Child nutrition: time for a re-think on what you’re putting into their bodies: Part I

Wish me luck, for I am about to dip my toe gingerly into unknown waters (the big left one, in case you were wondering).

I refer to the subject of children. And it’s shaping up to be a two-parter. And this first part’s a little on the long side, so grab a pew and take heed. It’s THAT important.

Why the apprehension, then?

Because I have never experienced the ravages of childbirth, nor born the daily mammoth responsibility of being a parent (being a godparent is a far lighter sentence).

So I can understand if you look away now, with a “what the **** does she know?” thrown in for good measure.

It’s a fair case in point, I grant you, which is why the majority of this post features the experience of someone I have come to admire and respect greatly in the last couple of months: Melissa, who I met on the Health Educator course.

Melissa Yale-Sklar and Madi
Melissa Yale-Sklar and Madi

Fully armed with a free-thinking child, she is today’s weapon of choice. And on that note, I want to say a very big thank you to both of them for agreeing to take part.

But my other form of defence comes thus: I may not know what it is like to achieve the biological equivalent of passing a bowling ball through the eye of a needle (that’s how one friend described it), but Melissa’s gilt-edged example comes as a timely blessing to me, because if I am ever privileged enough to become a mother, I will be following her lead, no question.

Years ago, I remember hearing Chrissie Hynde, lead singer of the Pretenders and a committed vegan, being interviewed about her dietary habits. She said that she was also bringing her children up the same way. I was horrified.

How could she inflict her own beliefs on her poor, clearly-malnourished children, I thought?

I remembered this the other day, and had to smile to myself, ‘cos times they are a-changing.

Kids are getting wise to the “you need meat to survive” line which most adults unquestioning believe themselves; a number of parents I know in the UK tell me that their children are actively and instinctively choosing NOT to eat meat now:

“Mummy, what’s beef?”

“It’s from a cow”.

“What about bacon? Is that from a pig?”

“Yes.”

“I don’t want it then.”

That conversation is word for word real, and it’s not as uncommon as you might think. It doesn’t help that meat is invariably called something other than what it actually is, but there’s no fooling all of the nippers all of the time, as you know.

But not all children have that level of curiosity. And why should they? They (mostly) eat what is put in front of them without a second thought. In short, they look to their parents for their lead. They trust. And each one of us is only capable of making choices based on what we know at any given moment. If you don’t know, you don’t know.

Ever noticed how certain diseases run in families? In 98% of cases, you’d be mistaken to blame genetics, if scientific studies dating back to the ‘80s are to be believed, which they should be.

Think of this instead: we pick up eating habits, both good and bad, from our parents. We eat what they ate and prepare it pretty much like they did. And unless some radical re-thinking comes into play at some stage, the cycle continues ad infinitum.

And so do the ensuing, consequent illnesses.

From what I’ve learned of late, I’m completely in favour of children being given the choice to opt IN to meat and animal products, rather than the customary opting out, which normally doesn’t occur until they’re in their teens, wearing lots of black clothes, playing loud music and having a point to prove (just to make your cooking schedule that bit more onerous).

That’s not why I did it, by the way.

Predictably, many more posts on why animal products aren’t the way to go will follow in the coming weeks and months, but take it from me, if you knew even a fraction of what we’ve all just learned, I’m hazarding a guess that you wouldn’t feed them to your children.

They don’t need it, and nor do you. Honestly.

Similarly, organic baby foods fly off the shelves, but yet when solid foods come into play, the wheels seem to fall off that particular wagon in a permanent way. Ever noticed that?

But before you get too hacked off with me, plot vengeance and try to find out my address, I’m switching tack so you can hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Well, from a filly and a foal, to be precise. (And yes, I just realised that some of you do indeed know where I live. I do have a panic button, you know).

Anyway, Melissa and Madi, aged 9 and ¾.  Right from day one on the Health Ed course, it was Melissa’s end goal to focus on child nutrition. Post-graduation, nothing has changed. As a member of the PTA at Madi’s school, Melissa is already in early stages of organising an event to teach parents more about nutritional health, with positive encouragement from the other members of the PTA.

Does this vibrant kid look like she's lacking in energy to you?!
Does this vibrant kid look like she’s lacking in energy to you?!

Between the ages of 6 and 7, Madi ASKED to become a vegetarian, so Melissa obliged, although the novelty wore off from time to time.

