Can we please all agree to make this post a non-judgmental space today? Just like most other parents I am simply trying to do the best I can, and just like most parents—I do not claim to have all the answers. And as a result of some recent non-judgmental and constructive feedback from blog readers, I’ve been doing some thinking…and my thoughts are this: I never want my daughters to have to worry about food (or anything for that matter).
People sometimes imply that allowing your children to have free rein on junk food means “letting your kid be a kid,” but in reality I think they are confusing “eating junk food” with the happy-go-lucky, carefree feeling we often see in children. And in my opinion there are many ways to achieve that bliss, which I can assure you, is not only from junk food.
But I am the first to admit it’s not easy to constantly find that fine line between standing up for what you believe in (nourishing my children with the healthiest foods on the planet!) and also not being too uptight. Whether we like it or not, there is a social aspect to junk food. I tell my husband all the time “we’ve been there done that” …therefore I don’t care if I never again chow down on a Little Debbie Snack, a box of Nerds, or a Push Up (really, I don’t). But my children have not had the same experiences as me and no matter how much they “understand” why those foods are unhealthy who can blame them for wanting to see what they are all about? They are literally surrounded by this stuff on a regular basis – just look at school lunch rooms, TV commercials, and even check-out lines at the store.
The Feedback I Couldn’t Ignore
Aside from our 100-day pledge (which ended in 2010) we have never been fully restrictive on what our girls can and can’t eat. We certainly eat almost all “real food” at home, but now that our pledge is over our children indulge in processed “treats” at birthday parties, school celebrations, friend’s houses, etc. I certainly wish they weren’t offered junk food at so many events, but this is reality and I try not to stress about it (although I have become more involved at their school in hopes of continuing to see positive changes there). We also usually offer our girls a “once a week treat,” which is pretty much the only time we eat any big sweets (other than a super dark chocolate square), but more often than not they have junk food elsewhere so others were almost always beating me to the punch when it came treat time. This means our treats together as a family didn’t happen very often—or if they did my daughters would have to decide to forgo a treat that was being offered to them by someone else. Watching them make these decisions is what started bothering me deep down.
Then it just so happens that last weekend we had the chance to buy our kids their weekly treat, and by request we headed out for donuts (which I shared with this picture on Facebook). It was on that post where an interesting discussion started.
Although I can’t always sit down and read every single comment personally anymore—I do read a lot of them and value what our readers have to say. And I certainly did not overlook the comment from Erin that said, “Actually, excessive discussion of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food can play a large role on eating disorders.” Nor did I overlook the New York Times article that Marie shared that is entitled, “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods.” Then (as if I didn’t already have my knickers in a twist enough) a kind reader emailed me personally and said:
“When I see your daughter questioning her food, I am encouraged by her awareness, but also concerned. I did the same thing, and my mom—who was also hyper-aware of food (and for good reason!)—encouraged this in me. I eventually become afraid of the food and restricted anything that wasn’t ‘healthy’ —until nothing was (at the same time I over-exercised, because exercise was healthy too). It all made sense—until it didn’t. I just encourage you, from the bottom of my heart, to be careful and aware and honest—but also leave some space for ‘food to be food’—that’s become my mantra.” – 100 Days of Real Food Reader
Our Outlook Going Forward
I can truthfully tell you I have never even dabbled in eating disorders, although I (unfortunately) know many friends who have. Therefore I am no stranger to the subject and it’s of course not something I would ever want my daughters to struggle with. So literally right then and there I had a discussion with my husband and we agreed to make a slight change. As soon as my daughters came home from school I told my 2nd grader, “We’ve decided that you can eat the foods you are offered (within reason) when you are not at home, and they will not count as your ‘once a week treat.’ The weekly treats we will buy or make together as a family will happen no matter what. Mommy feeds you so much good, real food at home and that’s where you eat most of the time. You are such a healthy girl who is an excellent eater and also gets plenty of exercise so eating junk food at school or with friends once or twice a week could never erase that. Now eating cupcakes everyday (or twice a day) would not be a good thing, but a couple times a week is nothing for anyone to worry about.” And you know what, in the grand scheme of things—even though my daughters have their moments of course—they both really are super good eaters. They eat a wide variety of whole foods including lots of vegetables and are also fairly willing to try new things. So I wasn’t just talking the talk with her—even with highly processed junk food often feeling like my personal nemesis, I truly believe that eating it on occasion will not erase all that goodness.
And interestingly enough, even though my daughters have honestly never verbalized a complaint about our frequency of treats before, my 8-year-old seemed to really understand what I was telling her and even acted a little happy about this change. My kindergartner is still oblivious to quite a lot and frankly doesn’t even know what day it is half the time, so I spared her this “talk” because I didn’t think she’d even notice the difference at her age. But I do think what will go even further than this change is for me to (continue to) not act like the occasional junk food they eat is the end of the world (i.e. no guilt trip) while still educating them in a casual, non-threatening manner. I have also always been super careful about never criticizing my body in front of them, and I think that is another very important part of raising daughters with a healthy image as well. Now this parenting gig is something I am figuring out as I go (just like everyone else!) so we may continue to make adjustments as we move forward…but I can say that I do feel good about our renewed direction.
So today my 8-year-old came home from school and announced, “I had 3 oreos at lunch since it was a friend’s birthday.” Then she told me, “I read the ingredients, too.” And I said with a surprise, “Oh really, what did it say?” then with a laugh she said “I don’t remember.” Sounds like we are on the right track with having a carefree, worry-free kid who is slightly more aware than the others. :)