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!