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Do our children have poor diets?

Opinion from the New York Times: WHY do poor children have poor diets?

Some commentators contend that healthy diets are too expensive. Others argue that wholesome options are affordable and that junk foods that seem cheap are hardly a good deal. But both camps overlook what most parents know well: Children are picky.

The problem isn’t poor children. According to psychologists, most children treat new foods with trepidation. Often, they accept novel offerings only after eight to 15 attempts. But kids across the world learn to like a staggering array of edibles, in large part by tasting foods repeatedly. When children try a variety of options, they approach unfamiliar foods less gingerly. Experiences stick. Preferences learned in childhood often persist.

I met plenty of poor parents who wished that their children liked healthier food. But developing their children’s palates has hidden costs. When I asked her about offering cauliflower 10 times to shape her son’s tastes, a poor mother from a town outside Boston said: “No. No. That’s a lot of wasted food.” This mother faces an uncomfortable choice: She can experiment and risk an empty cupboard, or she can make her food last by serving what her son likes, even if it’s not the healthiest and even if she feels guilty about it.

To consume a variety of nutritious foods, children need to acquire new tastes. This is an opportunity that many families cannot provide. Schools can familiarize children with nourishing foods through gardening, experience-based nutrition education and healthy school meals. Because many schools lack the funding to expose children to varied, wholesome foods, it is essential to expand the promising programs that have begun to address this problem

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