COLUMN: Too much food for thought about healthy eating

Sometimes it's difficult to discern fact from fiction about what foods are safe for children.

The phrase “we have nothing to eat” has taken on new meaning.

Before Elise, it meant my husband and I had nothing appetizing in our pantry or fridge.

Now that our 17-month-old eats “adult” food, however, the lament is double barrelled – what foods are safe for our developing toddler?

We hope we’re giving her healthy meals on a daily basis, but who knows what impact the dietary choices we make for her will have?

It seems every week I am given reasons to curtail the intake of this or that food, or to dole out more money for a supposedly healthier option. It’s frustrating, because we are being asked to be cautious about even our staples.

The most recent news that made me want to throw my hands in the air and give up trying was a Consumer Reports study concerned with the amount of arsenic in our rice, one of the first foods we feed our babies in the form of a mushy cereal.

In September, The Globe and Mail reported that the group is pressuring the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to set a federal standard for arsenic in rice, while the FDA says it has found no evidence rice is unsafe to eat.

In addition to rice, I am told I’m also supposed to concern myself with pesticides in my produce (in particular, the Environmental Working Group’s “dirty dozen”), mercury in my seafood, and growth hormones in chicken.

But wait. Often you have to dig a little deeper. It turns out that in Canada it’s illegal to give hormones to poultry, organic or otherwise, so that “hormone-free” marketing is misleading.

A simple trip to the grocery store could easily become exhausting.

Some days I care more than others, buying organic apples and eggs, and checking product ingredients for corn syrup, MSG, and unpronounceable words that raise red flags. But other days I silence the alarm bells as I stroll the aisles, balk at the price tags on organic foods and tell myself to simply be satisfied I limit Elise’s intake of salt, sugar and processed goods.

We feed her plenty of fish (low in mercury), chicken (sometimes organic), green and orange veggies and fruit, and keep our own bad food habits out of her sight (I’m snacking on salty tortilla chips right now as she sleeps). Rice will remain in our diet, although I might give it a more thorough rinse.

Fresh, homemade meals will continue to appear on her plate, and I’ll try not to be too paranoid. And hopefully, that combination will result in a healthy child who also has a healthy attitude toward food.

Kristine Salzmann is a former Black Press reporter and mom to 17-month-old girl Elise. She writes monthly for The Leader on parenting issues.

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