The Competent Parent: Dangerous food


Headshot2011Welcome to our weekly online series on parenting advice with Annapolis, Maryland, expert Dr. Deborah Wood.

Dangerous Food

Dear Dr. Debbie,

My wife and I both have science backgrounds, so when she tells me that we need to be cautious about what our children eat, I listen. Recently, she’s directing me (and our friends with young children) to read up on GMO’s – genetically modified “organisms” – specifically corn, sugar, soy products, and canola oil. But here’s the thing. When I was growing up, if we wanted to eat potato chips we ate potato chips. Life was easy. No one stressed out over foods.

But now it seems almost every family we interact with has at least one issue with ingredients – in some cases the child had an actual pattern of bad reactions, in others, such as mercury in tuna, or antibiotics and hormones in meat, the parents seem to be reacting to outside information before any harm could be done to their child. In fact the school our older two go to is encouraging parents to be “peanut free” with all foods sent in to school with the goal of not introducing this item to children during the years (ages two to four) when this sensitivity is most likely to begin.

Should I worry?



Click here to read last week’s post about kids who fight naptime.

Dear Dad,


There’s no denying the dramatic rise in the numbers of children with allergies, asthma, food sensitivities and autism. How much of this is due to harmful ingredients in their diet – or maybe even in their parents’ or even their grandparents’ diets? Harmful effects have been found from food products containing mercury, hormones, antibiotics, preservatives, artificial coloring, aspartame, and now GMO’s. Here’s a quick primer on foods containing GMO’s and some of the research that has been done with animals. Highly processed foods – fast food, pre-cooked foods – often contain high amounts of salt, sugar, and fat, too. Health problems caused by poor food choices plague our nation. Applying caution to your children’s diet is wise. A healthy diet is important for a child’s overall development and can affect generations to come.

Perhaps in your childhood, the foods you ate most often were home-cooked meals with daily servings of (fresh or frozen) vegetables. In that case, abstaining from potato chips becomes unnecessary. Maybe you even had a garden or had neighbors who shared their backyard bounty. However in today’s market, there are more “unfresh” foods than fresh foods available. It seems harder to find wholesome foods and to find the time to prepare the food yourself. It’s easy to get in the habit of eating things straight out of their plastic wrappings. (And what of the dangers of the plastic that touches the food???)

Food habits are learned – and can be changed if you put your mind to it. Seek out good information about food risks. Your peer group of parents sounds like a good forum for raising everyone’s awareness. Invest some family time in starting a garden or find a local organic farmer to invest in. Grocery stores are adding more and more organic produce and meat as customers ask for them. Buying clubs are a way to pool families’ grocery shopping to buy in bulk from organic suppliers.

Instead of worrying, apply your scientific sense toward providing the most nutritious diet you can for your family.

Bon appétit and Gesundheit.

Enjoy your food and good health, too.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She holds a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at

What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at [email protected].