Sanjay Raja’s new book The Food Talk offers advice on how you can talk about food with your children and change their eating habits for the better. In the book, he makes the excellent point that talking about food with your children is just as important as talking to them about sex-food and sex are both very pleasurable but there is always risk involved. He also points out that if your children are able to say “macaroni and cheese” or “chicken tenders,” they’re able to say “carbohydrates” and “protein” and know what those words mean. We all want our children to eat better, more nutritious and healthier food. We just don’t know how to make that happen, and there are many culprits that try to sabotage us along the way.
Raja offers step-by-step instructions in this book for parents so they can do everything from beginning to have the food talk with their children to getting them to read food labels and to eliminate sugar from their diets. He is not delusional-yes, children are bound to eat sugar-but we can also teach them about the effects sugar has on the body and teach them to cultivate tastes for nutritious foods-even broccoli and cauliflower.
Raja also has advice for navigating around those culprits that would sabotage you and your kids-the birthday parties full of sugary cake and brownies, the grandparents who want to treat the grandkids, and the school lunch that offers cheese pizza and chicken tenders instead of green vegetables. Based on Raja’s advice, you’ll be able to create a plan for dealing with each of these situations and get your kids to learn how to make the right decisions for themselves.
You’ll also be surprised by many of the myths about food and children’s eating habits that Raja exposes and that we, too often, accept without second thought. For example, one myth or belief we may not give a second thought to is “Kids shouldn’t eat off the adult menu.” In response to this, Raja states: “What a crock. While the portions might be smaller, children shouldn’t be limited to what is routinely offered on kids’ menus: pasta with butter, grilled cheese sandwiches, fried chicken fingers, pizza, hot dogs, corn dogs, and fried foods in general.” None of these foods are really nutritious. Instead, kids should be taught to eat what adults are eating and to be adventurous in their food choices. Raja offers advice on how to make that sense of adventure prevalent.
As Raja explains, every meal is actually an opportunity to talk to your kids about food and the nutrients that the meal is offering to their bodies. Based on his own experience, Raja states, “Knowing more and more about the food they eat has become increasingly interesting to my twins. When we buy ginger, we talk about the fact that ginger is a spice that’s good for you because it helps reduce soreness in muscles. When a recipe calls for cinnamon, we remind one another that cinnamon helps keep the blood healthy by reducing sugar-and that, yes, sugar is bad. My kids understand that pod vegetables-like green beans and wax beans and snap peas-and fruit vegetables-like zucchini and eggplant and tomatoes-are low in calories and have fiber and other vitamins. They understand that seed vegetables-like lentils-are a little higher in calories because they contain carbohydrates, and are very high in fiber, iron, and magnesium. They also know the difference between a seed vegetable and a flower vegetable and what vitamins they’re individually packed with.”
You may be thinking: “What are these, miracle children? My kids would never do that,” but as Raja states, “There’s a fallacy in the American mindset that nutrition is a challenging and tough subject, best left to scientists with multiple degrees in biology and chemistry-certainly not a topic for children! Nothing could be further from the truth. These aren’t tough concepts. They are things your child needs to know in order to begin making informed decisions-and to start eating smartly with no excuse. No parent would be upset if his or her children started learning the ABCs or numbers before they even started school-they would have a head start! We expect our kids to learn the fundamentals of math and reading at an early age because everything they do is based on these concepts. Even more so with nutrition! It is literally the building block of your child’s body and mind. So there should be no hesitation about teaching our kids the basics of good nutrition and healthy eating.”
With each chapter of The Food Talk, I found myself agreeing more and more with Raja. Is talking about food with children really that difficult, or have we just never given enough thought to doing it? I think The Food Talk is the perfect book to get parents started on having these educational talks with their kids. I also suspect parents will realize they have to practice what they preach, meaning they’ll be eliminating some of their bad food choices and making better ones for themselves. If you read this book and start implementing its advice, soon you and your children will be happier, healthier, and able to pass up those candy bars in the checkout aisle. It’s not a dream that can’t come true. Make it happen by beginning with this book.