Although I do appreciate all your past support on this topic, I promise this isn’t going to be one of those posts where I launch into the tough life of being a food-allergy parent.
But, along with wanting to eat more thoughtfully for my own health, I do credit the food allergy parent experience with teaching me how to be more discriminating on the necessity of foods eaten outside the home, and outside of meal-time.
It’s helped me question whether food is really required during an activity, when it’s social, when we need it for energy-purposes, and most importantly: when it’s completely unnecessary.
This decision-making ability has rubbed off on my son too. Because he always assumed foods outside the home were unsafe for him due to his food allergy, Brett used to run away when he was offered foods while out in public places, or if he saw others around him eating.
But lately more often than not, he confidently tells the person offering”no thank you”.
Even if the person offering the food promises it is safe for him to eat.
Even if the food in question looks delicious.
Even when the food is being consumed all around him.
And even when someone keeps insisting he should want this food desperately.
Because he doesn’t take food when he’s not hungry. And he knows certain foods aren’t all that healthy.
You’d think that would be a good thing. But feedback on kids making healthy choices isn’t always well-received.
Adults are pushing treats and not-so-healthy foods at kids all day long.
We took Brett for an big allergy test a few weeks ago–one where he had to get 32 pricks in his back and one in his arm, and it was a very, long day all around.
Before we left, the receptionist says “He did great today, he deserves a nice ice cream cone!”
Brett looked at her kind of quizzically, and said “no, I don’t need that”.
Do you think for all his bravery, an ice cream cone would do the trick?
I stopped into a local country store recently for milk, and as I was paying, with Brett by my side, the gal behind the counter offered him a free Reese’s peanut butter cup.
Brett said no thanks and quickly made his way out the door and into the car, while I was left explaining to the poor lady he has a nut allergy and as she was scrambling to find something without nuts, I said, it’s ok!
He doesn’t need anything, really!
So generous. I felt bad.
I could have taken 20 minutes to lecture her on the concept of cross-contamination and food allergens, and guess 99.9% of what she had to offer, he still wouldn’t be able to eat.
But who has the time for that? Instead, I had to leave with this poor woman thinking we were ungrateful.
We weren’t; just uncomfortable to be put in that situation.
We attended an activity last fall, with arts and crafts and games for kids. And at each station they were given a lollipop.
Isn’t the fun of it the activity?
Is the lollipop supposed to provide some sort of additional fun-factor?
Brett could have come home with about 10 of these things, but didn’t even bother.
When I mentioned to a family member recently how proud I was of, for instance, Brett’s decision to stop putting maple syrup on his plain yogurt after seeing our friend Eve talk about cutting sugar from her family’s diet, and about how we always pack a lunch for car-rides.
He has never had fast food on the road, and never wants to even try it.
She scoffed, saying this will just get him teased by other kids.
Kids are supposed to eat this stuff, if he doesn’t, that’s weird!
Is that what’s important?
I appreciate people being nice, I do.
And I appreciate they think my child deserves to be rewarded.
But what is it with adults, who are aware of an obesity problem in our country, but then encourage mindless eating, offering food treats and using food as rewards.
And are then hurt when we say “no thank you” to what is offered.
Or look at my son like he’s being deprived of one of the most important pleasures in life.
If we adults don’t tell kids eating healthy is weird, they would do it more often!
I promise you. This kid eats chocolate. He eats cookies sometimes. He eats ice cream.
He is not deprived.
It’s just that food, in my book, should be well-thought out and well-timed.
And typically that doesn’t include eating at every stop, and as a reward for a good or bad day, because we have those all the time.
If you want to engage children at an activity or a store or school, or any public place, please don’t use food as bait.
The activity should be fun, and speak for itself.
I love going to our dentist office, where as a reward for sitting relatively stable in a chair for an hour with his mouth open, he gets to make a selection from the big wicker basket.
And usually comes out with a super-ball.
Or a little container of bubbles.
Bubbles, what an amazing gift! Kids, no matter the age, all love bubbles.
I love our pediatricians office, who has something similar–last time Brett emerged with some gooey object that when thrown, sticks to walls and windows.
I love when we went to a farmers market once, we saw a woman who weaves baskets, and when Brett seemed interested in it, she sent him off with a few pieces of straw to weave together, and told him to come back and show her what he made.
He was so excited!
Most of this stuff doesn’t hold his attention for more than a day. But at least it gets kids moving and they can’t help but get creative with them.
A food treat, and the benefits from the sugar buzz?
That doesn’t last more than a few minutes.
Food used as a reward or as a treat throughout the day is taught.
I don’t think kids would naturally gravitate towards eating this way otherwise.
