( Originally Published 1922 )
In Detroit at the present time there is much talk about the malnutrition among school children. In New York the same condition was found several years ago. The condition is not confined to Detroit nor New York. It is a National evil. Why should it exist?
The Department of Health in Detroit, after making the tests, announced that the percentage of underfed children in some districts was as high as 20 per cent, and further stated that the greatest number of underfed children lay, not among the poor, but among the children of the well-to-do.
When the doctors were asked to explain why this condition should exist they were unable to answer. One theory advanced was that wealthy parents were prone to be lazy in the morning, and that the children through fear of being late rushed off to school with scant breakfast or with a cold, uncooked breakfast food"
Earnest, solicitous mothers resented this theory and its inconsistency is evident when we realize that the most delicate children are nearly always the recipients of the most solicitous care.
Mothers—you who know : call out in the loudest voice you can command to every other mother who doesn't know:
"DELICATE CHILDREN CAN BE MADE STURDY IF THEIR FOOD CONTAINS THE BLOOD-BUILDING ELEMENTS."
And these blood-building elements are found not in the fancy, highly advertised package—but in the plainest of foods in their natural state.
Give these delicate children whole wheat bread, milk (about a quart a day) and plenty of fruit for six months and watch them thrive. Add to this if you wish some whole grains in the morning and one or two vegetables at dinner and the children need nothing else unless some sweets in the form of honey, raisins and dates. (See page 104.)
There comes the voice of some indulgent mother who asserts that Jane is "very fond" of certain foods (possibly the injurious ones) or that she "won't eat" something else.
Perhaps you haven't thought of the fact that children's appetites are formed by what they are fed (though they will naturally like some things better than others). The baby who is gradually weaning will eat her prunes, her sifted carrots, her sifted spinach, her (ground) breakfast wheat and will love them, even if she does show extra glee when given a little honey.
Take that same baby and give her a mixture of flavors—humor her by giving her her dessert or some jelly before her meal and she will push her wheat away and raise a rumpus. It rests with you. Begin at this stage to cultivate the child's taste for right foods. She learns to like what she eats.
Repetition is habit. All habits, good and bad, are formed by repetition. Abnormal appetites are formed in the same way. (The candy fiend is an example.) If a child has an abnormal appetite for chili sauce, pickles, meat or strong food it is because she has already had too much of these foods. Her taste for fine flavors has been perverted.
To correct this and form the new habit do not scold nor coax nor bribe. Simply put the food' which is good for her on her plate. If she refuses to eat it let the matter pass without comment. Don't try to force her but don't give her the other food. If she eats little at that meal see that an apple or any fruit is within her reach if she should want it. (It is far better for her to eat nothing at all than to eat wrongly.) Keep this up the right food will taste good when she is hungry. Disguise it if you wish. A date muffin may start the good work. The one thing she must eat is whole wheat bread. She may choose her vegetables and fruits and if she is fond of meat she may have a small piece twice a week. If she is pretty badly spoiled as to her diet it may be necessary for the entire family to try some of the simple menus on the preceding pages. It will pay.
Don't force a child to eat what he really dislikes—but cultivate his taste along sane lines. You can keep a list of 100 per cent foods to which he takes kindly. Let them appear on the table often. Children do not tire of the same foods nor the same stories.
Apropos of what a correct diet will do for children, let me give you one illustration.
Mrs. M. is the mother of three children, the eldest is ten, the youngest three. Her brother is an osteopath practicing in Boston whose hobby is diet. He knows the value of whole grains and milk and gave to his sister a few peremptory rules—Result: Those children have never known a single day's illness.
Asked what she did, he replied: "Nothing much they have all the milk they want and they have never seen a piece of white bread in the house."
The children have fruit, cereal (whole grain), milk and bread for breakfast. For lunch—usually a soup or bread and milk or bread and honey with more fruit. For dinner, a mixture of vegetables. One of the children is overfond of meat and has to be curbed. The family have meat two or three times a week. There is always a supply of granulated honey and the home-made cookies, etc., which children love.
One day her little girl came in with the horrified statement: "Mamma, I know a little girl who eats pickles!"
That conveys some idea of how perfectly the system works.
With the corner candy store she had her troubles. Finally she elicited the promise that they (including the father) would not buy candy provided they could have all the nuts, raisins and dates they wanted once a day—after school.
Both Mr. and Mrs. M. are musicians—hence have not climbed the ladder of wealth. She keeps no maid and she hates housework with a deadly hatred. (Did you ever see an artist who didn't?) In spite of this, however, twice a week her own tapering white hands make the whole wheat bread on which her children thrive.
Don't forget that these children are exposed to the same germs and epidemics to which her neighbors children succumb, but their resistance is perfect. Moreover, the eldest child was handicapped at birth and through the first year of her life. It was not until the mixed diet was possible that she began to thrive.
It is quite worth thinking about.