Choosy eaters and obesity have more in common than you might think
Whether she’s shaking her tail feather on Jimmy Fallon or busting a move in front of a gymnasium of elementary school tots, Michelle Obama is committed to showing kids that getting active and being healthy can be fun. Obama’s cause du jour, putting an end to childhood obesity, has got not only Americans, but also Canadians talking about the importance of children’s nutrition.
The U.S. president’s wife’s Let’s Move! campaign seeks to instill healthy habits in kids under the premise that they will mature into fit adults.
Although you aren’t likely to see Laureen Harper twerking on live TV any time soon, Canadian children too suffer from the childhood obesity epidemic. Although nearly twice as many American kids are considered to be clinically obese compared to Canadians, as adults we catch up to our neighbours, with a quarter of adult Canadians regarded to be obese compared to a third of all American adults. So how do we stymie this unsettling trend?
Surprisingly, child nutritionist Aviva Allen says that most parents come to her not to combat obesity, but because of “picky eating.” Picky eating and obesity might not be as disparate as they first seem. If children don’t expand their palates beyond kid foods, like fries and Pogos, they are more likely to grow into adults that eschew stronger flavours such as healthy bitter greens — kale, spinach — and antioxidantpacked nightshades — tomatoes, eggplants, peppers — that young children often find off-putting.
“Children have more taste buds than we do as adults, and they are more concentrated because their mouths are smaller, so they don’t taste things the same way that we do,” explains midtown-based nutritionist Allen.
So what can a parent do to turn a picky child into a true omnivore? According to Allen, there’s no clearcut strategy. Some kids respond well to positive verbal reinforcement, while others need to be to rewarded with non-food prizes, and still others prefer their food consumption to be ignored (for the latter category it is best to place new foods on his or her plate and make no comments about whether or not the child decides to try the offending food of his or her own volition). It’s all about experimenting with your wee ones to see what sticks.
Over at the Stop Community Food Centre, Kanaka Kulendran co-ordinates an after-school program that seeks to teach kids about the food system as a whole.
According to Kulendran, understanding where food comes from helps people make more informed food choices.
“We see it every day in the program! Even today, the kids grew stuff last week, and they were really excited to come back and harvest and eat because they took part in doing it,” says Kulendran.
It seems that involving your child with the cultivation of food promotes a curiosity and drive to try foods that they may otherwise be averse to even sniffing.
You’ll never know if they’re willng to try it until you put it on their plate