When “Healthy Eating” is the Wrong Message

Yesterday, as I was putting the finishing touches on the Chocolate Raspberry Brownies and the Curried Couscous with Roasted Vegetables, Peach Chutney and Cilantro Yogurt that I took to our neighborhood Fourth of July party, I caught the tail end of a TV segment on “Healthy Eating.” It was a dietitian, chirping away about how to “Slim Down Your Holiday Picnic.” Get nutritious by “Incorporating the new My Plate” recommendations into your Independence Day meal!


My response was a big eye roll and a “can’t they let up, just for one day?!”

How many people do you know who set a primary goal of eating “healthy” on the 4th of July? At the party my family attended, there was a lot of talk about food. But – people who want to help us control weight gain — if you had listened in, you would have been surprised at what you heard.

No one was dissecting the number of calories or nutrients in the various dishes. I didn’t hear one mother there admonish a child to “make the watermelon and green beans half of the size of the plate!” Instead, the talk was about food. Which area farms still have blueberries for picking? How is the drought in the South affecting the peach crop this year? Look how perfectly flakey the crust for this blueberry pie turned out! Will the neighbor who made this fabulous fennel, avocado and quinoa salad please please please e-mail us the recipe?

To me, this represents an ongoing disconnect between the nutrition/ health world, and the people that they are trying to serve by providing information. You can come up with all of the rules, recommendations and “eat more of this” chart diagrams that you’d like; in the long run, these are not effective because they don’t address the way people really eat or think about food. We don’t compartmentalize our eating in the way that My Plate suggests. If I’m at a 4th of July celebration and grilled sausages and baked beans are on the menu, am I supposed to question the host to find out how much bacon and sugar she used in the recipe? Even worse, am I supposed to not eat the grilled sausages and baked beans, my holiday favorites, and opt instead for the veggie burger and salad that I can have anytime?

As I discuss in my book My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything, I’m all for healthy eating, and teaching kids to do the same. But I think that promoting this is best accomplished by focusing on the food, rather than the nutrient components, that people eat. If the 4th of July is the day for eating delicious, traditional dishes that may not be the most healthful, then make the fifth of July a day for more exercise, fruits and vegetables and fewer calories. But please don’t ask me to “slim down” or eliminate my favorite recipes!

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