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Explaining ‘Healthy’ to Children in Complex World

I recently observed the following conversation between a mother and her 2 or 3 year old son. We were all at a coffee shop, I was catching up on some work for my health coaching certification on my iPad and at the table next to me this mother-and-son duo were enjoying an afternoon snack.

The mother had purchased a glass of tea, which came with two paper cups; my coffee came in just one cup. Surprised by the difference, the boy continued to ask further about coffee and tea, not only about the heat discrepancy, but about their essence and identities.

The mother, who admitted to her son that she does drink coffee too, was baffled – taken aback, even – by her son’s curiosity.

“It’s not that coffee is bad for you”, she started slowly, “it’s just not for everyone”. Then she added with inflection, “all of the time”.

What would likely seem to most people and most parents to be sure, a perfectly normal and forgettable conversation stuck with me the last few months. Navigating what is considered “healthy” in a world that is so riddled with clever marketing techniques and unregulated buzzwords is complicated for most of the adults that I know – I can’t imagine how to explain it to a child.

It is easy to say that an apple is healthier than a cupcake, but when it comes to the nuances – coffee versus tea, whole wheat versus white flour, organic versus local versus non-GMO – the water starts to become much murkier. Today, in part due to these complex and confusing messages, childhood obesity is skyrocketing. We know that kids are opting soccer apps instead of soccer balls. Rumors are spreading that this may be the first generation not to outlive their parents.

Depending on your politics, the situation may or may not already be dire but it’s definitely heading in that direction. So what is the cure for a generation addicted to high-sugar drinks and nutrition-sparse popped-chips? Many scholars are counting on the parents. Parents who know their way around the kitchen and feel confident with a knife in their hand can make a difference. Moms and dads who eat real food (mostly plants, and not too much) could be the heroes for the generation of Type-2 Diabetes. Not to mention that children in families who eat dinner together tend succeed more often than their peers who don’t.

We have the problem, and the most likely solution, but how do we get parents to step into the kitchen? Make it easy and keep it simple. There is no need for slaving over risotto when a 5 minute couscous will do just fine. There is nothing wrong with omelets for dinner or making something far in advance and keeping it in the freezer.

Hazon’s newly revamped Setting the Table curriculum is designed to help parents become the solution – to help parents think through the challenges of raising a healthy child, within a Jewish framework. With more than two dozen simple, easy, and nutritious recipes for parents and kids it’s a helpful resource for parents to start to navigate their way around the kitchen. Additionally, the newly revamped curriculum can be run as a two hour program in a school, synagogue, or early childhood education center. In the first hour parents will learn essential tips and cooking techniques to help them prepare meals for their growing families. Following the cooking portion, participants can gather around the table to learn from and grapple with ancient and contemporary texts focused on the experience of a family dinner table. The new curriculum features a Leader’s Guide, recipes, Thought Texts, and tips for involving kids in the kitchen and are all available for free download on Hazon’s website.

Liz Traison is a Program Associate at Hazon and a health coach through the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. She is a graduate of The University of Michigan where she received a BA in History and Judaic Studies. She also studied at Midreshet Lindenbaum and Hebrew University. She is thrilled to be a member of the 2014 PresenTense fellowship. She likes being outside, particularly on Skeleton Lake. And also being inside, specifically doing creative workshops in prison.


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