If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know my views on healthy eating are really simple. It’s about enjoying a good variety of real, nutritionally dense, home cooked food. It’s staying away from processed stuff that’s out of a box or a fast food restaurant. And if there is one thing I really have it out for, it’s sugar.
When it comes to my kids, I believe they should be eating the same healthy meals that we’re eating. I don’t want my kids growing up on pizza and hotdogs. So when I was enrolling my daughter Ana in child care I naturally enquired about the food. “Oh, we follow the USDA meal plans so it’s really healthy. They are eating mac n cheese with green beans today for example.” I was speechless. I disappointed myself that I continued with the enrolment anyway.
When I pick Ana up I can see the daily menu and what she ate up on the class room wall. There is always a vegetable and a fruit option and she generally eats both of these (I don’t dare ask if the fruit is in syrup, I suspect, at least some of the time, it might be). The “entree” (main dish) can be bit hit and miss in terms of “real food” (burritos, sloppy joes and mac n cheese all make it on the menu for example). It is also hard to really know how processed and sugar laden the meals are when they are just a name on the wall. I fear they are more processed than I’d like to admit.
To add fuel to the fire, Ana, now 2 and three quarters, is able to tell us in quite a lot of detail the highlights of her day. The Jelly Beans they glued onto the letter J. The “treat” one of the teachers gave them for good behaviour. Making a fruit loops necklace. Being rewarded with marshmallows for going potty. Even an attempt to go potty is sweetly rewarded.
Out of day care hours the onslaught of sugar and processed food continues. At birthday parties. And play dates. And Easter. And cherry pie on the fourth of July. And pumpkin pie at Thanks Giving dinner. Then let’s not forget the big daddy of all candy celebrated holidays, Halloween.
Now I find myself in a dilemma. Just how sugar free are my sugar free kids? And what should I do about it?
Do I pull a Jamie Oliver style intervention at Ana’s day care? Do I request that my child misses out on her post potty marshmallow whilst she watches her friends eat them? Do I send her off each day with her own “anti-processed- food- mom- approved- sack- lunch” and single her out? Do I steer Ana out of the room at birthday cake time? Do we miss play dates and cancel any special occasions where sugar might be involved?
Well… call me a hypocrite if you want to but I’ve decided to turn a blind eye to the day care treats and let her make her own food choices at parties.
I focus on what I can control. At home I’ve become even more of a sugar stickler (if that’s possible). There’s no jelly on toast. No sugared cereals. No maple syrup on packet pancakes. No fruit roll-upy-thingies. No cookies or cakes. No soda. No juice. Never. This way I know at least the majority of her food is sugar free whilst not making her a social outcast amongst her peers.
Interestingly, she is developing a taste for good food. When she’s hungry she drags her step stool up to the bench by the fruit bowl and checks what’s on offer. She requests apples, pears, oranges, bananas, melon, berries and grapes to snack on. She’s quite happy drinking water and milk because she knows those are her options. Her favourite vegetables include broccoli, tomatoes, carrots, zucchini, peppers and corn. She’ll ask for seconds of those at meal times. At parties she often chooses at least some of the healthier options for herself. Sure, she’ll help herself to a cupcake and she loves ice cream but often she naturally limits her own sugar fix. She certainly has a taste for pizza and hotdogs when they are on offer at a birthday but she’s never asked for them at home.
Without a fuss being made she seems to have worked out for herself that party food is for parties. Sure, she’s eating more processed food than I had anticipated she would when I was a naive pre parent but for me I feel this is an ok approach.
My question to you is, is it ok to take this approach when I still knowingly let my children eat food that is terrible for them or am indeed being a complete hypocrite and opting out of the conflict by allowing this to happen? (And then justifying that decision by telling you, hey, she’s turning out ok). What do other sugar conscious parents do in these situations? And if you are a pre (or non) parent and want to speak up, please let me know what you think!