The old saying ‘we are what we eat’ is true on more levels than most people think. Food is the fuel the body uses to create energy, build cells, fight disease, and so much more. The things we choose to put into our body on a daily basis directly impact not only our mood and overall health for that day, but for years after. The fact that poor nutrition eventually leads to chronic illness is apparently lost on a general public seemingly obsessed with Cheetos, frozen pizza, fast food, candy, and other assorted forms of junk food that, while they may taste good, are almost completely devoid of any redeeming nutritive value.
Imagine going through life repulsed by the taste and smell of the foods that, if you were able to eat and enjoy them, would do your body the most good. I know adults who have to literally force themselves to eat vegetables. Every spoonful goes down like vinegar, but they do it anyway because their head eventually catches up with their taste buds. How sad!
If only they had developed a taste for good food as children…
Our family has a pretty basic philosophy on this – it’s up to US, the parents, to train the palates of each of our children. There might be an exception here and there, but children typically aren’t born preferring the taste of broccoli over corn chips or asparagus over a McDonald’s chicken McNugget (despite the fact that McNuggets actually contain very little ‘real’ chicken). Just as we don’t have to teach children to throw temper tantrums, disobey their parents, or be selfish, neither do we have to teach them to prefer what TASTES good over what is good FOR them. If given the leeway, they will make those choices perfectly well on their own, thank you very much. The question is, while we certainly should give children SOME input over what they eat, to what extent should this occur?
Sadly, many parents who wouldn’t dare allow their children to be disobedient or disrespectful are perfectly fine with allowing them to make poor food choices. To some degree, it’s understandable. We want our kids to smile and enjoy things too, and we even do, on occasion, allow them to indulge in ‘junk’ food. But when it becomes a lifestyle, something other than a ‘special treat,’ it can become a real problem. Parents who allow their children to develop a ‘taste’ for unhealthy foods to the detriment of healthy ones are doing them a tremendous disservice not only now, but later in life.
Instead, parents should be training their children’s palate. Think of the concept of ‘acquired taste.’ Sure, sometimes kids will love a certain vegetable from day one, but most of the time it takes many ‘tastes’ of a certain vegetable before the palate will adapt and ‘acquire’ that taste. Kids won’t want to take that first taste, nor the second, nor the third, and so on. It’s up to us, the parents, to make them. Call it what you want – we call it parenting. Our kids are required to eat ALL, yes every bit (unless there are extenuating circumstances) of whatever vegetable is on their plate.
(Conversely, there are some things kids should never acquire a taste for!)
We don’t overdo it, nor are we mean about it, but we do require it. Our kids know that if they are full they must have eaten their veggies. Guess what? All of our four children eat their veggies, almost every time. They don’t make them ‘gag.’ They don’t make them sick. Certainly, different kids prefer certain vegetables over others, but skipping out entirely is not an option, and even our three-year-old knows it.
Of course, there are techniques to this that might vary from family to family, but the basic point remains that parents should not only train their children in spiritual and moral values, they should train their children’s palates as well. Kids can’t be trusted to drive a car, get a checking account, or hold a job, and they most CERTAINLY can’t be trusted to regularly choose what they want to eat. Taking the responsibility to train your child’s palate early in life will lead to a lifetime of healthy rewards!