It is something most of you probably worry about when starting a new activity or school for your child…the snacks. That moment when you see the snack sheet full of processed foods like Oreos and Chips Ahoy and you at once cringe at the thought of your child eating these foods, yet also long for your child to be ‘normal’ and enjoy a shared snack with new friends.
The Dreaded Snack Menu
A recent post by Caron* of First Bites (a preschool healthy eating program) has raised a compelling argument:
If obesity is now designated as a disease, then why should our ‘real food’ kids be diagnosed as ‘healthy eaters’ as if it were some kind of ‘special need’? These days, being a ‘healthy eater’, is to be abnormal. To feed your kids healthy food is to be a mother who is depriving her kids of their childhood.
“Oh for goodness sake, just let the child have the cookies and candies. It won’t hurt them.”
“You know you won’t be able to control what they eat forever. You might as well let them have the junk and at least be exposed to it lest they gorge themselves on it.”
“We used to eat those foods all the time and we are fine.”
“A little sugar isn’t going to hurt her. You are killing her childhood.”
The problem this argument exposes so eloquently is that we have put cost and convenience ahead of health. Obesity affects one in three children yet, because of the way our food system is set up, it is far cheaper to serve the same packaged snacks of Oreos, Chips Ahoy and Goldfish to every child across America than to have them eat a piece of whole fruit. It is far more convenient to serve snacks out of pre-sealed packages than it is to take the time to cut up fruit. It is also convenient to give kids what one is certain they will eat instead of what they should eat.
Frankly, we all do. To drive the perception that money and convenience is more important than the future health of our nation’s children and to shame them into thinking that eating properly is different or boring is to condemn them to a life of processed foods, ill health, and malnourishment not to mention low self-esteem.
What gave me pause in this article was that only two parents came forward to complain about these snack choices. When will the tide turn?
I, for one, will not back down to parental peer pressure and accept the not so gentle nudges and comments about my uniqueness in feeding my daughter real food. I can take the heat and blaze a path forward. I have a very thick skin. While I know we cannot eat only real food 100% of the time, I use the times that we do not eat it as a chance to discuss with my daughter how different the processed food tastes from our own and how it makes us feel. I know that I cannot control what she eats forever, but at 4 years old I can certainly flavor her world with real food so that when she is grown she will remember what real food tastes like and how good she felt while eating it. And you know what? I fed her ice cream made from fresh raw cream for breakfast last week. I can assure you, she is not missing out in all of the fun!
What do you think? Is this something you struggle with on a daily basis? What do you do about it? Share your comments please for the benefit of every real food mama or daddy. Our community is what helps to strengthen our resolve to nourish our children.
Please check out the new First Bites preschool curriculum and see if your school can sign up to the pilot program in the Fall.
I also encourage you to check out the educational materials from Nourishing Our Children which is celebrating their 8th anniversary with a nice bundle of their materials for a great price. Nourishing Our Children is a non-profit and their video was the first that I saw that helped explain to my friends and family about proper nutrition.
at age 4 you can almost totally control what she eats so as her parent you should do what is best for her. That is our job. I can’t stand when people say they can’t control what their child eats. Really? Who is paying for the food and putting it in your house? Not the child.
Lindsey G. says
I have been wanting to create a meme about this for months – thanks for the reminder! 🙂
Wait until your daughter is in school, it gets even worse. Teachers, librarians, and the school reward kids with junk food and candy. Almost every activity or reward is food based and not real food. I am constantly sending in alternatives for my kids to eat. My kids do get to have treats such as cupcakes or cookies on occasion but I make them. I also send in a bag of organic and dye free candies for my kids to swap out for stuff they earn in class. My kids know that if they earned something at school I will replace it when they get home and it is even better.
Lindsey G. says
Food as a reward is a big no no. I can’t believe people do this. It just teaches kids to have such a strange relationship with food. Food should be for sustenance, nourishment and pleasure…not because they are good or bad. I also do not like the message it sends that junk food is a reward and is ‘good’.
We’ve recently cut out most processed foods in our house but my 2-year-old daughter eats the lunches and snacks provided by her day care (in addition to the healthy snacks I send in with her) because I gave in to the peer pressure. Thanks for this post – I’m hoping to switch her to only my homemade real food lunches and snacks and this post has pushed me further toward that goal. I already successfully jumped the first hurdle: I finally put my foot down and demanded that the owner of the day care stop offering her cookies and crackers and candy on the way out every day at 6:00 pm…right before dinner. The owner’s response was that it “breaks [her] heart to see the kids so hungry before they go home.” They aren’t hungry (especially my daughter who has double snacks every day: the processed one they provide + the real food one I send) – they are conditioned to stop at the desk and get handed those treats on the way out. It only took 3-4 days for my daughter’s tantrums to stop.
Lindsey G. says
Yes! I remember my daughter having that issue at her first daycare. They used food to soothe and avoid tantrums…not a healthy eating habit to instill at all! Keep at it mama! You can do it!
