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Food Nazis: A Rant

As a parent, it is part of my job to raise healthy children. That obligation includes regular medical and dental checkups, facilitating regular exercise, and offering healthy food choices. Like most red-blooded American boys, my son would undoubtedly choose Doritos over carrot sticks in a blind taste test, but he also willingly eats salad, most vegetables and fruits, yogurt, and lean meat. He doesn’t like milk, so I make sure he has yogurt and string cheese, and he balks at whole grain bread so I serve whole grain pasta and try to add high-fiber foods in at every opportunity. I buy as much organic produce and dairy as I can afford. The school lunch program has become healthier this year, and now offers only meals high in fiber, low in fat grams, and based on the food pyramid. As the result of all this, he is a spectacularly healthy child except for his pre-adolescent-onset Whining Disorder. The only significant threat to his health at this moment is from his father and me, either of whom might willingly shorten his life during a Nag-o-Rama.

It is my belief, as the steward of his food consumption, that there is room for treats. Dippin’ Dots at the mall, McDonald’s every other week or so, cones from “Tasty Twist” on summer nights and cookies right out of the oven are all part of his “diet.” Other folks do not agree. I have had children in this house who were so oppressed and depressed by living on Tofu Pups and soy milk that they could inhale a bag of Sun Chips in less than 5 minutes and then be snuffling around the kitchen looking for other sources of white flour, cane sugar and fat. I have also watched children who, despite being at a normal weight and having no medical conditions requiring a restricted diet, were publicly hectored and embarrassed by parents telling them to “put the cookie back” or that they had “had enough bread already.”

My personal absolute least favorite are parents who try to  legislate their own notions of “healthy” for other peoples’ children. According to the self-appointed Health Police, kids eat too much candy at Halloween, so their school party should include only a vegetable platter and a bowl of Goldfish crackers. Teachers should be banned from handing out the occasional Hershey’s Kiss as a reward for a job well done. No one should be allowed to bring in sweet treats for birthdays, or to sports practices or games. Even if one disagrees, personally, the weight of guilt and peer pressure are enormous if you choose to offer a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies for a post-game snack in front of the mom who sends orange sections and bottled water.

We should all strive to raise kids who make healthy food choices, stay at a reasonable weight and get plenty of physical activity. The fact is, though, that we live in a world full of Krispy Kremes, and a kid who has no experience with the perils of fat , sugar and salt will have an even tougher time making healthy choices once he leaves the protective orbit of parental influence. Anyone who has ever eaten in a high school or college cafeteria knows this to be true.

I would like to think that since Sam has had experience with all kinds of food, that he’ll know whether he wants a salad or a cheeseburger, and choose accordingly. I’d also like to think that if he eats pizza three nights in a row in college, he will recognize that his stomach is “off,” and that what he really needs to eat is a turkey sandwich on whole grain bread and a Clementine. I note with interest that he collects candy at Halloween and Christmas, and likes having it, but very rarely actually eats it. This morning, he found two chocolates in his Advent Calendar; he put them in his “candy drawer” and requested chicken noodle soup for breakfast.

I am as concerned about childhood obesity as anyone, and I have struggled with weight all my life, BUT, I firmly believe that dividing available choices into “good” and “bad” food, micromanaging and  projecting our own feelings and fears about food and weight onto our children is a sure way to perpetuate the anxieties and misinformation that got our society where it is today. A wise friend who is a Registered Dietitian says that “all foods fit,” and I believe her. We all want what we can’t have, and the fact that I can’t control myself in the presence of a bag of Cheetos doesn’t mean that Sam can’t eat a handful full and then walk away.

Teach your children to decide what they really want and whether they’re really hungry or just bored, tired or sad. Let them eat anything in moderation unless its medically unwise. Educate them about healthy choices, and talk about how whole grains, fruits and vegetables and calcium help them grow up healthy. Help them to get enough physical activity by taking walks and bike rides with them,  and letting them participate in athletic activities they enjoy.  Finally, for God’s sake stop trying to force my kid to eat organic sprout patties at the Valentine’s Day party at school because of your food-related issues. I can’t prevent you from turning your kid into a neurotic and guilt-ridden food-phobe, but I can ask you (in the nicest possible way) to stay away from mine.