Once they learn to use food as a crutch to get them through every stress-or in life, good or bad, or every activity they participate in…
Once they learn to expect treats wherever they go, regardless of whether they are hungry…
Eating constantly, for no reason will become a habit.
And will stay a habit into adulthood.
Tell me, we are all adults reading this; truthfully:
Does all that extra food really make everything in life feel better?
Or is it just that it’s our default quick-fix, because food is such an easy, relatively inexpensive treat?
We just don’t take the time to think of alternatives.
Every day in the news I see articles about all the problems with children today.
We adults scratch our heads and wonder why the world we set up for them seems to always contradict with what is actually proven good for them?
They don’t get enough sleep! (but we give them too much homework and activities and make them wake up early for school!)
They are too sedentary! (because they are on the computer or video game and because we don’t have time to engage them in a more vigorous activity)
They don’t see much outside time! (it’s too dangerous. Too hot. Too cold. Too scary.)
They don’t know how to play or be creative! (because we structure all their activities and never let them explore)
They can’t sit still! (because we cut their recess time, make them sit in desks most of the day, and don’t allow enough time for them to expend energy)
I’m not going to launch into all of these topics today although you can probably tell they ALL bug me on many levels.
So many of them are beyond what I can do, as one parent.
But how about this one?
Our children are all eating too much and not the right stuff! (But we are not showing them the right way by example).
I just saw this particular article the other day, one of many on childhood obesity, and it is actually what inspired me to write about this topic: U.S. Kids may have stopped getting fatter.
The article explains the obesity rate of kids has held firm at 18%.
But then the author further explains while overall the rate has hit a plateau, it’s a very high one. And you need to look even deeper in the numbers: when we take waist size and height into account, 33% of kids 6-18 were considered abdominally obese.
Abdominal obesity is what leads to most health complications.
It’s not good for kids. And it’s terrible for us as adults.
As parents, and members of a community, we can take this problem into our own hands.
Let’s stop encouraging mindless eating now.
Let’s stop using food as an activity to bait kids and their parents.
Let’s stop teaching kids that food treats are the best rewards.
Because we all know it’s not true.
And we can do better.
Let’s stop making kids think they are weird for eating healthy.
And find a more thoughtful approach to enriching their daily activities and experiences.
What do you think? Are you deluged with treats and foods wherever you go? Do you have a tough time saying no, for you and your kids? Would love to hear your thoughts and comments. Thanks for reading and sharing!
HERE, HERE! I’m constantly appalled at how most American kids eat. Sugar, processed carbs, preservatives, and dyes are consumed all day long every day by most of them. I honestly don’t know how the average kid functions since it seems that they’re eating only food-like products and getting no nourishment. And I too credit my kids’ food allergies with us being more discriminating about what we allow in our bodies. We still indulge, but we don’t overdo it and our indulgences are often healthier versions. And we never use food as a reward for our kids’ accomplishments or to cheer them up.
My son recently attended a basketball camp and I joined him for lunch most days. Most kids (7, 8 and 9 year olds) were eating pizza, pretzels, and candy bars, while guzzling unlimited cups of Gatorade – all of which was purchased through the basketball program. I’m sure the camp made a nice extra profit through those sales, but what a horrible example to set: they’re trying to teach kids to be and have the attitude of an athlete, yet they’re fueling them with absolute crap. But this is par for the course everywhere. Kids can’t just run around a soccer field and have fun for 30 minutes and then leave. Parents seem to think that very activity has to have junk food associated with it. So then the kids come to expect it. It’s sickening.
Oh gosh, your example is perfect. It’s so true about organized sports. I forget about them because my son isn’t into them! And it is interesting where this knowledge comes from: the one good thing about these dang food allergies! Thanks so much for your comment!
I have been thinking about the same things lately, mostly because of July 4th and two family reunions this month. I found myself making football-team-sized dishes that I never make for our family at home — baked beans with bacon and ground beef and mixed with lots of ketchup and brown sugar, and gooey brownies with peanut butter chips are the ones that stand out. I ate more of each than either of my kids, because it reminded me of childhood get-togethers, of family members long gone, of my past and my connections. Food has always ALWAYS been part of that.
And then I realized my youngest son was gorging himself on junk and sodas at each event, and it was making me both frustrated (“no, no more SODA!”) and slightly guilty (“dear God — he acts like a man in a desert island who gets his first chicken dinner!”). It doesn’t help that both grandmas who help keep our kids every work day spoil them with hot dogs (still a big weakness for me, and no, I don’t wanna know or care what’s in them), mac & cheese, grilled cheese, Cheetos and Fruit Loops. Part of the guilt is that “food-is-love” idea that is as much a part of our families’ daily life as waking and sleeping. I know I love them enough to feed them (and teach them about) healthy foods and habits…but then my son describes his mom as “the one who feeds us healthy stuff for dinner” and his dad as “the fun one.” *deep sigh* One description an intellectual / brain observation, one from the gut/heart. Ask me which one I wanted more at that moment.
