Shortly after I arrived in the United States twenty six years ago, I was introduced to something by the name of a ‘nutritional label’. Apparently, this little number filled table was supposed to tell me if what I was about to eat was good or not and consequently if my eating in general was up to par.
Little did I know then that this seemingly innocent piece of information would be haunting me for the next decade. But I’ll tell you about that in another post.
But for now, my hope is that neither you, nor I, would ever need to give the advanced lecture on “How to read nutritional labels” to our kids.
Until I came to the US, I never even knew what a nutritional label was. When I was growing up, we bought most of the staples, like milk and bread, in bulk. Frankly, we were too busy making sure the store wouldn’t run out of milk before it was our turn, rather than how many calories there were in one serving. Something tells me a large part of the world still operates this way.
I am by no means advocating for the benefits of food shortages. However, as unfortunate as the circumstances were at the time, seeing food wasn’t a limitless commodity made me better appreciate its value.
I remember how strict my grandparents were when it came to throwing food away. They survived the war and the blockade of Leningrad by the Nazis, so to them there was no such thing as ‘too-much-food-on-my-plate-so-I’ll-toss-what-I-don’t-eat-into-the-disposal’ kind of attitude. Not only that, I remember we were not allowed to speak badly about food in general. A comment like “Oh, this tastes nasty” could easily land my sister or me an evening without supper. Even if we were right.
So how can you and I succeed in helping our children develop a healthy and grateful attitude toward food while being hit by 25 variations of ketchup at a grocery store on a daily basis?
Take a trip to a third world country? Perhaps one day.
But in the meantime, while my daughter is still young, I have the opportunity to impart to her a few important values. And what you’ll notice, these go far beyond the subject of food.
Value #1. We appreciate food and do not take any part of it for granted.
This means showing respect for those who worked to make food available to us by making every attempt to use every bit of food we buy, not throwing anything away, or referring to food as ‘nasty’, ‘gross’, ‘yucky’ or ‘disgusting’. I’m pretty sure I covered my daughter’s entire vocabulary on the topic. Yes, there is work to be done in this house too. Maybe one day we are going to follow France's lead and have a law passed in this country that requires food manufacturers and grocery stores to donate unused inventory to those in need. In the meantime, check out the trailer to the new movie "Wasted".
Value #2. Always thank the cook.
Even if the meal wasn't your favorite. And if it just starts with my daughter thanking a friend’s mom before she thanks me, I’ll live with it. In our home we start our meals thanking God for our food, which forces us to check in with our inner attitudes. A good practice for an exhausted and often irritated mom at the end of the day!
Value #3. Turn off the Bachelor, sit down and have your meal.
No distractions. Food is not something to be taken for granted (see Value #1). Plus, paying attention to your meal tunes you in to what your body is trying to tell you. Sometimes these messages are pretty important, like ‘Stop eating because I’m full”. It’s important that we learn to listen and respond.
Value #4. Quality over quantity.
I don’t care if there is a ‘buy 1 get 5 free’ sale of chips in the local store. Good quality food is not a limitless commodity. It is not supposed to come in a super size or as a throw away sale. And we are not going to forgo quality just because it is cheap. As I write this, I realize how incredibly blessed I am to be able to say this. While cheap food always comes with a price later on in life, there are also circumstances that leave no other option. I hope and pray in this country we will never have to face those circumstances and experience true hunger.
Value #5. As much as possible, make it from scratch.
For us, moms, this can be challenging. But I encourage you, when you can, try to cook at home. Cooking is a sweet opportunity to connect with your kiddo. You can play with food, create with it, tell stories, learn numbers, explore textures, and everyone’s favorite - taste, taste, taste! There is a reason why some of the best of times happen around food. The kitchen is the heart of the home. Take advantage of it.
There is a time and place for nutritional labels, but that is not when our kids are young and we are trying to show them what a healthy relationship with food looks like. Let’s teach them to love and appreciate good food by cooking it ourselves, eating together at a dinner table, showing our gratitude, and never taking what we have here, in this country, for granted.