Gimme Sugar: My kid loves junk food, and I'm not ashamed. By Nan Mooney for Babble.com's "Bad Parent" column.Nan Mooney
My kid loves junk food, and I’m not ashamed. by Nan Mooney
June 11, 2009
Last month, I took my fifteen-month-old son Leo to his friend Elliot’s first birthday party. It was a mostly adult gathering and as we sat around the table the mother of a seven-month old offered him a taste of ice cream from her spoon.
“I’m only giving him a taste,” she explained, cheeks flushed. “I almost never give him sugar.”
Across the table, the mom of the birthday boy was feeding him the slimmest sliver of carrot cake.
“It is his birthday,” she apologized. “This is practically his first sugar. We haven’t even given him meat yet.”
Standing in the kitchen doorway where I was letting Leo demolish an entire adult-sized piece of cake, I – as per usual when then conversation turns to baby diets – kept my mouth shut.
Because if I opened it, I’d have to admit that the first food Leo ever tasted was ice cream, straight from the plastic spoon at Molly Moon’s ice cream parlor after a trip to the zoo. Then I’d have to admit that on his first birthday he didn’t get some paper-thin slice but a full-sized piece of banana cake with plenty of frosting, and he downed every last crumb. That not only has he eaten meat of pretty much every persuasion, he’s also delved into pizza, fish sticks, and enough homemade cookies and cake to win me the June Cleaver award.
As someone who’s tired of getting the fish-eye from people who seem to think feeding your child a donut is the equivalent to feeding him crack. I’m just going to come clean and say it.
My kid eats junk.
Part of it is practicality – or maybe just laziness. As a working single parent, I learned early on that I can’t keep every last ball in the air, not matter how ostensibly good it is for my child. Already, there have been plenty of nights when the home-cooked well-balanced meal of my intentions morphed into french toast.
But there’s a value system at play here too. I want eating – and life – to be fun for Leo, not something full of rules and shoulds. And let’s face it, junk food is fun. I don’t want to raise a child who’s a Puritan, who can’t kick loose and enjoy life’s pleasures. Maybe I’m waltzing him down the road towards obesity and heavy recreational drug use, but I’m willing to take that chance.
For me, this love affair with junk food is also personal. As a teenager I struggled with food. I had eating disorders and played pretty heavily into the shoulds and won’ts and endless rules. I feel lucky I have a boy, who won’t have to face the same kind of love/hate relationship with his size and shape. But if I came away from all that having learned anything, it’s that denial is a dangerous tool and that too little of anything can be as damaging as too much.
I wasn’t always the junk food cheerleader. While Leo was still nursing, I had visions of being one of those moms who raised her kid the Super Baby Food way. I planned to reform both our eating habits to be full of whole grains and leafy greens and sugar only on birthdays and special occasions. It sounded like the right thing to do.
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My kid loves junk food, and I’m not ashamed. by Nan Mooney
June 11, 2009
I got my first inkling this wasn’t going to work out when I took Leo to a party when he was about 3 months old. I watched a father try to steer his two kids away from the chocolate chip cookies and towards a plate of shrimp. Could I pull a lie like that over on my son? That shrimp is a viable choice over a chocolate chip cookie? Surely my kid is going to be smarter than that.
Then there was the friend who told me she never fed her three kids sugar, but that she and her husband pulled the ice cream tub from the freezer every night the second they went to bed. And another friend whose mother raised them on applesauce-sweetened date bars and told them they were cookies. And the mom I met at the park who proudly informed me that she’d baked her daughter a tofu-carob birthday cake for her second birthday and swore up and down this was celebrating. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that building a junk food-free life for Leo would involve a lot of lying – and that’s one dynamic I don’t want unfolding between us.
I can’t say I get any support in the popular press with this one. Every time I turn around there’s another parenting magazine or newspaper headline warning me my child’s going to be an obese and angry underachiever if I offer him any snacks besides apple slices and baby carrots.