And then again, I’ve been feeling sick myself from even small amounts of junk as I get older. It affects me for days. I fight myself still, sometimes, even with all that. I know food is fuel, and can even be detrimental if misused or abused. But sometimes I just want it to be “simple” again (translated as “mindless”?) because everything is so darned complicated already. “Food as love” feels more simple, even though it’s fraught with complication, danger.
I also have a child who inherited my tendency to worry worry worry. And he worries about his health and food now, too. I worry (see? It’s what we DO!) that I’m just adding to THAT while trying to avoid something else. Speaking of COMPLICATED! I almost think having food allergies at home would make it simpler, at least in our own house. Then again, having my husband on the same page instead of being the ‘fun’ Cheetos dad might simplify things, too.
Tina, wow, it is complicated. The whole “food = love” message itself could be a book. My first point is just because we talk about healthy eating we aren’t telling our kid it has to be 100% of the time. Special occasions, sure! Family reunion? Sure, and then it’s over and then back to normal. It’s like that 80/20 or 85/15 rule (take your pick on %) where you eat well most of the time and then enjoy the not-exactly-healthy when the time is right. But if extra stuff is presented at all times, every day, and for every bad mood, or good deed, that nice balance gets really out of whack. For instance: you go to the family reunion and splurge. Then off to the store and they are given some candy! And then off to some soccer event and there’s more junk. It just snowballs. The issue with your mom and the kids every day? I might have a talk with her, and find a healthier hot dog (applegate? my kid eats those!). And maybe some fruit and a few healthier versions, and smaller packages of their munchies so they don’t OD on food/love everyday. I think we can still love and enjoy foods, but we need to debunk the myth that we can use Food as a tool to replace love. or affection. or time with our kids. Or whatever we feel we can’t give them, we can’t let them think something sweet or decadent will take it’s place. By streamlining away from the treats a little at a time, I think you can get to a place where you will be the healthy-foods mom, but also the fun mom, who can give them treats when the time is right. It took us both awhile for ourselves, right? And it’ll take a while (and whining from them) but I do think it can be done and they’ll be happier for it in the long run. Now Tina, will you please start a blog too because I do love all your thoughts and writing style!
Haha, you know how I feel about this, based on the story I shared with you privately about my mother being upset that I wouldn’t let her give my son sugary treats. Do you know, I told my mother-in-law the story thinking she would agree with me – she’s pretty level-headed, matter of fact and stiff-upper-lip about everything and made her kids complete all sorts of seemingly impossible feats – but nope. She quietly said, “well, it is difficult when I want to give him cake and you say he can’t have any sugar.” It’s not like he doesn’t have it – but he wants it all the time and gets it more than he should. What’s wrong with having strawberries instead!? Anyway, I know we are agreed on this, I just wanted to rant 🙂 And I do kinda wish my son saw it from the same perspective that Brett does. Unfortunately, he’s all about the fast food, processed food and sugary treats. Saying that, he does rate homemade ribs and homemade fried chicken as his favourite foods and loves (get this) rosemary shortbread!
You are such a great ally 🙂 thanks for your note. That’s exactly what I mean, about just having it when you want him to, vs. all the time. It sounds like your son has good taste, and the more you get him thinking gradually about what types of foods can be good for him AND delicious, he may start requesting them more often. For instance, make those burgers at home, and maybe he’ll start asking for yours rather than fast food. Or those strawberries? add a little whipped cream and a few choc. chips. They have a little sweet but are a heck of a lot better for him than something sugary out of a box. Eventually, they do lose that taste for the super-sugary. I did start Brett on blueberries w/whipped cream and choc. chips. Then eventually stopped having whipped cream and used milk instead. Then eventually, he stopped using cc…it all came in stages. It is funny about how the grandma generation is: I see that in Tina’s note above too. I’m not sure what makes them think they need to spoil with food. I have been thinking a lot about the food/love concept she mentioned and why that is the case. Because that’s why they use these foods as rewards–thinking it equals love. But really, how do you demonstrate love? Really thinking about it and finding the answer I think would help us all as adults default to something else. Looks like I could write about this forever but will stop right now! thanks SL for your awesome support and comment!
