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Good nutrition begins at home

It was the second time that one of my son’s preschool teacher mentioned that “he is really not the biggest eater in his class.” This time, I asked whether he finishes his vegetables at least. And she said. “Oh yes. When it comes to salads, he always asks for seconds.” Well, I don’t see any problem at all, I told her. He is just eating the way he is used to eating at home – concentrating on the vegetables.

The truth is, my twin boys don’t like meat that much. And their sweets intake tends be limited. However, when it comes to fruits and vegetables, they have free access and almost endless supply at home. I would place a plate full of sliced apples, pears, cucumbers, carrots, and red bell peppers on the kitchen table and it would be gone in an hour or two. Add to that the grapes, the cherry tomatoes, the oranges, the strawberries and the nuts.

A recent study by researchers at the Washington University at St. Louis shows that children acquire the taste for certain types of food rather early – before they turn 5 actually. In addition, the food environment at home plays an important role. In fact, parents actually shape their children’s taste for fruits and vegetables. Take as an example somenody we know whose 2 daughters wouldn’t touch anything with fruit in it. The problem is, their dad doesn’t eat fruit either.

Coming from a multicultural (Eurasian) family environment, my boys take Asian and European food in equal stride. If I’d let them, they’ll eat rice with French cheese or German sausages with no qualms about culinary culture.

One thing they learned rather early though is that sliced apples or bananas are the only snacks they will find in mommy’s backpack. Their mommy doesn’t have any cookies or chocolates in her purse as other mommies do.

It’s not that I run a purely health food operation at home. Every 2 weeks, we have hotcakes or waffles for breakfast. The boys occasionally get peanut butter, jam or nutella (hazelnut chocolate spread) on their toast. We indulge in nice desserts from time to time. We bake Christmas cookies. And it’s inevitable that they get to eat fries when travelling. But these are always topped by fresh fruits as snacks and in-betweens and vegetables for lunch and supper.

Researchers say that children learn eating patterns at home that can lead to either obesity or healthy weight. According to lead researcher Debra Haire-Joshu, “overweight children have already been exposed to salty, sweet foods and learned to like them. To keep a child from becoming overweight, parents need to expose them early to a variety of healthy foods and offer the foods many times.”

I don’t believe in complete abstinence from sweets or fatty food. Keeping these away from kids only make them more attractive. My policy is they can handle these foods in limited amounts However, I agree with the researchers that offering children healthy food as early as possible can provide the environment for healthy eating habits. I don’t really mind if my son doesn’t finish his spaghetti at preschool as long as he gobbles his salad with gusto. In the end, it’s quality, not quantity that counts.

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