Wednesday, April 23, 2008

family dinner: could i see a menu, please?

Via the handy food-news aggregator at the blog delicious:days comes this article from The Observer (UK), with the surprising headline "Fruit and veg diet 'danger for toddlers.'" The piece describes a recent study that found daycares in the UK are serving meals with too little fat, too few calories, and too much fiber--meals that, in hewing closely to dietary recommendations for adults, are inappropriate for young children.

I don't know the exact state of things on the other side of the pond, but here in the U.S. fat has become so thoroughly demonized (unless you're on the Atkins bandwagon, I guess) that it's not hard for me to believe people would go overboard and forget that it takes plenty of fat to grow a proper brain. (I would even go further and suggest--gasp!--that adults need some fat in their diet too. Pass me that full-fat yogurt I bought for the baby, please; I'd like to drizzle it atop some carrots braised in olive oil and butter.)

The article also makes me wonder whether some of the picky eating that's famously endemic among the toddler set is, once again, just kids being sensible. Maybe expecting them to eat the same proportions of protein, starch, and vegetables that we put on our own plates is not appropriate, and by balking they are following what they know their own bodies need. (Maybe. Can you tell I don't have a toddler yet?)

But mostly, this article just pushes my buttons, with its multiple quotes from experts about how children 1 to 4 years old "have entirely different [nutritional] requirements" from older children and adults; and how "it is completely inappropriate to simply purée a meal that would be healthy for a four-year-old and feed it to a two-year-old" (side note: barring developmental or other health issues, what the hell are you doing pureeing food for a two-year-old anyway?); and how "The nutritional content of toddlers' meals is a proper science." That last quote is my favorite of the bunch, for its ability to induce a profound wonder as to how we have ever managed to survive as a species until now.

I don't doubt that what a toddler needs to eat to be healthy is not exactly what an older child needs is not exactly what an adult needs. But it seems to me that all this "entirely different" talk just reinforces the notion, increasingly prevalent nowadays, that there is kid food and there is adult food and never the twain shall meet. That notion is making family dinner times fraught and helping to turn countless parents (ok, let's have a moment of gender solidarity here: mostly moms) into short-order cooks. And as I look ahead to a time not so far in the future when the three members of my household might share regular meals together, I'm more and more bothered by this kind of thinking. Is it so outlandish to imagine that a girl could just, you know, cook dinner and feed it to her family?

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