Actually, that’s a good idea about the cooking and providing food at home. He will sometimes request bananas and milk for dessert or berries, yogurt, honey and crumbled nuts. Mostly because he knows he’s not getting ice cream or cookies, but still. And often when he asks for a snack at home it’s crackers or cashews. I should give him more credit! Then again, I know if he was offered sweets he would choose them every time. As for homemade burgers? He loves ours but I think he might be equally likely to pick junky ones. But I do agree with what I think you’re saying: give them the foundations for good eating and it’s likely that when they grow up they will have good habits. We often eat the way our parents fed us, even if we might go crazy at first with freedom.
And you should do some research on the whole food=love thing. My ex husband used that with my son too. I wonder where it comes from? It’s like giving dogs treats all the time. Both kids and dogs are really motivated by affection and acceptance and a hug, a smile, an “I’m really proud of you,” and an “I love having you around,” SHOULD be more craved and more rewarding!
Thanks for the great post – and it’s always a pleasure to read and reply to you 🙂
Not a parent, but I always thought the treat thing was just a lazy pacification from the parent. Isn’t what we (in UK) call a dummy known as a pacifier in the US?
“Give the kid something to eat or put in their mouth to keep them quiet…”
Where did that parenting habit come from? What does it teach the kids?
I’m pleased you and Brett seem to be breaking this habit for the next generation. OK, maybe in part, this is rooted in allergy necessity, but it’s a positive thing.
You and he have a bright future 🙂
thanks Goron for being such a great reader and commenting even when I talk parenting :). I have no idea where that comes from but wish it would stop. One thing is certain–you don’t need an allergy situation like we have to make a change like this in your life–obesity and a bad outcome on health as an adult I think SHOULD be incentive enough!
I can relate to your post about food on so many levels! In our household (3 boys 11, 13, 16) talk about nutrition and health — A lot! My strong interest in this subject has rubbed off on the kids over the years.
My son with food allergy has the ability to bypass sweets like yours. I think that ability originated from the obstacles presented by having insulin-dependant diabetes (blood sugar check, estimating carbs, calculating the correct dose and getting a shot). Instead of partaking in the birthday treats, he’d just skip it — and sometimes as for a treat at home. It’s a strength when junk food is constantly being pushed by adults — as you rightly remarked. Crazy! My sons’ pediatric dentist gives them coupons for Culver’s ice cream now that they’re too old for the plastic toys. N said “Ironic, isn’t it? — a dentist!”
You make so many great points! It seems that kids can’t gather without junk food being a part of it. School parties seem to be slowly reforming district by district, thankfully, but they have a ways to go. Have you noticed that? I recall that when N was in 4th grade, after seeing the candy junk they were receiving at the Halloween party, a mom with T1 diabetes and I (mother of a son with T1) decided to team up and offered to buy toys in place of candy for the school holiday party. We put together $70 worth of stuff, thinking we were replacing some of the sugar. At that party, the kids were littered with loads of candy IN ADDITION to the toys. The promised big gift (that I assumed would be non-edible) was a candy life-savers book. Kids were drinking small cans of pop from a game. When they ran out, one mom let her son claim one of the 2-liters for himself and he was drinking out of it (!). They served a chocolate fountain and instead of fruit, the kids had an array of junk foods (like Oreos) to dip in it. Absolutely horrifying.
I asked the principal for a better school wide policy. I think having a son with food allergy, celiac, and diabetes, it’s easy to think that I wanted it for his particular health issues. But honestly, I was passionate about good quality food and nutrition before these diagnoses came along. (They did strengthen my stance, though.) Slowly, better policy in that school has evolved — but it’s not where I want it to be. Hopefully parents are being more aware of these issues and will join us in our effort to push for change!
Thanks for your efforts drawing attention to a these important health issues!
Karen, I’m so glad to hear from you! Oh my, we are living similar lives! The example I gave of lollipops at every station? That was a dentist activity where the kids give back candy and send to the troops (do they need it???!), and the kids were paid for this. But when they ended up with lollipops. It originates I think by learning to say no in the first place. With our kids, the allergies helped teach the importance of it. But it isn’t impossible for a kid to learn; we parents and educators need to teach it in a real way so they understand. Health is so important. Childhood obesity is a problem. If they don’t learn to say no to treats 24/7, just like learning to say no to drugs or smoking or whatever, they are at risk of not living as well or as long as they could. Not good! I think most kids would listen if the opposite was not consistently reinforced.
Goodness, this reminds me of a cheerleading studio I used to run my bootcamps out of. The place was constantly stocked full of POP and chocolate muffins! What’s the point?
That being said, I’ve noticed my 3 year old DOES seem to want to eat out of boredom these days, which has only inspired us to get out into nature even more so than we were before.
Teaching her healthy habits and creating fun non-food related activities is a lot of fun! To hear her tell say “Mommy, I LOVE apples, and they’re healthy!” is quite special, and I look forward to helping her learn how to enjoy life without food as an emotional crutch (which is how I grew up).