Do we really have to do every last thing that’s good for our kids? Of course, those articles never mention the other side of things. But those of us who grew up around health nut families know the truth. There’s something wrong with kids who don’t ever get a taste of the darker side.
Children who are never exposed to junk flip out when they enter an environment that might potentially contain an M&M. I remember how, the second my mother left us alone in the kitchen, my friend Sarah would leap to the countertop like Cat Woman and begin scouring our cupboards for stale redhots and open bags of chocolate chips, anything that might smack of a sugar high. Kids like Sarah never learn the art of moderation. When they go off to college, instead of binge drinking, they’re likely to hole up at McDonalds and inhale five Big Macs at a time.
When it comes down to it, I don’t want to deprive my child of the experience of indulging in wanton pleasure. Sure, technically junk food is not good for him. But do we really have to do every last thing that’s good for our kids? Does that honestly make them better people or just uptight, inflexible, and holier than thou?
For now, I’m trying to model reasonably healthy behavior on my end and pretty much letting Leo eat what he wants. If he starts angling for ice cream and candy morning, noon and night, that may have to change. Until then, I cast my vote for raucous over restraint. When it comes down to it, I’d rather be raising a fun, inventive, original ,sugar-hyped little boy than a kale-and-brown-rice-eating , mind-your-manners bore.
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sheillks Jun 19, 4:02 AM
FactCheck on 6/11/2009 at 9:12 PM Flag “I like real food – I think that people who eat a lot of processed ready-made food are ignorant and lazy and lacking in imagination. How is that for right back at you.”
Wow—I’ve only read a few of these articles and I don’t see where the “bad parent” comes in. Where does plain old common sense figure? As long as you’re feeding your child a balanced diet of healthy food, the “bad” food isn’t bad.
Many, many people (I’d guess a median age of forty-five and under) never learned to cook. Never learned about good vs. bad food. They were born in the era of “convenience” food and that is what is good to them even now. Most do know about the food pyramid and “square” meals. There have been whole generations raised on hot dogs and bright orange mac-n-cheese. I still love a good hot dog and always make my own Mac…it doesn’t make anyone else wrong and worthy of name-calling. And fresh isn’t always affordable. Many times it much cheaper to buy (i.e) canned tomatoes or green beans. A box of orangeronni is much, much cheaper than making it from scratch.
Give people a break on time and money. Not everyone has much of either.
legume Jun 16, 4:09 PM
I think the “bad parent” thing is just sorta inherently flawed as a concept for the simple fact that the authors of these confessionals are all professional writers whose bios appear at the bottom of the page. Isn’t part of being a truly bad parent being unaccountable?
Still, I do like reading the articles, and I totally related to this one. My mom was a health nut and very controlling about what we ate and I look back at my childhood and remember that I always felt hungry and sort of like I was being punished. I want to teach my son that all kinds of foods are delicious, and that includes veggies, fruits, ice cream, and the occasional happy meal.
cakeeater Jun 16, 3:23 PM
I was a true granola baby way ahead of my time, brought up on a macrobiotic diet with the raison oatmeal birthday cakes and whole wheat sprout sandwiches in the school lunch bag (actually an oversized and much used grocery bag). How I dreamed of sitting at the lunch table and opening a small brown paper bag overflowing with balogne sandwiches on white, twinkies and cool aid. Sleep-overs at friend’s houses were absolute heaven as we gorged on fish sticks and rice crispy bars. My sisters and I regularly pilfered loose change from the sofa so as to sneak down to the corner store for any and all artificially flavored and colored delights. We now have an obsession with all that is sugared. Did it ruin my life? No. Do I have an eating disorder beyond a true appreciation of Haagen Daz? Not at all. Am I now a health freak? No way! My mantra is enjoy food and be happy. My kids eat junk, but they also eat a ton of fruits and veggies. They are 1 and 3 and enjoy steamed mussels, pate, sushi, broccoli as much as french fries and pudding. I say, let them eat cake!
