Good Food...Bad Food

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Good Food … Bad Food?

Once upon a time, I had two young boys. One was in kindergarten and the other in second grade. Though not perfect, I was pleased with the variety of foods – including vegetables – they ate. I had worked to apply the theories I learned as a dietitian, and was amazed at how well it worked. They ate when hungry, not when bored. They ate a wide range of foods, with no one food ruling any meal. They didn't have meltdowns at the check stand over impulse candy displays. They readily ate broccoli, carrots, and other veggies out of the garden. They tried new things. 

image of "good food"image of "bad food."

Then one day, a teacher did a nutrition unit and introduced
the concept of
“Good Foods” and “Bad Foods.”

That was the beginning of the end.

The lasting message my son and his friends heard was all the foods they saw as special – candy, licorice, ice cream, chips, spaghetios, and so on – were in the “bad food” category and all the “green foods," or foods Mom served, were in the “good food” category.

Suddenly, the shredded baby carrots I added to tuna salad was a source of ridicule at school. Whole wheat pita bread was weird .  "Salad" became a dirty word. "Healthy" was a word to avoid. Thankfully, this trend was not to be life-long, but it did last after my oldest left for college.

Words matter.

For parents of children with Down syndrome, especially in the teenage and adult years, this is a very important lesson. In our zeal to promote a healthy life, it’s easy to fall into the trap of creating black and white categories of things that are “good” and things that are “bad.” Trust me, I understand.

However using this good/bad approach leads to unwanted behavior, such as

  • Eating "bad" foods to gain attention,
  • A way to rebel or express frustration.
  • Your recruitment to the food police force.

What to do?

Use different words.

Over time it will change your attitude about food and your child’s. Just as the words "good" and "bad" affect choices. Change also includes using tools such as planned ignoring, environmental controls, setting family food rules, and so on. This is a very individual thing and often a topic in my Wellness Walk Coaching Services.

Here's one approach.

Rule #1: there is no “bad” food.

Now try this vocabulary for food choices:


Sometimes Food.

Food that is better for you.

Food that is great for you.

It’s positive behavior support around food choices. The focus of your words is on what it does for your body.  It also offers more categories than the black-and-white of "good food" and "bad food." 

Remember, this year's theme is Connect.  Connect the way you describe food to words that offer choices, rather than judgement.

You have good company in this project of re-defning food vocabulary. Check out this article about Walmart’s program to offer healthier foods in their stores.

Here's your Action Step for this blog:

Practice using the vocabulary framework above for the next week.

Comment on the blog here and tell me how it went or answer this question:

"How does changing the way you talk about food choices change your attitude?"

Have a great week!

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