I slumped at the kitchen table staring at cake. Grandma shook her head, “You have to eat your food to have cake.” I looked at the meat, potatoes and vegetables. My eight-year-old self protested. Grandma just looked. I would eat the food.
Now, a grandmother myself, I know ‘why’ she insisted. ‘Real Food’ is good for the body. As a kid I didn’t care. I wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted. Recently, our pre-schooler and I repeated the scene.
She cried. She pouted. She shook her head, “no!”
“You have to eat vegetables before ice cream,” I insisted and I waited. I waited because it’s important for children to learn to eat balanced meals and a variety of foods. The broccoli is awful, the liver gritty. Or as the three-year-old said, “’That’s ‘a-gusting.” She can’t pronounce “disgusting,” but her body language shouts it plainly.
As I am sure a recently noteworthy British teen said as a child. He made CNN news when he became a case study for a medical journal article on becoming blind.
As a minor, “Jack Sprat” remains anonymous. He is described as an extremely picky eater. Jack ate only french fries, Pringle chips, white bread and processed ham and sausage. He did not like textured foods – the food that follows baby’s Pablum. The baby feels that lump of green beans and spits it out. Mommy scoops it off his chin and shoves the mess back in. The persistent parent pursues the post-Pablum stage with foods in various flavors and textures.
Jack spat until his mother yielded and let him eat whatever he wanted. He ate enough food. What Jack lacked was nutrition.
At 14 he told his doctor, “I’m tired.” His story published in the Annals of Internal Medicine noted that Jack had a normal body weight and appeared healthy. He tested low in vitamin B12 and was anemic. A dietitian talked with Jack about healthy food choices. He began injections of vitamin B12.
A year later the doctor noted that Jack had vision and hearing losses for no obvious reason. By 17, Jack was permanently blind. Doctors found him deficient in vitamin B12, low in copper, selenium and vitamin D. He had low bone density and a high zinc level.
Researchers from Bristol Medical School and the Bristol Eye Hospital concluded Jack suffered nutritional optic neuropathy.
He went blind because he didn’t get enough micro-nutrients. His diet caused a blindness, a problem usually found in children living in poverty, war or drought.
Jack lived in a land of plenty and peace. He spat out textured foods like vegetables, steak and fresh fruit. He lived on chips and sausage on white bread. Medical teams enter war zones to stop the effects of malnutrition and reverse the process before it is too late. Jack’s blindness is permanent.
“Although it is an extreme example, it highlights the importance of having a wide and varied diet to ensure that you get the profile of nutrients and micro-nutrients that are needed for healthy development,” said professor of nutrition and dietetics Gary Frost, of Imperial College London. He told CNN that this is an isolated example of individual malnutrition. “Fussy eating is very common in young children and in extreme cases can lead to very limited choice of food,” Frost said.
So here’s to my grandmother and all the other grandparents, mothers and fathers who cross their arms and point at the broccoli. Good for you. Hang in there. I know it’s tough, but in years to come your fussy eater will be healthier and happier because you insisted they eat “real food” every day.