As I sat down at the table with 15 1st graders (yes, I counted), I started to check out what other kids were bringing in their lunch. All of the kids at our table were "bringers" instead of "buyers." With the exception of Noah who was happily eating his sub and some mandarin oranges and two other kids at the table who had relatively healthy lunches with very little processed food in it, every other child at that table was eating a lunch that just made me cringe - Doritos and chips galore, lunchables in which the meat and cheese were the only things that DID NOT get consumed, juice boxes, gatorade, oreos, one kid had a ding-dong cupcake AND a cookie, sandwiches on white bread, Gogurt (don't even get me started on this one), and several fruit cups that got tossed unopened into the garbage can. I could not believe my eyes, and I have to admit I got a little judge-y (real talk). Seriously, how is it possible that kids are eating like this EVERY SINGLE DAY?
I sometimes struggle with what I allow my kids to bring in their lunch as well as what kind of snacks we have around the house. Ryan has a peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat every day, and I have to admit I don't feel totally comfortable with that, but he also takes a piece of fruit or a yogurt and white milk. Noah is more of a snacker and doesn't love sandwiches, so he usually has a yogurt pop (organic with no artificial crap in it), a larabar, a pack of nuts and/or a piece of cheese. I have found for him, my little junk-food junkie, if I can get fairly healthy foods that come in packages like other processed foods (chips, cookies, etc.) I think it makes him feel more like the other kids who are eating crap. So I spend the extra money and buy almonds in individual packs and mandarin orange fruit cups. After lunch yesterday I realized that I am definitely on the far end of the spectrum, and what I consider to be junk most parents might even think it is relatively healthy (gatorade for lunch!! and gogurts).
Don't get me wrong, I am all about having treats. I currently have a pint of ice cream in my freezer and several bars of dark chocolate in the cabinet. We still have some trail mix left from our weekend trip that is chock full of M&Ms. We have popsicles (Edy's) in the freezer and my kids eat frozen waffles (gluten free organic) with real maple syrup for breakfast more days than not, but come on, moms and dads! If this is what we are BUYING and FEEDING our kids day in and day out, how will they ever learn what is good for them? What are we teaching them by having chips in their lunch every day with a cookie or three on the side?
I don't want to be the kind of mom who is so strict with food that my kids go crazy on junk food when they are away from me, but I feel that has been happening a little this year with Noah.
The other day he went over to someone's house and when I picked him up the mom said to me, "I hope he isn't too wound up. The boys got into the junk food." He had eaten a popsicle, a cupcake, and two Airhead candies. My first reaction was to be blown away by the fact that there was so much junk food in their house and secondly that the mom wasn't monitoring the intake of said junk. Then I realized that what I had was a teachable moment. I can either be a food Nazi, or I can teach my kids the importance of making good choices and thinking about what they are putting in their amazing bodies. I had a conversation with Noah about how he needs to learn to make healthy choices even when I am not there. The most important part of that conversation was not the how of making good choices, but the why of making good choices. Here are some of the whys that Noah came up with:
- healthy food makes you taller so you can be better at basketball
- healthy food helps you run faster
- healthy food makes you stronger so you can do karate
- treats are okay every now and then, but they don't help us get bigger and stronger like healthy food
I know I cannot control everything my kids put in their mouth, but it is my job as a parent to help them learn how to make good choices most of the time. It is my job to provide them with healthy food at home so they know what good choices look like. It is my job to equip them with the knowledge that helps them understand why we eat the things we eat, and what happens to our bodies if we don't feed them what they need.
It is also my job to teach them to enjoy indulgences and not feel guilty about that (something I personally really struggle with), so yesterday, in celebration of Noah's early birthday, I pulled 75 cents out of my purse and let my beautiful, healthy, strong child buy an ice cream cone. He loved it and when he was full he put it down half-finished and said thank you to me. He was probably thanking me for the ice cream, but in my heart I know he was thanking me for much more.
That is a job well done.