Grendel Jun 16, 9:17 AM
good for you! i have two grown daughters, and we made the mistake of falling into the competitive no sugar-no refined carbs-no meat regimen when they were babies (it was the sugar-is-white-death 70s).
as soon as they were old enough to venture out into the world, it was katie bar the door when it came to food. Both now struggle with weight problems.
If you make food into an issue, trust me, it becomes one that lasts a lifetime.
I’ve learned that allowing kids to eat birthday cake, cookies and candy in moderation and without making it a big deal results in adults who don’t have to preceive junk food as forbidden fruit.
maybe Jun 15, 11:30 PM
Why,I have no idea, it’s like an addiction. I hate these articles, but I keep reading them and then writing about why I hate them. I think it’s because in real life I don’t get a chance to meet the mythical judgmental moms that this site and other media keep telling me I’m fighting with. In real life, my guess is most of the people on here get along just fine, because we’re all too busy making our own choices and having our own troubles to be judgmental of the non-tv watching woman at the playground (who by the way we may need to ask to watch our kid while we take the other one to the potty), or the one who so nicely shares her organic carrots because we forgot to bring a snack for our 2-year-old (who would rather have a cookie). Maybe in real life we see the crazy woman who tries to work and also take care of her kid with no childcare, but she looks so damn tired that we can’t bear to think badly of her, but online, she and everyone else lets it all out. We can vent all our insecurities at each other with no ill effects.
Or maybe we think if we keep complaining enough someone will listen and put up some better content!
IHeartJessicaMama Jun 15, 4:24 PM
Shrimp cookies! Ha ha ha!!!!
JessicaMama Jun 13, 10:53 PM
How ’bout we just whip up a batch of shrimp cookies? Everyone wins.
mamazee73 Jun 13, 7:22 PM
La Leche League leaders told me (holding my first precious son) “a variety of foods, in as close to their natural state as possible” – it’s a pretty good rule. Doesn’t rule out cheezies if that’s all you can grab on a roadtrip 🙂 – but gets you back on track pretty easily once you get where you’re going.
this, from a mom whose mom fed her Dairy Queen ice cream on the way home from the hospital (yeah, that’s right – i was a couple of days old when i first had DQ) “It was so cute to see you suck that little curl off the top of the ice cream cone!”…
another working mom Jun 13, 3:12 PM
One argument for feeding more nutritious food would be an economic one – I find that kale is one of the best deals around on vegetables, and bulk foods like oats and rice are also so much less expensive than pre-made foods or sodas or otherwise.
Another argument for not feeding sugary foods is one of history – this is the first time in our history that so many people have had such easy access to junk food and sugar. We don’t know the consequences yet of feeding our kids so much of this stuff.
Realfoodformeplease Jun 12, 10:53 PM
In our society, crappy, over-processed food surrounds us making North Americans the most obese on the planet. Young children raised on fatty, sugary foods tend to gravitate towards these as adults leading to lifelong patterns of poor eating habits and the health problems associated with it. Who are you trying to convince when you come out swinging at folks who try to swim against this tide and teach their children a healthier way to treat their bodies then to just go with the popular culture and submit yourself to high sodium, saturated fats, artificial colours and refined sugars. I do not buy the *I do not have the time* argument – real food can be made fast and easily – you just have to take the time to educate yourself and commit to it. Why would you not want to feed your children with foods that would give them the best opportunities in life – priming their immune systems, enriching their brain capacity, enhancing their abilities to concentrate, etc. Toss a can of salmon into the pasta, use fresh tomatoes, toss blueberries on the cereal. So many simple, easy fast ways to boost your childs nutrition. I think it is a crime the way people justify their lousy food habits and then sit back and say, oh, well, everyone does it, I was raised on this, I turned out okay, etc. We absolutely have to change the way we think about food and start getting back to being real. Ms. Nan, you are better than that and you know it. Stop feeding crap to your child and your audience.
Manjari Jun 12, 4:09 PM
“Could I pull a lie like that over on my son? That shrimp is a viable choice over a chocolate chip cookie? Surely my kid is going to be smarter than that.”
