Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Rule #10: Milky Way

The Good Mother Guide warns mothers in Rule #10 that "Drink your milk!" should not be just a mother's "pleading request", but the anthem across America in the quest for strong bones and healthy teeth."  I couldn't agree more.  I do, however, take issue with parents who add flavorings to their children's milk.

I understand that many children, as they age especially, do not care for milk. What brings about this dislike?  When these kids were babies, they happily suckled milk from their mothers or infant formula, but somewhere along the way (perhaps during the transition of weaning), they began to dislike the taste of milk.  Or did they?  When I see a toddler with a sippy cup full of chocolate or strawberry milk, I ask their parents why.  The response is always the same, "He/she doesn't like milk."  I don't believe it.  I think someone in the family believed that the child might enjoy some flavoring in his/her cup, and NOW the child doesn't like milk otherwise.

I never sweetened the teenager's milk and she drinks milk daily.  We go through at least two gallons of milk per week.  We don't sweeten the baby's milk either (although some family members try from time to time and she sees her cousins getting pink and brown milk instead of white).

Does it matter?  Well the research is conflicting and the topic somewhat controversial, but there are some major questions that parents should be asking themselves when grappling with this decision:  Does the added sugar lead to tooth decay?  Does the oxalic acid in chocolate block calcium absorption?  Does this early accessibility to sweets contribute to childhood obesity?  Does the consumption of sweetened milk suppress a child's appetite for food?  There isn't enough definitive research now, so possibly.

The long and short of the issue is this: I want my children to enjoy eating healthy foods for themselves without any added flavorings or additives.  Milk is good plain.  Broccoli is good without cheddar sauce or butter.  Cornflakes are tasty without adding a couple of tablespoons of sugar.

As parents, we are responsible for instilling healthy eating habits in our children.  The more they are exposed to junk food and allowed to consume it, the more they will desire it over healthier options.  Someone has to be the grown up and say no.  It's our job.

I have one last remark to make on this topic of child nutrition. I think it's OK for a child to have a couple of cookies or a cupcake after dinner as dessert or a reward for eating his/her real food, but PLEASE stop offering these items to my kids before dinner! 

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