I was recently asked this question by an inspiring food education non-for-profit group in China. How do my own children know what to eat?

It kind of stumped me. As I couldn’t really define it and of course it encompasses the age-old questions, what is healthy?

After a bit of thought, my answer was this.

Health and food is not simply what we eat. And the words health and healthy are loaded.

Food is people, it is culture and history, psychology and behaviour.

Food is our environment, how it is grown or raised, how it is packaged.

Food is nutrition, but not simply the macro and micro-nutrient breakdown, it fuels us physiologically but also psychologically.

Food as health, is layered.

How do I try to help my kids understand this?

We talk about it, food and people, food and the environment and food and our bodies or nutrition, quite a bit. Not in an overtly structured way.

When we are making choices of what to eat or what recipes we are going to cook for the week (not when we are eating specifically), we talk casually about:

  • Choosing plant based foods. Eating fruits and vegetables.
  • Choosing whole foods, not in packages and less processed.
  • Choosing a variety of foods, not just spinach, not just chocolate.
  • Choosing colour. Eating the rainbow.

I aim to keep it about what we add INto our diets, rather than restricting.

Of course, we have conversations about sugar or something being a better or not so great a choice.

But I am a firm believer of loving and respecting food for what it is. For instance, cake, chocolate cake, isn’t bad. Especially when we eat it for birthdays. It is a celebration of course. This is the context of food and people and culture. Culturally we eat cake for birthdays like we eat gingerbread at Christmas. Sure chocolate cake in our household isn’t the everyday. But cake itself, ain’t the devil.

And I guess when people try to simplify the health of food or choice of meal, it is not constructive. The world holistic is overused these days but it is a good choice in guiding decisions. We need to holistically look at the food or meal in context of the situation, people, culture, environment and nutrition. The trend is the clue.

And if we love it to start with, food that is, and help our children love it too, all of those holistic decisions will hopefully come naturally.