe food. I was appalled. And you know that this child is simply repeating words she has heard from her own parent.

  2. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Carrie, for this much needed post! I hope it will open some people’s eyes about the whole thing! This is VERY important and VERY awakening in my opinion.

  3. Would that be biodynamic tomatoes? 🙂

    I’m guilty of talking too much to my under-7 kids about most everything. But I have succeeded in making food pretty much a non-issue. We are lucky that no one in our family has food allergies, and we are accustomed to eating a wide variety of foods. So my kids have grown up so far knowing that most foods are yummy, some foods are yummier, and it’s good to try everything at least once.

    I can’t remember where I read it, but someone once said that the goal of their relationship with food was to normally eat in a way that made sense for their own health so that when they were with other people they could accept the food that was offered to them with gratitude and enjoyment.

  4. No tomatoes coming from here–this was a great post! I remember being in a “parenting naturally” playgroup when my youngest was a baby, and every once in a while someone would bring in a homemade treat. One woman would always ask the person generous enough to bring something, “Is it organic?” and then refuse it if the giver said it was not. ugh…. insanity. There is also a little boy of a friend who is constantly pulling the “Uncle Joe” on me (because my one admittedly horrible vice is diet soda) while their daughter keeps trying to force my kids to eat sheets of seaweed. It is so obnoxious!!!

  5. Among friends and acquaintances, the discussion of food can get really heated (unless the person is a raw foodie, ha ha). As you point out in essence, food allergies are one thing, and lifestyle choices are another. I think people often don’t get that serving food is an expression of love and hospitality, and not merely fuel.


  6. Finally, advice for the rest of us trying to do the best we can to provide nutritious and appealing food to our children without becoming fanatical! I applaud your comments. Life is hectic and we don’t need additional food idiosyncrisies to make it worse.

  7. Nicely said. I’ll have to give more thought to how we *do* this in our family.

    We’ve always discussed, and modeled, respecting the choice of others — be it about food, religion, politics, etc.

    But I’ll still think about where we can talk less and just be.

  8. Pingback: January Focus On The Home: Meal Planning « The Parenting Passageway

  9. Love what you ranted about. We made the very same mistake with our chrn and are reaping the bad fruit of youngsters that come across quite arrogant when speaking to grandmother. Oh well you live and learn, I guess you can’t blame us for trying to find an alternative to the norm and found ourselves preaching the things we believed to be new truths. I guess you can’t preach that there is only one way or you become those that persecute all those that don’t follow. It’s so beautiful to now meet so many that have their truths that you can also allow to influence your life in little ways. Hope this makes sense and is o.k. for your blog.

  10. Hear! Hear! Great stuff here, Carrie. I taught a “School-Year Meal Planning” class last night and spent quite a bit of time *not* talking about food, but instead reminding parents to model joyful and healthy eating and to make sure the dinner table is a place of joy (not stress about how much everyone is eating).

    I really love Ellyn Satter’s outlining of the division of responsibility around food where parents are responsible for: what, where and when and children are responsible for: whether and how much.

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