Raising Healthy Eaters: A Mother’s Day Tale of Sugar &, Finally, Spice

By Marsha Hudnall
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1071026_sugar_1Sunday is Mother’s Day — a perfect time to talk about feeding our kids.  ‘Cuz even on ‘our’ day, we’re thinking about our favorite people in the world.

When my kids were young, I was faced with an ironic challenge for a dietitian.  My son’s definite predilection for sugar and adamant rejection of vegetables, whole grain bread and milk took me on at many meals and snacks.

Sugar…

So when I read that researchers had found a positive connection between sugar and children’s growth, I thought again about how intuition really does serve us well.

The study (as reported in BBC News and which I haven’t read the original of) showed that kids who had a higher preference for sugar also had higher levels of a chemical associated with bone growth.  The researchers said it suggests a link between the preference for sweets and biological need.

This somewhat reassured me that I didn’t do my son major harm by letting his sweet tooth win in many a situation.  Not that I really ‘let’ it win; I didn’t always have a lot of choice unless I wanted to get into a battle that would end up making him feel bad about himself, to say nothing of how it’d make me feel.

… & Everything Nice

But I did my best to help him build his taste for other foods while remaining a normal eater.  I often relied on Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility in feeding children to guide me.

  • The parent is responsible for what, when and where.
  • The child is responsible for how much and whether.

Basically, Ellyn encourages parents to set up the structure around eating — the foods kids have to choose from on a regular basis; whether they’ll eat on the run or they can depend on regularly-scheduled breakfasts, lunches, dinners, snacks; and whether they’ll be seated and focusing on the food instead of watching tv or playing on the computer.

After that, it’s up to the kid.  The bottom line is whether they’re hungry or not.  Great way to build  intuitive eating skills — awareness of and reliance on hunger as a cue for eating.

I talked to Ellyn when he was very young because when it came to the ‘what,’ I questioned whether I should just keep sugary foods out of the house.  She reassured me that if I presented my son with other foods without demonizing the sugar-rich foods, he’d start to accept the others.

It took a while, but he did.  Now, at 18 (as I said, it took a while), he pleasantly surprises me by the foods he’ll try and the foods he likes.  In particular, he’s come to love the spice-rich foods of Indian, Mexican and Lebanese cuisine.  And he’s a healthy guy who does great in school, plays a number of sports and is pretty happy overall.

It’s enough to warm a mother’s heart, even if she’s not a dietitian.

photo by JadeGordon

5 Responses (Add Yours)

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  • What a sensible approach!

    And fascinating about the sugar/bone growth thing. It’s so counter to everything else we read about kids and sugar.

    I ate generally healthy as a kid, but had a lot of sugar… and grew from always being the shortest kid in my class to a relatively “normal” 5’6″ as an adult. (Both my parents were short). Of course my sisters ate just as much sugar as i did and stayed short, so I don’t know what that all means.

    Anyway, food for thought!

  • Marsha says:

    When I was a child, we didn’t eat as much sugar as many kids do today. Although candy, sodas, etc., were certainly available, we lived in the country and didn’t have easy access to a store. We’d get our weekly soda at the grocery store; don’t remember having that much candy. Mom did make pies, etc., but probably not more than once a week because she worked outside the home. And there were four kids and two parents so one pie didn’t go very far. Bottom line, not that much sugar. Different story today, that’s for sure. I ended up being fairly tall for a woman (at least compared to my sister and mom) — 5’8″ — but I’m sure sugar had nothing to do with it. My aunts were tall women. Oh, just remembered the homemade ice cream we used to have. That was a real treat. Didn’t have that very often either. It was an event probably because it was so involved to make it — crank maker.

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  • Jenny says:

    my son refuses to eat anything healthy. especially veggies. it’s a pain.

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