The often objectionable children's party would be robbed of its evil effects if simple, attractive sandwiches were always provided in abundance before the ice cream and cake were offered, since few children would over-eat of the latter under these circumstances.
If children are to be allowed to eat freely the food must be simple in character and easy of digestion. The ordinary meats, with the exclusion of pork, cooked simply, few "made" dishes, an abundance of vegetables and fruits, only the simplest puddings, no pastry, occasional plain cake (not between meals), plenty of the best of bread and butter, of well cooked cereals and of milk and eggs will furnish variety sufficient for anyone. Tea and coffee are to be reserved for the adult, while cocoa may be used in moderation, chiefly for the milk with which it is made. Highly seasoned foods are to be avoided, as they tend to excite unduly the flow of the digestive juices and gradually make such flow dependent on their stimulation. Their continued use also seems to induce a craving for strong stimulants.
It is necessary to encourage many children to eat more fat than they are inclined to do. This may as legitimately be taken in the form of butter and cream as in that of fat meat, so generally repungant to children. Hutchison suggests that toffee taken at the end of the meal is a good medium for fat when there is difficulty in giving sufficient in other ways.
With young children special attention must be paid to the digestibility of the food. This is frequently a matter of personal idiosyncracy, and when this is the case the matter can only be determined by experiment. The safe way is to begin the diet with foods which are generally easily digested, and to allow those more difficult of digestion only at a later period. If any one article proves unwholesome in the particular case, it should of course be discarded.
On the other hand, it is most undesirable that children should grow up without learning to like all ordinary foods, and without being able to eat every kind of wholesome food. Such habit cannot be acquired unless a certain variety is provided and unless the child who is old enough be encouraged to try different articles. Even those less easily digestible may at a proper age be taken occasionally with impunity, for the sake of accomplishing this end. Vegetables, while so desirable in the diet, often seem to be an acquired taste.
Above all things there should be no yielding to a child's whims in allowing him to refuse the food offered and to require special provision for himself.
The question of eating between meals is one that frequently arises. During the school period there is difficulty in providing food at sufficiently short intervals. The child who has breakfasted early, often becomes exhausted before the time of the noon meal. This exhaustion sometimes is shown by the apparent stupidity or the inattention and restlessness of the child, and sometimes by extreme irritability. Wherever this interval is a long one, there should be provision for some luncheon during the morning. School lunches have been established in many places and when well conducted serve an excellent purpose. Where the establishment of such a luncheon is not possible, a light lunch carried from home, such as a sandwich, a slice of bread and butter sprinkled with sugar, or even some fruit or sweet chocolate, eaten 'in the middle of the morning, will do much to preserve the good temper of the child and to make it possible for him to do his work adequately. The child who at home grows hungry between meals should be allowed to have something to eat, provided it be bread and butter, a sandwich, or crackers and milk, or fruit. With the younger children the heartiest meal should be in the middle of the day, and the evening meai should be chosen with especial reference to ease in digestion.
In general, then, the food for children should differ from that of adults, first, in being of the most simple character; second, in the absence of stimulating substances, such as large amounts of spice; third, in the proportions of the different food principles. In addition to this the child should think as little as possible about the food he eats. The constant discussion of the wholesomeness of different articles of diet and the consequent directing of the attention of the child to his own bodily processes seems distinctly harmful. Such discussion should only be used when necessary in order to show the unsuitableness of some especially desired food that must be denied. Good habits in regard to food should be established at this age. rather than theories about it.