I normally try not to get involved in political discussions, especially anything involving kids and healthier eating, which I hope is a goal that we all share. But one statement made by President Obama this week – in the heat of the Congressional budget battle – made me see red. Or maybe I should say green.
“It’s not going to get easier, so we might as well do it now. Pull off the Band-Aid; eat our peas,” the President pronounced, meaning that we have to swallow some things that may be unpalatable in order to reach compromise. My first thought: How could the leader of an administration that is boldly striving to eliminate childhood obesity say something like that? Michelle, will you please get your husband under control?
Now, this may seem silly and really petty, but any parent who struggles at the dining room table with a young child who refuses to eat green vegetables will understand what I mean. As I discuss extensively in my book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything (Bull Publishing), one of the most important tactics that parents have in enticing their kids to eat a broad and healthful diet is the power of persuasion. As in, the words and descriptions that we use about different foods.
How often do you hear adults talking about their own dietary limitations, foods they don’t like or even “hate,” and their disdain for cooking? “My husband is a meat and potatoes guy; he would never eat that,” is a phrase I hear often from women. “If the Smiths are coming over, we’d better just order pizza; there are too many things they won’t eat.” Or, “I’m on a diet and I can’t be bad again today and have a dessert.” If young children are in the house, you can bet that they pick up on these statements and incorporate them into their own thinking.
Even worse is when adults make definitive comments about not liking entire categories of food. Personal preferences and negative generalizations become the subject of too much conversation, as in: “I don’t eat spicy foods,” “He doesn’t eat seafood,” “So and so doesn’t like vegetables,” “I tried that once and didn’t like it.” And on and on. As President Obama, the father of two young children should know, all of this chatter is heard and absorbed by little ears, and just gives kids an as-of-yet undeserved license to judge foods.
What’s wrong with the taste of peas, anyway? Fresh from the garden and properly prepared, peas are one of the best tasting vegetables around. Right, kids?
But when the country’s First Father is publically equating the eating of peas with the most dreaded steps imaginable, we have a long way to go in changing a nation’s mindset towards healthful eating.