My kids are older and they don’t feel “deprived.” They feel sad for kids who eat microwave dinners and boxed junk. They can make the connection now that those foods make them feel sick. They always decline store bought birthday cake because the icing makes them feel sick. I remember my grandmother making all my birthday cakes and everyone looked forward to my birthdays to have a piece (everyone else had store bought.) Honestly, I don’t get this mentality. Are we not free to choose what we eat? Who has decided that processed foods are universally considered desirable?
Yes! Thank you for this post! I cancelled my daughters Vacation Bible School enrollment because of the atrocious snack menu! I was mortified when I saw it: here is the list:
• Popcorn from Lexington Venue Theater;
• Jelly Belly jelly beans (5) (white, blue, green, black, pink);
• Cheese (American or cheddar, white & orange) (served separately from crackers)
• Market Basket (“MB”) brand Rich & Crisp crackers
• MB brand “ritz” crackers • Hanover baked soft pretzels
• MB brand mini marshmallows
• MB brand raisins
• Skittles (3)
• Dutch Treat sugar ice cream cones
• MB brand plain powdered donuts (mini, from 12 pack)
• Dots candy (1) (colors will vary)
• MB chocolate grahams
• MB crispy rice marshmallow squares
• Fruit Rollups Flavor Mixers (colors will vary)
• Confectioner’s sugar mixed with water
What the heck! Every single “food” contains a GMO ingredient banned in every country but ours. And everyone thinks I am the crazy one…..It is scary living in the U.S.
I can totally relate to this. We changed our diet a couple of years ago. We are faced constantly with junk food and it’s hard for my children to understand why everyone else gets to eat it but they don’t. I try to make healthy treats for them often so they don’t feel too deprived but it is so sad to see how much our society accepts a food product over real food. It’s also hard on me when they really want what their friends are eating. We have tried to limit sweets(not made with real ingr.) to special occasions but we are finding that there are too many “special” occasions so we have to be more limiting.
Glynis Corkal says
I’m not a parent, but I am an auntie – and I’m shocked to see the foods on these lists are considered healthy snacks. You might as well not bother to feed the kids if you’re only going to fill them with empty calories. Snacks between meals are meant to be nutritious – to give kidshealthy energy not sugar highs. What happened to fruits, carrot sticks, cheese and crackers? There are easy alternatives to just getting packaged foods.
I’m surprised no one even mentioned the juice problem. Day cares love to offer juice as a”healthy” choice, which it is not. And everyday another parent brings in cookies, cupcakes, or donuts to celebrate a birthday. I can’t stand it! The facilities that actually do honor real foods and low sugar consumption are so expensive it is hardly realistic.
Campbell Keenan says
I agree fully with the remarks above. It seems most affluent humans and of course children, don’t have the self discipline to resist putting excess food of the wrong kind in their mouths. I think government intervention is needed – it worked with smoking. Parents through blogs like this and on school committees, etc. should insist on it.
More and more studies show that exercise, especially a sport that the child enjoys, is complementary to good nutrition and importantly, it helps children’s cognitive development, – they think more clearly, achieve better grades at school and grow into more balanced, self confident and happier adults.
Child (or adult) obesity is a recent disease of affluence. Many parents themselves are afflicted by it and are obsessed about the difficulty of losing weight, whereas I believe the solution is quite simple. In the 3rd world, it is rare to see obese people, whether adults or children. The latest ‘fad’ diet is probably not going to help. For some people, their metabolism converts food to weight very easily – it is ‘in their genes’ they say and if so, they have an efficient metabolism, because they don’t need much food to survive – they would be one of the fortunate ones in the ‘hunter gatherer’ days! Limiting intake is only a matter of degree.
As a kid, I grew up in New Zealand during the 2nd world war, when food was scarce and rationed. I remember only 2 kids out of 400 at my primary school who were overweight. One lived on a farm and ate dairy and other foods which were obviously not rationed or at least, were hard to ration by the authorities. The other had no interest in physical activity, but loved eating, particularly fatty fried food. Overweight adults were also a rarity.
I walk along the streets of Balmain in Sydney, after schools are out and most kids are eating ice creams, or consuming sugary drinks, bought for them by their mothers! When I grew up, the standard of living was much lower, but an ice cream or lemonade was a special treat, bought for me rarely.
Controlling a child’s obesity starts at home and parents need to set the example and use some old fashioned discipline. This is not always easy, but the ability to achieve it in a way that doesn’t turn children off is an art that parents can work at for a win/win result. Nutritious meals of a modest size, devoid if possible of processed or fast food is a great start. If the meal size is too large, parents should remove the excess and put it out of sight, as most people, including children (and me) can’t resist eating what is put in front of them. See http://fitnessforum
I certainly don’t want the government “helping us” eat healthy. They will certainly screw it up. They are the reason schools won’t serve whole milk, because they think it makes you fat. All of us have our own food pet peeves, and many of them are different according to our beliefs, health, and specific needs. But I think most of us can agree that so far, government doesn’t have a great track record. Heck, just look at gmo labeling for a perfect example.
