Last week I lamented the typical food choices my family will be faced with over the upcoming holidays. My confession sparked a huge interest and I found a lot of similarities in the responses of three different groups:
- Many grandparents were upset that parents disagree with the food they choose to offer grandchildren. Many believe that – unless there are life and death allergies involved – grandparents should be exempt from a family’s healthy food rules.
- Many parents whose children have grown – but they aren’t quite to the grandparenting stage yet – suggest that parents just need to relax. Junk food doesn’t really matter in the big scheme of things.
- Parents who are in the trenches right now – trying to establish healthy patterns for their children yet are bombarded with junk food all the time – are frustrated by the lack of respect shown to them by many in society. (Including family members.) They’re also exasperated by the amount of junk offered to their children.
As soon as I hit “publish” on my blog post, I began to notice all kinds of details to reassure me that the junk food battle is not one that I’m fighting alone. And it’s not one that will disappear when the holidays are over.
A greater problem
For whatever reason, candy and processed food “treats” have become the go-to reward in today’s American society.
- A family makes a trip to the bank, and well-behaved children get lollipops.
- Children go to church and get cookies or crackers for snacks and candy for treats.
- Schools give out candy or slushes for rewards.
- Cafeteria meals are filled with processed foods and high fructose corn syrup.
- Parades shower children with candy.
- Most popular holidays – Christmas, Easter, Valentine’s Day and Halloween – promote sugar-filled treats.
Everywhere you turn, kids are given rewards. The vast majority are food-based. And the vast majority are unhealthy. (At least I’ve yet to see a child get an apple or banana for an incentive.)
My family’s candy stash
My husband and I don’t buy candy for our family. Yet we all get about a piece of candy a day for our dinnertime dessert. Want to know how it happens?
- Each February, we receive Valentine’s Day candy as gifts. The candy tides us over to April.
- In April, we receive Easter candy – usually big baskets of Easter candy that are all given to us. (None that we’ve asked for.) The candy stretches until May.
- In May, we go to our first parade of the year, just to see the sights. We easily get one to two pounds of candy at this parade. This candy lasts through the summer, until August.
- In August, we go to our second parade of the year. We get more candy – and this time it lasts until October.
- In October, we go trick or treating for the fun of dressing up. We get some candy and are given much more candy as gifts. This load lasts until December.
- In December, Christmas hits and we’re given more candy – for gifts. This candy stash lasts until February, when our year-long sweet cycle starts again.
This particular cycle is so predictable – because it’s happened for the past four years in a row. It’s ridiculous.
We could give it all away. We could – and probably should – just dump it all. Yet once I sort it and throw away much of it, the rest is stored in different candy jars for our after-dinner treats. We could avoid some of it by skipping parades and trick-or-treat. But my husband and I want our children to enjoy some of the simple pleasures of being a kid. It just so happens that candy is involved.
I understand times have changed since I was a child. (For one thing, food wasn’t filled with GMOs back then!) But my husband and I truly can’t remember having much candy when we grew up. When we did get it, it was a treat. My Halloween candy filled a little plastic pumpkin. Parade candy might have been a few chunks of the rock solid bright pink bubble gum – not a pound of sweets.
If we take candy out of the equation, processed foods still are pushed and pushed to children today. Where are the healthy, fresh snack options?
How can schools feed their students a steady diet of cafeteria food laden with preservatives, artificial colors and flavors – all of which have side effects that can drastically affect a child’s behavior and mood – and expect children to behave and learn?
The harmful processed food may not even seem to be harmful – it may masquerade as healthy food.
Last week, Australian filmmaker Damon Gameau talked about his upcoming documentary, “That Sugar Film.” For 60 days, Gameau lived on a “healthy” diet of low-fat, high sugar foods.
“I had no soft drink, chocolate, ice cream or confectionery,” Gameau said. “All the sugars that I was eating were found in perceived healthy foods, so low-fat yoghurts and muesli bars and cereals and fruit juices, sports drinks … these kind of things that often parents would give their kids thinking they’re doing the right thing.”
The results were shocking. Gameau quickly discovered how the sugars affected his physical and mental health. By the end of his 60-day experiment, he was diagnosed with the beginnings of fatty liver disease.
It’s important to remember that all food affects the human body in some way.
Real food will nourish your body. You’ll feel better.
Processed food isn’t real. It won’t nourish you. It will make you feel worse.
Sweet or not-so-sweet, processed food is not beneficial to your body – and it’s not beneficial to your children’s bodies that are growing and developing at a rapid pace.
I wish I had an easy solution for the junk food problem that plagues parents today. But it’s everywhere. And it’s beyond a parent’s control to fix it all.
My personal solution is to fill my children with as much healthy, real food as I can. I know they’ll be exposed to junk. Someday, when they’re grown and gone, they may even choose to eat an awful lot of junk. But for now, while they’re entrusted to my care, I’ll help nourish them as much as I can.
How do YOU fight the perpetual junk food battle? What do YOU do to limit your child’s exposure to junk food?
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