How you ate as a child Vs. How you eat now
The NY Times article about parents who pressure their nannies to provide organic/healthy food to the kids contained a quote from a mother who was absolutely convinced that however her child ate determined the way he or she was going to eat forever. Sure, it could have some influence. But is it really that much? I'm curious how many Chowhounds out there grew up with would be considered the average American diet and came to be more conscious of what they eat on their own.
As for me, I certainly ate my fair share of fast food and then some. It definitely showed. But my parents came from a country and a culture where people often didn't have enough to eat, so they thought feeding me all the American food I wanted was a great thing. I always ate ethnic food at home, though, which set me up to be more receptive to "different" foods. When I left for college, my parents and I simultaneously went for healthier food. They worked more legumes and exotic grains into their food while I cut out sugars and started eating organic.
I grew up on predominantly Mexican food at home, with some basics like meatloaf and spaghetti thrown in for good measure.
My parents still eat like this today.
My brother and I have profoundly expanded our tastes, through travels and a mixed bag of friends and co-workers that we run around with.
"I always ate ethnic food at home, though, which set me up to be more receptive to "different" foods." - I would agree with this statement.
So, that mother is wrong to assume that what she feeds her children now determines how they will eat forever.
I certainly rarely ate fast food as a child (much of it did not exist back in those days) and I was completely food phobic. My mother - who was willing to try just about anything - encouraged us to eat all sorts of things but I was so afraid of food that I simply could not try it.
Many years later, encouraged by a truly patient husband and some good friends, I'll eat just about anything. But still, no okra.
My parents were really old world and grew and scavenged a lot of our food--and got a lot of local food from farmers, bakeries, etc.--and my mom made almost everything from scratch (even butter, cheese, yogurt, cereal, canned vegetables, etc....).
I don't do this. I just don't have the time or motivation. But I do love simple fresh, seasonal food, like what I grew up eating. And I'm raising my son to appreciate the same kinds of food (and luckily he gets to visit his grandparents' gardens every summer, which he loves). I really appreciate their philosophy and drive for self-sufficiency and try to strive to incorporate this into my life any way that I can.
I wouldn't compare the hard-core, committed (and insanely time-consuming and almost political) stance that my parents had to the case that you have cited (that is, having a nanny feed the kids organic foods)... But I can attest that my parents (and their parents'and ancestors) had a tremendous effect on my way of eating (among other things, of course) and that is filtering down to my son. No one has a bigger effect on children than their parents when it comes to learning to discriminate between good/bad/mediocre. But it takes commitment, consistency, and a fair amount of fervor.
I was very picky as a kid--picky meaning I hated most of the veggies my mom forcefed me. I despised frozen string beans, canned peas, canned beets, green bean casserole, sickly-sweet candied yams, and anything involving cream of mushroom soup. I did, however, love broccoli, potatoes, corn, zucchini, eggplant, and peppers. But trust me, there were no exotic foods in southwestern Pennsylvania.
I still hate all of the things I hated then; they still taste like rank mush. I love fresh green beans, though, and sweet potatoes and fresh peas; I still dislike beets, and I'm convinced it's because of a night when my parents played "Beat It" and laughed madly while I sobbed over my plate of candy purple nastiness.
What I DID learn growing up is to eat balanced meals, that I should make my own bread and my own sauce (like my mom and grandmother did), and that spending time making dinner is always preferable to processed crap.
I hated the processed then, hate it now--problem is, people rarely call a six-year-old a Chowhound.
I think I put this in one of the "how to raise a Chowhound posts" -- it's ridiculous to think that the only way someone will end up eating a variety of adventurous foods is to eat that way from early childhood. It couldn't hurt, but it's not essential by any means. My mother was pretty adventurous, but I grew up in the 60s and 70s, so I still pretty much ate plain American food, with the occasional dim sum excursion or Greek Food Festival. My ex-husband and best friend, on the other hand, grew up extremely picky, only eating a few plain foods, and yet both of them will eat nearly anything today.
I try to feed my kids healthy food, but I think these obsessed parents are taking it way too far.
Oh this is a really tricky issue and I think that we're on the precipice of a real food/eating disaster for American children. I would like to see them all eat well, meaning that they enjoy a broad range of healthy foods along with some treats. I have a five year old who is a great eater and our technique was to expect him to eat what we eat and encourage him verbally plus get him very involved in food prep and even have him pick the food whever possible. It has worked very well. I also have him involved in several athletic activities including year round sports so that he has a high activity level. I took him on a special trip today to get some seckel pears because he was allowed to choose any treat he wanted and that's what he came up with!
That said, the growing panic over childhood obesity seems to be inspiring a level of hysteria and ineffective response that is going to make these kids gigantic!!!
I listened to a nutritionist explain that thus far all interference with obese children's diet has been shown not to help reduce their weight and is likely damaging their ability to overcome the problem as they grow older.
Sadly I can attest to this myself. I have a simple tendency to be heavy and this was of great concern to my mother. She was able to keep me underweight throughout my childhood and adolescence but I was so painfully hungry that I often had trouble sleeping. Through my own doing, but not surprisingly, I began gaining weight as soon as I was on my own. It was been a very difficult problem to overcome because reducing your weight as an adult when you have had such a negative weigh management experience as a child is not easy! When I first tackled it, I would feel myself actually begin to panic when I first reduced my calories.
It's been awhile and I was able to get back to my ideal weight but I can tell you that I would never ever restrict a child's calories in any way that made weight management anything bigger than a daily chore that we should keep in mind so that our bodies feel good and work well.
I often think of my husband's upbringing when childhood eating comes into question. He was permitted unlimited access to an unlimited supply of potato chips - his father worked in a factory and his mother was raising eight children so it was an anything goes kind of household. He went through a heavy phase as a boy that he managed his way out of independently when he grew older and was interested in girls. You couldn't pay him to eat a potato chip now, whereas it took me YEARS to be able to walk away from a potato chip bag!