Parents have to teach their kids, and those who don’t learn as kids can choose to learn it as adults. I think that by the time our children are grown the divide will be a lot more stark, and we won’t be such a minority anymore. People will choose one side or another. And as hard as it is to watch people choose to be unhealthy, there is nothing we can or should do about it.
When I was in elemantary school my mother cared about real food and always packed me healthy lunches with cucumbers, broccoli, sandwiches on pumpernickel bread. Sometimes the other kids would make fun of me – no one in my rural school had ever laid eyes on pumpernickel, I was sure. All I wanted to do was be like the other kids. Most didn’t envy me but one girl in particular did. She was the type who always got a free lunch ticket and had to eat breakfast at school because she did not receive it at home. (The fare was a packaged donut in case you were curious.) She went on and on about how she wished her mom packed her a good lunch like mine. When I told her I wanted to try a school lunch she proposed a trade for one day. The lunch lady knew my name wasn’t Kristie but she let me go with a stink eye. I gobbled up the fried tater tots and nuggets, realizing it wasn’t as good as I thought it would be. I looked over at Kristie’s table and she was happily munching on the raw broccoli I had complained about days earlier. She gave me back my lunch box and told me how good my lunch was. After feeling sorry for myself and my lunch, all it took was one kid’s opinion to make me never feel sorry about having “different” food again. She normally ate the institutional junk food she was served, and she knew a good meal when she got it. Sometimes a kid just needs a little perspective, and the message gets through loud and clear from their peers.
Lindsey Gremont says
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your story! That was a great one. Now I just need to make a mental note to have this someone happen to my daughter in a few years time! 😉
That is one thing I have come to realize with eating non-prosessed foods, you can eat dessert for any meal! Even tonight I just made an almond-fig crumble and the chocolate ice cream from your site and a vanilla one from another, to serve for dinner. We will just add some raw veggies to go with it and it’s a healthy, fun not-normal meal. But there is nothing in it that is not real–buckwheat, brown rice flour, figs, almond butter, coconut milk, vanilla, honey, carob and cacao. I don’t serve this all the time, but I don’t feel bad serving it to my family when that is what sounds good for a meal for the day. It’s so fun to see what we can come up with and I secretly smile when my kids come home and say that their friends took more than one bite of their homemade lunch. It’s hard sometimes with all the nay-sayers, but its fun to see how strong my kids are and how as they grow, they start to realize that they really don’t want the junk even without proding from me.
Over the holidays and for a few weeks before, I had let our diet slide some. Quite a bit really. Then one day a few weeks ago I took my 8 yr old daughter to a movie. I packed a few healthy snacks, including healthy sweets, but not enough for the length of the movie. She was really hungry so agaonst my own better judgment I let her have some food from the theater’s snack bar. On the way home she started talking about how she was feeling. And she began to cry. She said Mom can we pkease go back to our good vegan diet? I don’t like how I feel now and I know I feel better when we eat vegan. For her “vegan” means healthy whole foods. And no animal products. Well when your 8 yr old cries and asks for healthy food because even she knows it makes us feel better how do you say no? We discussed it some more. I asked her if she was really up to giving up some things she really liked and she said yes. The next day I put us back on track. And in just a few weeks we are both feeling better. The other day I stopped for gas at a convenience store. She automatically asked for Cheetos then stopped and said never mind I don’t want thm I want healthy food. Sometimes I fail miserably at this parenting thing, this eating healthy thing, but I am thankful for a wise daughter who helps me remember how much better life is when fueled by the good stuff.
Andrea at Opulent Cottage says
Bravo, Lindsey! You won’t regret the effort you put into this, I can tell you from experience! Our daughter is now 19 and a college sophomore, living in an apartment so she can make her own healthy meals rather than eat the processed, nasty food that is served in the dorms. We fought the good fight the entire time she was in public school and it was worth every sacrifice that we made. Believe me also when I say that when it’s over, you will never hear from or connect with those other parents again, so don’t give a thought to what they have to say now. Do what’s right for your family! And feed the other kids your wonderful, real food every time you get the chance, it will impact them more than you know 🙂
Tatyana @ Baby Meal Plans says
I don’t think there is a way to avoid snide remarks from other people, but to grow thick skin. I’ve been feeding my baby healthy homemade baby food since he was 4.5 months old. But I often hear people say “just you wait … he’ll turn into a picky eater once he’s 2.”
Sounds discouraging. I do have thick skin and continue on with feeding him healthy and homemade. But what about so many other moms, who just give up and go for the convenience of store-bought packets? And then it leads to store-bought, pre-packaged, processed, sugary snacks. And on and on.
Thanks for your message. We need more moms to grow thick skin and not waiver in feeding our babies and kids healthy foods.