The danger of categorizing food this way to our children/teens.
Labeling specific foods as “good” or “healthy”, versus “bad” or “unhealthy” does not provide our children with the right message, and does not prepare them for a life of sustainable, healthy, eating habits. While core behaviors such as moderation and portion control are crucial to creating healthy eating habits, categorizing individual foods is most certainly not the way to teach our children how to eat right.
What Do ‘Good’ and ‘Bad Mean?
What constitutes a “good” or “bad” food? It’s all very subjective. Is a “bad” food a food with too many preservatives, or too much sugar, or not enough fiber? What if a food is organic and preservative free, but loaded with sugar? Does that make it “good”? If a food is “good”, does that mean we can eat it all the time and take multiple servings even past our usual point of fullness? These questions are only a small sampling of the issues that arise when people start trying to label foods in broad strokes, and categorize everything we eat.
Why These Labels are Unhelpful
Categorizing foods as “good” or “healthy” versus “bad” or “unhealthy” doesn’t send our kids the right message, or assist them in learning how to build healthy eating habits. Labeling foods ignores the importance of moderation, portion sizes or hunger and fullness cues. In my experience, these food labels are counter-productive. Labeling a particular food as “bad” can have a tendency to create in our children a feeling of being deprived of that food, which in turn can lead to that child wanting it more than ever. It also may result in a child feeling guilty for having eaten that food item. These feelings of deprivation and guilt may lead to opportunistic eating, or secretive eating behind closed doors.
How to Talk About Food
There is no way to prevent our children’s exposure to various types of foods, including those that are generally considered bad or unhealthy. So how should we, as parents, handle that exposure? How should we talk to our children about food? What is the right message?
We need to teach our children that all foods are “good” foods, and do away with the stigmas and perceptions that foster poor eating habits. It is important that we as parents educate our kids on which types of foods will help them grow tall, concentrate better in school, have more energy – and talk about how these foods are every day foods. At the same time, we cannot ignore the realities of less balanced options. Talk about candy, sweets, and the treats we all love, and explain that while they’re tasty and fun to eat, they’re meant to be had sometimes – and not all of the time. Depending on your family, eating and lifestyle choices, those treats are foods to have once or twice a week (and maybe more, if situations dictate), but not every day.
By removing the labels on foods as “bad” or “unhealthy”, and being open in conversations with our children about when it is normal, or the right time, to eat them, we stand a far better chance of creating sustainable eating habits, and a healthy relationship between our children and the foods they eat.
Shara Wagowski RDN CSP CDN
Brown & Medina Nutrition