How I Learned the Art of Eating: health article by Dr. Benjamin Spock

As I mentioned in last issue's New Century Nutrition, my mother was a great fan of Dr. Luther Emmett Holt. Some of Dr. Holt's writing made a good deal of sense - especially his advice not to eat meat - but other parts did not make much sense at all. My mother, nonetheless, followed Dr. Holt's instructions with such unwavering fervor and made life so difficult that when I wrote Baby and Child Care, I wanted to make sure my readers would not be that strict with their children. I think parents should not scold children about food. If they are given a variety of good, wholesome foods, I believe they will, on their own, choose a well-balanced diet.

Avoiding Fear and Guilt

Fear and guilt are not good ways to motivate children. I think that eating right should not seem like a punishment and that the dining table should not be a battleground. When we Spock kids were young, we would sit around the table trying to pick a fight. "Mother, look!" I would say, "Betty is chewing with her mouth open." And Mother would admonish Betty. Scolding and fighting should not be brought to the table. It's better simply to set a good example. If children see their parents eating well, and if the spirit around the dinner table is a pleasant one, then they will want to be like their parents.

Keep in mind, however, that what works for children may not work for teenagers. As children grow up, they usually want to be more like their friends than their parents. Nonetheless, if the relationship with the parents is a good one, children will usually come back at a later time in their lives to the values and the foods that they had when young. The process can be perceived as a separation from, rather than a rejection of their parents.

If you have a relationship of mutual respect with your child, then the issue of food will be dealt with out of respect rather than as a means of control. Children can be allowed to cook some of the food, giving them a sense of responsibility. Simple dishes such as pasta can be easily taught to very young children, while older children, when they can deal safely with a knife, can cut up vegetables. Most children love to be given a dish that they can cook to completion and serve to the family at the table. They take great pride in their creation and - as a bonus - find the food much more appetizing.

The Spirit of Love

I also feel there should be a spiritual approach to food. This may take the form of prayer or grace at the beginning of the meal, or a simple word of thanksgiving. I believe that if you let the art of eating serve as an act of worship, then the spirit of love will not only make a difference in how the food will taste but even in how nutritious it will be.

In my late 80s, I returned to the vegetarian diet of my youth, though I added some highly beneficial changes. Now I don't use dairy, and my wife, Mary Morgan, provides delicious meals that - thank goodness - bear little resemblance to the bland culinary fare of my childhood.

I very much enjoy the times I participate in the preparation of these meals. We eat mainly whole grains, vegetables, sea vegetables, seeds, fruits and occasionally fish. In addition to avoiding dairy foods, we don't eat beef, poultry, sugar or caffeine.

Keeping it Varied

The key to a successful diet, vegetarian or otherwise, is to keep it varied. Don't eat the same thing every day! Whole grains are part of our daily menu, but we vary them. We may have millet and grits with corn for breakfast, then have whole wheat pasta for lunch, and rice for dinner. And we choose from many different vegetables, eating a lot of leafy greens at every meal, including breakfast: bok choy, collards, kale, watercress, mustard greens, turnip greens, tops of radishes, and arugula. For variety we steam, boil, stir fry, or water sautò them, or use them in soup. Condiments and sauces give the dishes color, flavor, and more balance. Try adding sunflower or sesame seeds, nuts, lemon, parsley, scallions or strips of nori seaweed, for example. When children are offered dishes with a variety of colors and tastes, their appetites and overall eating habits are usually better.

Though my mother scolded and frequently made her children feel guilty, she also gave us an abiding sense of spiritual values, and through her resolve, we inherited an independent way of thinking.

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