That’s my two-year-old niece talking. My husband’s sister just had a baby, and we’re watching her daughter for the weekend. She and my two kids are in the back of the minivan; we’re on a road trip to a zoo.
We’re nowhere near a Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s or anyplace one could find kale chips. What we are near is a rest stop that offers plenty of crappy, kid-friendly food.
“Sweetie, we don’t have kale chips,” I tell her. “But we can go to the rest stop and see if they have frozen yogurt or maybe chicken fingers!” I think my sister-in-law would be kinda-sorta horrified to hear me say that, because she is all about feeding her child natural, preservative-free, 100% Good For You food. This is a kid who had an organic birthday cake at her last party.
“I want kale chips!” my niece says. “Kale chips! Kale chips! Kale chips!”
She’s adorable, but I feel like shoving a bag of Wise potato chips down her mouth.
Lest you think I’m the food devil, I am all for teaching kids to eat healthy, wholesome stuff. In our kitchen we have whole-wheat bread and pasta, assorted organic foods (milk, veggies, fruits) and a no-soda policy. I try to avoid fast food and when we do have it, there are limits. My kids know they can’t have both chicken nuggets and fries—it’s one fried food or the other.
But my kids live in the real world, where they are going to come into constant contact with unhealthy foods. And while I’d like them to crave salad over pepperoni pizza and kale chips over fries, I think it’s OK for them to occasionally eat the pepperoni pizza and the fries. I don’t want them inheriting my warped food attitude, the one that leads me to lust after bad-for-you foods.
My dad was into healthy food long before it was trendy. I grew up downing oatmeal sprinkled with bran flakes and salad with homegrown sprouts. The man made his own yogurt. Candy wasn’t allowed: “Sugar is poison,” Dad liked to say.
Thing is, completely depriving kids like that can make them crave forbidden fruit (make that forbidden chocolate). When my sister and I got older and went to a weekend activity program, we’d raid the vending machine for Snickers and Almond Joys. When Mom left us home alone, one of us would zoom to the corner grocery store to buy Cheez Doodles. Dunkin’ Donuts was our drug.
This impulse to eat off-limit foods has haunted me in adulthood. While I don’t keep much junk food in the house, if I’m at a party or buffet I tend to OD on the fattening stuff. At restaurants, I usually go for some overindulgent appetizer, dessert or both. Recently, my daughter sold Girl Scout cookies and we had several boxes around the house; one night, I downed an entire sleeve of Samoas. “Get those treats while you can!” my brain tells me. Needless to say, I’m not the skinniest girl.
I don’t want my kids growing up with that food demon inside them. Throughout their lives they’ll be exposed to many kinds of foods, and I’d like them to have a healthy response to all of ’em. I want them to consider food their friend, not their foe, and understand that as with many things in life, it’s a matter of balance.
And so I let them eat a mix foods. Although I try to help them understand why fruits, veggies, fish, etc. are good for them, I don’t make a point of calling stuff “healthy” or “unhealthy.” I never give the kids “treats” for good behavior so they won’t equate food with rewards. I’ve learned, from interviewing nutritionists for various articles, not to say things like “If you eat your veggies, you can have dessert” because it teaches kids that veggies = bad and dessert = good.
We have Pringles in the cupboard, along with kale chips. We have Tater Tots in the freezer next to organic frozen entrees. I don’t insist the kids eat veggies and fruits they can’t stand, and I pile their plates with the ones they do like. I expose them to all sorts of foods, teach them about portion size and hope that, unlike me, they won’t grow up constantly tempted by food they “shouldn’t” eat.
At last, we’re at the rest stop. The kids have chicken nuggets and carrot sticks, my niece survives without the kale chips, and it’s all good. (Nobody tell my sister-in-law.)
What sort of rules do you have for what your kids eat?
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Read more from Ellen at her other blog, Love That Max
Photo source: Flickr/Rob Boudon