28.09.09 15:17

What parents should avoid!


A distinction between healthy and unhealthy food

Many parents still seem to believe that it is advisable to explain to children which food is healthy and which unhealthy. But modern nutrition science no longer sees any justification for such a categorisation. This point is highlighted once more by Dr. Thomas Ellrott, director of the Institute for Nutrition Psychology at University Medicine Göttingen (Germany). There are several reasons for this. Firstly, even many foods typically considered healthy, such as fruit and vegetables, do not contain all the nutrients we need for our daily lives. Only a combination of a wide range of different products will ideally meet the body’s requirements. “A distinction between healthy and unhealthy is therefore absurd”, according to Dr. Ellrott. The only questions to be asked are rather How much?, How often? and In which combinations?

The situation is further aggravated by the fact that a simply division into healthy and unhealthy foods is often counterproductive, especially for smaller children. They associate with the term healthy in particular foods that generally do not taste too good. Moreover healthy food is precisely the food that children are told to eat by those in authority (parents, grandparents, teachers, educators). A classical example: “Eat up your vegetables, they’re healthy”. Conversely, while so-called healthy food has generally a negative connotation for children, so-called unhealthy food generally has positive associations. This food tastes good and is eaten voluntarily. The healthy vs. unhealthy categorisation can therefore lead to a situation where the food declared to be healthy by parents with the best of intentions will not be popular among children for that reason alone. A much more promising strategy, according to Dr. Ellrott, is when parents stimulate their children’s desire for a varied diet, without any fixed prohibitions. “This tastes really good; you really should try it.” When parents are also seen to enjoy these foods in the presence of their children (learning from role models), the best possible context will have been set for successful observational learning. 

Image: Supress

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