If I had to name a single hot-button issue in the feeding arena it would be milk consumption.
Many parents do crazy things to get more moo into their kids' mouths.
But milk consumption is one of those places where you have to think a little more about habits than about nutrition.
Of course, when it comes to milk it's harder to think about habits than to think about nutrition because our national dialogue about milk consumption is hysterical—not the funny kind of hysterical either.
Parents are led to believe their kids won't grow properly or that they'll suffer from some sort of early onset osteoporosis (I made that up, I don't think there is such a thing, but you get my point) if their children don't drink every last drop.
- You can meet your child's calcium needs without milk. Read Don't Have a Cow!
- You can't, however, teach your child healthy eating habits if you end up inadvertently teaching the wrong lessons. Read The (Chocolate) Milk Mistake and Dealin' with the Devil.
Mark Bittman raised a lot of interesting points about milk in The New York Times yesterday and, while Bittman doesn't address the needs of children specifically, his thoughts are definitely worth considering.
According to Bittman's article Got Milk? You Don't Need It:
- Sugar—in the form of lactose—contributes about 55 percent of skim milk's calories, giving it ounce for ounce the same calorie load as soda. (And yes, Bittman knows that milk contains more nutrients than soda.)
- Milk is the second most common food allergy after peanuts, affecting an estimated 1.3 million children. According to Bittman, this allergy can be life threatening. (I did not know this.)
- In Bittman's case, no dairy=no heartburn. (Something to consider if your little pumpkin has acid reflux.)
- Milk and other dairy products are our biggest source of saturated fat, and there are links between dairy consumption and both Type 1 diabetes and prostate cancer.
- You don't need milk, or large amounts of calcium, for bone integrity. The rate of fractures is highest in milk-drinking countries. The key to bone strength is exercise and vitamin D.
In my opinion, the most thought-provoking idea Bittman serves up is this: Most humans never tasted fresh milk from any source other than their mothers for almost all of human history.
Until now. Makes you think.
I'm not saying that you shouldn't encourage your children to drink milk.
My daughter drinks milk, always has. But if your child doesn't, for some reason, don't freak out, and don't contort yourself trying to get her to drink more.
I would rather produce a child who:
- Eats a wide variety of healthy foods even if she drinks no milk at all.
Rather than produce a child who:
- Drinks plenty of milk but who won't, for instance, even look at anything green.
~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~