Why would that have to be a lie? I will always choose shrimp over cookies, because that’s what tastes good to me. I see nothing wrong with children experiencing the pleasure of real ice cream and cake in moderation, but to make the connection that feeding kids healthy food makes them uptight, etc., is ridiculous. This whole essay is just silly.
why Jun 12, 3:35 PM
It seems like every one of these “Bad Parent” articles is ridden with comments from readers who can’t stand these pieces and feel it necessary to say so. My question to those people is, why bother reading these, then? I’m not trying to be snarky, I’m geniunely curious as to why you would read something you don’t enjoy and then take the time to post a comment saying so? I ask because I do enjoy reading these pieces whether I agree with them or not. I like them because they do make me think. I also enjoy reading the comments and occasionally participating in the back and forth debate. For the sake of those of us who do like these articles and want to discuss them in earnest, please consider not filling up the space on these boards with comments solely about how you’re not going to read these pieces anymore.
Melissa Andrews Jun 12, 8:54 AM
MomofBeans Jun 12, 7:04 AM
Slightly off topic, but I LOVE KALE. It is so delicious (when prepared correctly) and seriously, if you hate Kale and live on the East Coast, you should visit the Yabba Pot in Baltimore and order the Live Kale Salad. It is life-changing. Sorry to interrupt the regularly scheduled comments…just had to defend my beloved Kale.
anon Jun 12, 4:02 AM
Let’s talk about the definitions in this article. When did homemade French toast become junk food? There truly are some products that are so over-the-top artificial and sugary that they really are junk food, but I’m not going to stick French toast or even a normal homemade cake or cookie among them. Years ago I remember seeing a very thin middle school teacher talk about a “health” lesson she’d given her class. They’d rubbed roasted peanuts in a circle on a napkin and seen the greasy residue left behind. Apparently that was supposed to show these poor children that peanuts – peanuts! – were unhealthy. Defining normal foods as junk just seems like another symptom of our society’s distorted relationship with food. This is one case in which I wish we could be a little more like the French or the Italians.
ann05 Jun 11, 11:46 PM
The healthiest eating mama I know is a working single mama, so that’s not the reason for the junk food binges.
The biggest trend I see in these bad parent articles is what someone pointed out upthread, the author’s inability to separate herself and her own issues from their children. How does their clothing reflect on me? How do I best project my eating issues/daddy issues/social status worries onto my kid? Gah. And believing that your child exists just to reflect well on you, well, that is bad parenting. And so is the belief that what you eat/wear/listen to defines how interesting you are as a person.
Realfoodformeplease Jun 11, 10:26 PM
Like a few other posters I agree in some respect with what the author is saying, but does she have to be so rude in saying it… It is a struggle most families recognize, but just because you want your child to eat mostly healthy food does not mean they are going to be a great big bore. Trust me, anyone who has spent anytime with my kids would definitely not use that as a descriptor. I let my children have junk occassionally – but I want them to know what real food tastes like and to appreciate the wide variety available to them. Yes, I use brown rice, lentils, cannelini beans and tofu to some degree – but its usually in soups and curries where they won’t dig it out and hold it up with contempt. I also have a child who has life threatening allergies – he simply cannot indulge himself in whatever catches his fancy and whatever is easiest for me to toss at him. He is thrilled to get a handful of chocolate chips while other kids pig out on cake and ice cream. I was raised on Kraft dinner and Cheez Whiz but I cringe at the sight of those things – I can make a very nice cheese pasta in the same amount of time and it does not come in a vibrant orange colour. I like real food – I think that people who eat a lot of processed ready-made food are ignorant and lazy and lacking in imagination. How is that for right back at you.
FactCheck Jun 11, 9:12 PM
Eh, she had to throw in that nasty last line, otherwise she would have gotten three or four “yeah me too” comments and maybe one lecture from a sanctimommy and that would have been the end of it. The job of Bad Parent writers is to generate site hits via comments, preferably with long back-and-forth arguments.