Melissa became vegan in 2012, much to the initial disapproval and bewilderment of those around her (and boy, do I know how that feels).  Her decision was based on the health and ethical implications of animal products, and accordingly, she felt she was duty-bound to feed her daughter the same.

“I didn’t broach the subject. I educated her about what was in foods and explained that I wouldn’t be offering them to her any longer. She just accepted it and was never much of a meat eater anyway,” says Melissa.

However, during Melissa’s divorce, meat and dairy were on the menu when Madi was with her father. But now that Madi has made her true feelings known to her dad, he now feeds her only vegan food.

But as you know, there is far more to truly healthy, wholesome eating than ditching the animal products; Melissa’s weekly shopping list is 70 per cent organic. She has taught Madi about GMOs (essential if you live in the States, believe me), pesticides and herbicides, processed foods, and the horrors of high-fructose corn syrup (a topic for another day). And believe me, this bright kid voluntarily avoids the lot whenever she can.

And she actually feels sad that her friends don’t know about any of it. She occasionally gets unhelpful comments from them, but Melissa says she is secure in her stance. I’ve met this shrewd young lady, and I don’t doubt that for a second.

“I could never give up meat. I need the protein”,  is one of the most common lines her friends trot out, but she stands firm and points out that they can get all the protein they need from nuts, seeds, beans  and vegetables. Go, Madi!

Melissa adds: “She tells her friends about gelatine, which she is repulsed by. And as for ethics, that’s where her heart shines through. They don’t believe her; why would they? They are just little soldier forms of their unaware parents. She’s cool with it. She gets it.

“She sees her energy levels, body size, mental clarity and ability to sit still as being much healthier than other children.

“Because of the absence of animal proteins in Madi’s diet, her oestrogen in-take is very low. Most kids’ bodies are like pre-teens as early as 8 or 9 years of age these days, meaning puberty is earlier, which is not healthy, either biologically or emotionally. And that’s because the standard diets of most families contain way too much oestrogen.”

Mmmm...wheatgrass! An example to us all.
Mmmm…wheatgrass! An example to us all.

And don’t think for one minute that Madi is deprived of the sweeter things in life. She actively chooses not to consume branded confectionery or canned sodas, which shows in the fact that when Melissa and Madi have met a few of us for brunch as a group of (probably to her) boring adults, she has been responsive, polite and as good as gold; she’s certainly not wired on refined sugar.

Instead, she has her fill (within reason) of non-GMO, organic, baked things like cookies, where there are no hidden additives lurking. She also loves popcorn, fruits dipped in dark chocolate, and dipping veg into nut butter and hummus, as well as being particularly partial to her mum’s smoothies.

“It’s her birthday just after school finishes, so she’s taking in some treats to celebrate before they break up,” says Melissa. “Madi’s requested that we take in zucchini (courgette) muffins and she wants to put icing on them so the kids will think they are normal cupcakes (they taste like they are). At the end, she’s going to tell them all the ingredients. Dates instead of sugar. No egg, no milk.

“I’m truly proud of Madi for her ingenuity in getting her classmates to eat a healthier snack. Like mother, like daughter!”

Madi says: “I don’t miss any foods. Eating animal products makes me sad. I love my diet and not having any GMOs or pesticides in my body.”

Footnote: I realise that not all children are like Madi. But you already know that there is more than an element of truth in the fact that the food industries of the west exist for one thing and one thing only: fat profit. But YOU have complete control of your shopping trolley and what does or does not go into it.

And ditto, your vulnerable offspring.

Admittedly, you will temporarily have your work cut out for you if your child is already hooked on refined sugar, dairy and meat. But with all the meat and dairy substitutes out there, it’s only going to be a temporary glitch. And you don’t have to broadcast any modifications, if you know what I’m saying; you could always adopt Madi’s covert methods.

It may seem cruel right now, but don’t let the belief system you have been brought up with cloud your judgement. By “depriving” your children in the short-term, you are in fact giving them something more priceless than you could ever imagine: the best chance of lifelong vitality and health.

And who knows, they may well take to any changes you decide to make like the proverbial duck in the pond. Just like Madi.

NEXT POST: More on what to feed – and what not to feed – your little cherubs.

PLUS: The zucchini muffins recipe for you to try at home – your nearest and dearest will never guess the star ingredient!

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by George

I’m George Dryden - a slightly-off-the-wall-but-in-a-good-way journalist, blogger and almost-raw vegan. In April 2014, I graduated as a Certified Health Educator from the Hippocrates Health Institute, in Florida, USA (more about George)

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