This section is from the "The Young Mother. Management of Children in Regard to Health" book, by William A. Alcott. Also available from Amazon: The Young Mother
Were Locke still living, I should like to interrogate him at this place. He first speaks of giving children no meat till they are two or three years old; and then afterwards extends the period to three or four. The question I would put is this: If the child is healthier without meat till he is three or four years old, why not till he is thirteen or fourteen; or even till thirty, or forty, or seventy? And is not Professor Stuart, of Andover—a meat eater himself, and an advocate for its moderate use by those who have already been trained to the use of it—is not the Professor, I say, more than half right when he asserts, as I have heard him, that it may be well to train all children, from the first, to the exclusive use of vegetable food?
I have a few more extracts from Locke, particularly on the subject of bread.
"I should think that a good piece of well made and well baked brown bread would be often the best breakfast for my young master. I am sure it is as wholesome, and will make him as strong a man, as greater delicacies; and if he be used to it, it will be as pleasant to him.
"If he, at any time, call for victuals between meals, use him to nothing but dry bread. If he be hungry more than wanton, bread will go down; and if he be not hungry, it is not fit that he should eat. By this you will obtain two good effects. First, that by custom he will come to be in love with bread; for, as I said, our palates and stomachs, too, are pleased with the things we are used to. Another good you will gain hereby is, that you will not teach him to eat more nor oftener than nature requires.
"I do not think that all people's appetites are alike; some have naturally stronger and some weaker stomachs. But this I think, that many are made gormands and gluttons by custom, that were not so by nature. And I see, in some countries, men as lusty and strong, that eat but two meals a day, as those that have set their stomachs, by a constant usage, to call on them for four or five.
"The Romans usually fasted till supper, the only set meal, even of those who ate more than once in a day; and those who used breakfasts, as some did at eight, same at ten, others at twelve of the clock, and some later, neither ate flesh nor had anything made ready for them.
"Augustus, when the greatest monarch on the earth, tells us he took a piece of dry bread in his chariot; and Seneca, in his 83d epistle, giving an account how be managed himself when he was old, and his age permitted indulgence, says that he used to eat a piece of dry bread for his dinner, without the formality of sitting to it. Yet Seneca, as it is well known, was wealthy.
"The masters of the world were brought up with this spare diet, and the young gentlemen of Rome felt no want of strength or spirit because they ate but once a day. Or if it happened by chance that any one could not fast so long as till supper, their only set meal, he took nothing but a bit of dry bread, or at most a few raisins or some such slight thing with it, to stay his stomach. And more than one set meal a day was thought so monstrous that it was a reproach, as low as Caesar's time, to make an entertainment, or sit down to a table, till towards sunset. Therefore I judge it most convenient that my young master should have nothing but bread for breakfast. I impute a great part of our diseases in England to our eating too much flesh, and too little bread. Dry bread, though the best nourishment, has the least temptation."
I shall not undertake to defend all the sentiments of Mr. Locke in these extracts; but in regard to the main point—the nutritive properties and wholesome tendency of bread, and the importance of making it a principal article of diet for children—I think his views are just. In short, they do not differ, substantially, from those of a large proportion of the best writers on this subject in every country, during the last three hundred years. As if with one voice, they dissuade from the use of too much animal food for the young, and encourage the use of a larger proportion of vegetable food—bread, plain puddings, rice, potatoes, turnips, beets, apples, pears, &c., and milk.
Yet they all, or nearly all, seem to write just as if they did not expect to be believed; or if believed, to be followed. They seem to regard mankind as so inveterately attached to old habits, and so much addicted to flesh eating, that there is little hope of reclaiming them.
Now, though my opinions are no more entitled to respect than many of theirs, I hope for greater success than they appear to do. I expect that many young mothers who read this work, will be led to think and inquire further on the subject; and if they find that the views here advanced are in accordance with reason, and common sense, and higher authority, I am not without hope that they will reform, and do what they can to reform their neighbors.
I have dwelt the longer, in this section, on the general principles of diet, because I am of opinion that whatever is true, on this subject, in regard to the diet of children, soon after weaning, is equally, or nearly equally applicable to the whole of childhood, youth, manhood and age. It is not true that one period of life, and one mode of employment, demands a diet essentially different from that which is demanded at another period, and in other circumstances; provided always, that the individual is in health. Occasional instances of the kind, there may be; but they are not numerous.