I’m sick of the whole silly “Bad Parent” thing too, but one in four kids do not have diabetes. Not even close.
Rebecca Soucy Jun 11, 8:56 PM
I agree as well. I enjoy eating all kinds of foods, and those include junk foods. I also love fruits and veggies, too. My daughter is the same way (though slightly more picky than I am).
I actually had to hide the corn one night at dinner because she wouldn’t eat anything else. And I do try to give her healthy things everyday, taking things from each food group. but how can i tell her she can’thave junk food when i eat it?
I also try to buy things that taste like junk food, but arent. Like motts fruit snacks made with apple sauce and real fruit juice. thats so that when she asks for more, and she will, i feel okay giving it to her.
however i do have to tell her no when she asks for things. she has shoved an entire twizzler into her mouth before… after that we stopped eating twizzlers. Other than that she loves hot dogs, Mcnuggets, french fries, pizza, and quite a few other things that she probably shouldnt eat.
ana voog Jun 11, 6:55 PM
junk food makes you a fun person and
healthy food makes you a boring person?
don’t you think THIS is the message that screws people up?
healthy food does not equal just brown rice and kale and raw carrots.
i would suggest taking a cooking class.
or buying some cool and FUN cookbooks 🙂
there is a WORLD of amazing food out there that doesn’t involve munching on a plain apple slices (but what’s so bad about that anyway? apples = yum!)
have people forgot how to cook?
cooking in your kitchen with your children can be totally fun!
tiredofbadparents Jun 11, 6:54 PM
yawn. honestly, this “bad parent” thing is getting annoying. seems to me that you’re projecting your own food issues onto your kid. then he’s the one who’ll have to suffer the consequences: diabetes, obesity, etc. Those are real problems. I think I read that 1 in 4 kids have diabetes now. This is not a black and white issue. One can indulge in treats regularly, but in moderation and be perfectly healthy. I’m getting tired of parents gloating about their “bad” choices as if we should look up to them for it. This kind of attitude is narrow-minded and resistant to positive change.
Shan Jun 11, 6:28 PM
I like the thoughts on your choices, but the slam at the healthy food parents was a bit silly. No, their kids will not necessarily grow up lunging at junk any more than yours is doomed to obesity or sure to turn out vegan. Peace 🙂
Dan Hagerty Jun 11, 5:21 PM
Your assumption that your boy won’t have body image issues is dangerously misguided. As a man who has struggled his entire life with body image issues (including my belief all my childhood that I was a fat kid, based on relentless teasing and parental disapproval, yet photographic evidence from that period of my life shows me as being perfectly normal) I cannot emphasize enough how frightening that assumption is.
Because nearly everyone in my life, including my overweight father, considered me defective because I had a chubby face and wasn’t as athletic as my brothers, I didn’t really have the tools to deal with my frustrations. So, absent a proper outlet, I tended to beat the crap out of my rail-thin younger brother on a regular basis.
I applaud your non-extremist attitude towards food choices, and I think that letting you child eat junk food is perfectly fine, as long as he doesn’t consume so much that it becomes his only concept of what food should be.
However, don’t delude yourself into thinking that he won’t suffer from body image issues.
Women are addicted to the fantasy that males are less complicated than females. Nothing could be further from the truth.
me4 Jun 11, 4:31 PM
I have a friend who is one of the no junk, only organic nut butter, dried fruit for treat, people. Her kids saw us eating popcorn once and nearly knocked us down to get it. They were like savage animals. Over popcorn. Don’t tell me those kids are not going to have massive issues when they grow up.
Our rule? On birthdays, holidays, parties – etc – she can eat what she wants. If that’s an entire bowl of cheetoes – fine. Cake? Stuff yourself, baby. It’s one freakin’ day. She had chocolate for breakfast on Christmas.
I think the fact that on special days I’m not all up in her grill over the junk food means that she doesn’t complain that the rest of the time we eat normal healthy food. There is nothing sadder than a child at a birthday party being steered away from the potato chips.
omma Jun 11, 4:25 PM