It’s no secret that I promote healthy eating — I have lots of information on here about what healthy eating is, traditional cooking techniques and recipes, and so on. Coming soon is my new book, A Practical Guide to Children’s Health, which talks a lot about how kids should be eating. So, you might say it’s kind of my “thing.”
Most in my community are on board with that, at least in general. Healthy is good. We want our kids to eat more “real food” than junk food. And yet, interestingly, food is one of the most controversial subjects I discuss, at times.
If I share on Facebook a situation in which I opted to say “no thanks” to a treat someone offered my child or shared a story about a problem they had after consuming a treat without my knowledge, those are the conversations that turn rabid and insane. Not vaccines, not religion, not politics – food. I hear things like:
- “You’re a control freak. Let them go once in awhile.”
- “You’re setting them up for an eating disorder by preventing them from having junk now.”
- “They’re going to rebel against you and eat tons of junk later.”
- “They’re upset because you’re a mean mom who took candy from a baby.”
- “You need to focus more on the relationship than the food and just say thanks and let them have it.”
- “It’s just one. It’s not going to hurt anything.”
All of those are frankly ridiculous and over the top. I’m setting my kid up for an eating disorder and rebellion by explaining to them a careful, conscious decision we’ve made about food? By reading ingredient lists with them and helping them research where those ingredients came from? By helping them to discover that they don’t feel very well if they eat too much sugar or junk? By giving them knowledge and power to choose healthier options? Sure, okay….
But that last one. That’s the overall “theme” here. ”C’mon. It’s just one. Why not allow a treat now and again?”
I am not against a treat now and again. We make birthday cakes (or buy from a “healthier” bakery). I bake cookies. And we consider certain types of fruit, homemade ice cream, or healthy snacks we simply don’t purchase very often to be “treats” as well. We try to use healthier ingredients, but we certainly do indulge, especially for special occasions.
It is not just one. Junk food is pervasive in our culture. That is the problem.
Junk Food is Everywhere
Now, my kids are young and homeschooled so they don’t have as many opportunities as most kids. But for an average elementary schooler, they will run across candy/junk in many of these settings:
- School classroom (parties, holidays, “rewards,” lessons)
- School lunch room (hot lunches, trading with friends)
- After school clubs/activities
- Sports teams, dance classes
- Religious activities (Sunday school, Bible clubs, etc.)
- Birthday parties and other play dates/social events
These kids are getting offered candy literally every day in some cases. Probably, sometimes, more than once a day. And it’s often not “just one.” It’s a handful of candy or a bag full of candy.
I know in our kids’ AWANA club, the typical snack offered is a fruit roll-up (filled with cottonseed oil, soybean oil, artificial colors and flavors), cheese puffs, cookies, candy, etc. Rare is a night when someone makes something homemade (it’s happened twice and once was me) or brings something “healthier” (once someone brought in pretzels and raisins). Since when did a “snack” (not a treat) consist of this sort of thing? What happened to offering dried or fresh fruit, cheese, etc.? Isn’t a snack supposed to be something that nourishes the body?
I could understand if these things were offered for very special occasions — the end of a sports season, Christmas, or some other major celebration. I get that. We like to celebrate with some treats at those times too. It’s the every day, every occasion, every place offering treats constantly that is an issue. It’s the fact that they are running across people offering junk food daily. Each of these occasions is “just one,” until you look back at a day or a week or a month and realize it was a pretty significant portion of what they were eating or being offered!
Do Not Feed the Children
Every parent has the right to decide what their children can and will eat. I always advocate, of course, that parents openly discuss food choices with their children, especially as they get older. The children who will rebel are the ones who don’t understand “why.” So if your child has food allergies, discuss that. If they are sensitive to something, discuss that. If there is an ingredient you just don’t consider acceptable, tell them why not, and research it together. They do need to understand and “own” this as much as you do, so that they can make good choices when they are away from you.
But, until a child reaches the point where they do understand and choose for themselves (anywhere from age 4 to adult, depending on the person, honestly), do not feed the children without asking. It is so inappropriate and so rude to offer a treat to a child without asking (especially in this day of food allergies), and, if their parent says “No thanks” to then turn and get mad at them! It’s just one, I was just trying to be nice. (Granted you need to refuse politely. ”Thanks so much for thinking of her, but no thanks.” Don’t be a jerk about it.)
I’m not sure when it became acceptable to reward kids for everything with candy. And worse, when it became acceptable to actively insult those who politely turn down this practice! Parents who don’t “fall in line” and allow their children to eat fast food, candy, etc. are written off as “crazy” and bad parents. Seriously? They hear all the things I mentioned above…and more.
It is not okay to insult how a parent chooses to feed their child. And no, politely saying “Thanks, but we don’t prefer that” is not an insult or judgment of someone else’s choice to allow their child to have whatever it is. (Many parents feel judged. But please understand that is not the intent.)
Yes, there are some who are over the top. ”Oh, no, I’d never ever ever allow my child to eat that, it’s poison! We only eat specially, home-prepared organic food. No, we don’t want any of your non-organic carrot sticks, yuck.” That’s overly dramatic and frankly rude…. But most parents don’t do this.
We need to remember that the responsibility for a child’s health, and their food choices, lies with the parents. We need to stop insulting parents who smile and say “No thanks” to common treats. And we need to remember that it’s not just one, because many parents would feel differently if it truly were! Next time you think about saying “It’s just one” or “Just be grateful for the thought,” remember that. It’s not so simple.
Gratitude and Relationships
Food is personal. A lot of people feel you should be grateful if someone offers you something and that you ought to take it to “preserve the relationship.”
Would you pet a friend’s dog even if you were allergic just to avoid offending them? Probably not. Why should food be any different?
It’s important to protect your health, and that sometimes means politely refusing something that is offered. ”No thanks, I don’t prefer that.” Children should also be taught how to refuse politely. If the relationship is important, then the person who is refusing will be polite about it, and the person who is being refused will understand that others have different preferences. If the person being refused is that caught up in “eat my food or you hate me” they really need to re-examine how they define their relationships!
Although it is usually true that those who are offering the junk food only mean well and do not know the potential detriments, why should the person who is refusing be considered the crazy one? We all know, for example, that eating fruits and veggies and real cheese are much healthier for us than candy. So why is the person who says “I’ll stick with my apple” considered crazy and the person handing out candy daily is not?
We need to be willing to educate others lovingly and gently, when they are ready to hear it, about the benefits of sticking with healthier food. We should not be pushing our beliefs about healthy food on others. But neither should we allow someone else’s beliefs to be pushed on us. There is a middle ground where you can stick up for what you believe in, calmly, gently.
Hopefully we can bust this myth that you *should* simply accept what you are given and consume it to avoid offending someone else. Hopefully we can reach a place where we can be honest and respect one another’s beliefs and preferences. Isn’t that what a real relationship is about anyway?
Ultimately, everyone decides what is right for them. Period.
How do you feel about the junk food culture?
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