What’s your guilty pleasure? Translation: What’s the thing you enjoy even though you know you shouldn’t?
Admittedly, your first answer may have nothing to do with food. But food always makes the list. Brownies. Ice cream. Gummy Bears.
It’s time to stop growing a nation of guilty eaters. If you enjoy something, shouldn’t you just enjoy it?
Healthy eating doesn’t mean banning sweets and treats—or eating them secretly—or eating them alongside a sizable serving of guilt. Healthy eating means building sweets and treats into the diet in a healthy way. And teaching kids to enjoy healthy food. There’s a list of things you can do at the end of this post.
Guilty eating is a consequences of a phenomenon I call, “The Medicalization of the Meal,” i.e. thinking of food like medicine.
Eat spinach, we are told, because it is an excellent source of vitamin K, vitamin A, magnesium, folate, manganese, iron…
In this model, there is no legitimate space for unhealthy food. Honestly, I just saw a post on how to put vegetables in a chocolate dessert smoothie and a recipe for kale chocolate chip ice cream. The only thing that drives this trend is our belief that every bite can and should be healthy.
Is guilt really the lesson you want to pass on to your children? Read Cookies and the Cycle of Guilty Eating.
In America, the food world is divided into good and evil.
- Apples? Good.
- Brownies? Evil.
- Brownies with ice cream?
This would be OK if we thought evil foods tasted bad, but we don’t. We think they’re awesome. This also is an outgrowth of medicalizing the meal.
By medicalizing the meal we have inadvertently reserved all the good-tasting descriptors for sweets and treats. As a consequence we have come to believe that healthy food tastes bad and junky food tastes GREAT.
When we talk about healthy food we stress nutrition.
- Eat an apple. It’s good for you.
- Eat an apple. It is full of vitamin C.
- Eat an apple a day. It’ll keep the doctor away!
When we talk about sweets and treats we talk about how good they taste.
- These brownies are soooo chocolatey.
- These brownies are rich and creamy.
- These brownies are delicious.
And the sad news is that even if you think healthy food tastes good, the research shows you subconsciously think junk food tastes better. Read Junk Food=Yum, Healthy Food=Yuk.
One way parents teach kids to be guilty eaters is by making the dessert deal: “Eat your peas and then you can have some pie.”
We know we shouldn’t do this, but most of us do it anyway. The pressure to get kids to eat vegetables is enormous and nothing gets peas down a kid’s gullet faster than dessert.
As you probably know, making vegetables the price your kids have to pay in order to get to dessert makes your kids—shall we say appreciate?— dessert more than they already do. It also reinforces the idea that vegetables are necessary, but eating them is a chore. Yuk.
If this is news to you, or if you want a refresher, read Wheelin’ & Dealin’: 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trade Peas for Pie.
5 things you can do to grow a healthy, not a guilty, eater.
1. Teach your kids about proportion. Then teach them to eat their sweets and treats with gusto, to enjoy every morsel. Read Have Your Cake and Eat It Too! and Mark Bittman’s Dream Food Label (or how Bittman stole my ideas)
2. Never make kids earn dessert. Read Should My Child Get Dessert If He Doesn’t Eat Dinner?
3. Don’t talk about “good” and “bad” foods. Read “The Look”: How Your Emotions Shape Your Kids’ Eating.
4. Increase vegetable consumption by serving veggies more frequently. Read 10 Ways Improving Your Kids’ Snacking will Improve YOUR Life and Fruits and Vegetables at Every Meal and Snack — Every Darn Day
5. With veggies, implement The Happy Bite. Read The Happy Bite.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~