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

13 responses »

  1. Hi Annie,

    I am totally with you on this one! As what I’d call a “moderate” health-foodie, I remember feeling entirely out of place at times when studying holistic nutrition, as even the mention of something “non-alternative” sometimes elicited horrified stares from classmates. In his book, Eating for Optimum Health, the (sometimes) wise Dr. Andrew Weil suggested that it may be MORE unhealthy to force oneself to eat “healthy” foods we don’t really like than to feast on “unhealthy” foods that bring sensory pleasure or the joys of social interaction into our lives. Sounds good to me!

    Ricki

    Reply
  2. Oh, Amen! Though it did bring back memories of hot lunches consisting of pizza, fries and a roll. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive. I must admit one thing TeenTuna has learned (and thankfully mostly manages herself) is her personal need for protein at every meal. Without it she crashes, both physically and emotionally. So for breakfast, although I can’t get her to eat an egg or a bowl of cereal to save her life, she is good with a ham and swiss sandwich, or even PB&J in a pinch. She’s probably be all over the chicken noodle soup, too.

    Reply
  3. Hi there Ann!

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    shannon@foodbuzz.com

    Reply
  4. Ricki,
    I love Dr. Weil! I agree that its easy to end up eating 10x more calories worth of whole grain, salt-free crackers when you really wanted (and would have been satisfied by) the slice of baguette with butter that you really wanted in the first place.

    greentuna,
    We all ate lunches like that – Stewart Food Service’s damp pizzas in a plastic bag from the “a la carte” line. Its good that Teen Tuna knows what she needs; lots of grownups don’t. As for the breakfast soup, that’s what my brother always had – he doesn’t like any “normal” breakfast foods, so he always had soup or leftovers and look how he turned out. (Well, he’s bald, but besides that…).

    Reply
  5. Great post annie! It sounds as if you offer your son plenty of healthy and wholesome food. I don’t think indulging in a cookie or some chips is going to do lasting harm.

    I lost a LOT of weight years ago and have kept it off. And I eat cookies and pies, etc. Those are some of life’s greatest pleasures and sometimes, despite the calories, nothing else cures the craving.

    I think your article very well explained how it is “all about balance”.

    Reply
  6. Thanks, jolynna! I have to admit I cringe when my husband brings Tyson’s Fried Chicken and Totino’s Pizza Rolls into the house for them to share during football games, but I have to remember that there will be people (besides his dad) waving fried food in front of him all his life. I’m trying to teach him the “don’t eat junk unless its really delicious and exactly what you want to eat” lesson. Its a work in progress.

    Reply
  7. Brava! I completely agree with you on this subject of food. I am a vegan and feed my children mostly vegan food. However, I am often the “bad” mommy who packs juice in my daughter’s lunch box, and takes her out for the occasional ice cream after school. We also eat chips, and cookies, and cupcakes on a regular basis. Life is about celebrating and food definitely plays a part in that. I would never push my food views on anyone and I don’t understand why others feel the need to comment or to control the behavior of others. I agree that in a world filled with so many choices you need to learn how to navigate and how to balance all of these choices.

    Reply
  8. Welcome, Krys! It sounds like your daughter gets the best of all possible worlds – a healthy, well-planned vegan diet and some treats to make life worth living! Sometimes, I think if we don’t have days when we’re the “bad mommy,” we just aren’t living sufficiently interesting lives. 🙂

    Reply
  9. Annie, I love that. That is going to become my new mantra.

    Reply
  10. Thanks, krys – we can form a two woman thumb-ringed, blog-writing, cupcake-baking Axis of Maternal Evil…. (my toenails are painted black, as well).

    Reply
  11. Amen to that! My toenails are painted purple. I am a newbie at the whole blog writing thing. My blog is http://www.veganmummy.wordpress.com . I really enjoy your writings – I am a daily reader! Best, K.

    Reply
  12. Krys, I quite like your blog! I am also thrilled to have a daily reader. It will make me sit up a little straighter and watch my dangling participles. Are you from the U.K.? I am wondering because you use “mummy” and refer to a “tin of milk” in your blog, and I associate both of those usages with my summers in England.

    Reply
  13. Oops! Took me awhile to get back to this thread. I am actually from Canada, growing up we were part of the British Commonwealth, so I guess some of that has rubbed off on me!

    Reply

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