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Sure it’s great to teach kids where food comes from and why healthy eating matters. But how do we make sure they don’t morph into pint-sized proselytizers who lecture other kids and make them feel bad because mom didn’t pack an organic apple?

I thought about this last week after a comment on my post about teaching kids about industrial meat. Audrey, who works in gardening programs with low-income children, mentioned how she’s careful not to disparage parents who make unwise choices for the kids at home. She also called for budding little foodies to keep it in check on the playground.

So I asked myself: What have my husband and I done to make sure we’re not raising an annoying kid?

Sigh of relief: I thought of a couple things.

First, when our daughter started preschool, we wanted to pack her snacks every day rather than let her eat what the school provided. That’s partly because we’re vegetarian and non-veg stuff can show up in sneaky ways, but it’s also because most conventional snacks contain ingredients we avoid (like trans fats, HFCS, artificial colors and flavors).

We wondered if we’d be causing trouble by having Tess be “different” from her peers, and I didn’t want the teachers to think I was judging them. But in the end we decided it was good for Tess to learn that it’s OK to make different food choices. Soon enough she’d be feeling peer pressure. Better to start her on the path to independence now.

But we kept it casual. We provided her snack without comment on anyone else’s snack, and she got to eat the blue cupcakes and other birthday/holiday treats right along with the rest of the class. Her teachers obviously knew where I stood on food (hello, we were providing our own snacks), but I didn’t make it an issue. (I did, however, notice a steady improvement in school-provided snacks and party treats. Just saying.)

Tess does sometimes ask why other people eat things that are  unhealthy, and I explain that not everyone understands yet how bad some things are, but that they (and we) are learning. So far that seems to satisfy her. And, for now anyway, the idea that different people eat different things seems to be a deterrent to evangelizing.

The other thing is that we’ve tried to instill this idea that we don’t say negative things about food that we’re eating or that anyone else is eating. This started as a way to keep the door open on a food Tess might try but not (initially) like. But it’s evolved into a way to show respect for all food choices, whether we agree with them or not. If she doesn’t like something she’s eating, it’s OK to tell us that, but we don’t want to hear, for instance, how gross something is.

If you’ve met a 6-year-old, you know that’s gotten harder as she’s gotten older, since kids live for the opportunity to call something gross. And then there’s that little matter of no longer being able to control her every influence every minute of every day. But we have noticed a difference in how Tess responds to food she doesn’t like (on her plate or someone else’s) vs. how other kids respond to food they don’t like. So there’s that.

Now if only we could get certain people (like, maybe, family members) to stop commenting on the way we eat.

Have you thought about this, too? How do you raise conscious eaters who aren’t preachy about it?