Third Thursdays: Beat It, Mickey D!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

The ever-fabulous (and fun) One Hungry Mama is our resident Mother on a Mission, aiming to get us eating and serving good, healthy, colorful, fresh food at home. As OHM puts it, “Kids change the way we cook, but they don’t have to change how well we eat.” So, every Third Thursday of the month, OHM + MMM will be chopping it up in an e-mail exchange about good food and even better family.

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Fries

Photo by cfinke (http://www.flickr.com/people/cfinke/)

From:     Ms. Mary Mack
Subject:  Beat it, Mickey D!

Date:     June 3, 2011 6:21 AM EDT
To:       One Hungry Mama

Hey, OHM-

So, now that we’ve reclaimed our kitchens, the next power move I wanted to chat with you about is eating outside of our kitchens. More like: how to avoid those ever-famous Golden Arches.

Actually, I’m quite pleased to say that the Youngster never tasted a french fry until just last week. That’s almost 2.5 years fry-free! The best part? He was kind of  meh about the salty stick. Mama – 1, Mickey D’s – 0 … Ha!

Seriously, with so much sugary, fatty, unhealthy food being directly marketed to our kids, how do we help the young ones negotiate their way through Junk Food Paradise?

Talk soon,

MMM

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From:     One Hungry Mama
Subject: Re: Beat it, Mickey D!
Date:     June 9, 2011 11:34 AM EDT
To:         Ms. Mary Mack

Three chats in and we’re already going to the fast food place, huh MMM? Aiight, let’s get down and dirty today!

I know that proud feeling you describe. The Hungry Boy also didn’t try french fries until he was well over 2 years old and he, too, did not like them for many tries after that. His first taste of sugary cupcakes wasn’t until his first birthday and then not again until long after that. Other than maybe one or two tiny licks of ice cream the summer he was 1 1/2, creamy frozen goodness didn’t hit the scene until he was 2.5 years old. It’s pretty easy to maintain control when you only have one child who’s by your side all of the time. Don’t eat ice cream — at least not when kiddo’s around. And guess what? They don’t even know what they’re missing. But how long can this last? Eventually they will develop a taste for french fries and sugar and all of that stuff because it’s TASTY. I mean, seriously, how many people do you know who don’t  like french fries? We’re talking fried potatoes. Fried. Potatoes. Sorry, that shit is just good.

Here’s the thing about McDonald’s though. It’s not real. Fried, yes. Real food, no. I’ll get back to that in a second.

What we’re talking about here is exposure and control (and control morphs into influence as our children get older). When your children are young, especially your first child, you can more easily control their exposure and habits. I know that there is a lot of chatter about overly controlling moms and parents who get super crazy about limiting what their kids eat. There are always extremes. If you ask me, though, what’s the harm in limiting our littlest eaters’ exposure to not-great-for-you foods as long as possible when, a) they don’t know the difference, b) their bodies are so much smaller and bad-for-you foods have a more significant impact on them, and c) their palates are still developing? My take: nothing is the answer. And that doesn’t make me an idiot or oblivious. I know my boys will very likely grow up into french fry loving men. I can hardly blame them.

As kids grow, it gets increasingly harder to control what they eat. Their sphere of influence grows with them. I see this happening already with my little one. He is only 20 months and already eats everything. He’s not even 2 and has tried french fries. (Gasp!) Where his big brother’s sphere of influence was limited to mama and papa at that age, the Hungry Baby’s sphere includes a 4-year-old who sometimes digs into a bowl of ice cream.

And let’s not forget that 4-year-olds’ friends. It’s not ideal, but it’s life. I know that we don’t eat this stuff enough to create deep cravings (with the possible exception of chocolate ice cream) and that the Hungry Baby is fed three healthy meals every day. Also, when things start to feel out of control — like how, now that it’s hot out, the two of them clamor in unison, “Ice cream, ice cream!” when they see the ice cream truck roll up to the playground every single day. I have no problem saying, “No.” I’m still the grown up and what I say still matters.

It may not matter in that I have total control, but it does matter in that I still influence my children. A study from my graduate school days has always stuck with me. It found that the single most reliable indicator of a child’s happiness is their mother’s happiness. I find this the most profound expression of our power as parents.

At first, you have to make decisions for your child. These decisions send a message about what matters and what doesn’t, what’s good and what’s not. Then, as they grow, you allow them to make developmentally appropriate decisions for themselves. Food is no different. Make the best food decisions you can make for your child, help them develop a taste for healthy foods, let them know that treats are fine, too (and even better homemade), and know that you’re setting the stage. Then start to let go and empower them to make their own smart food decisions. Their decisions won’t always be smart — plus, not-great-for-you foods can be alluring — but you’ve still set the bar. It makes a difference for years to come.

Back to McDonald’s and other junk food. Here’s where I veer off into what some others might call extreme. I draw a line at these foods. Not because I think that I can shield the Hungry Boy from the golden arches forever. He will go there one day. Probably just to spite me! Fine. I’ve eaten there, too, and am here today, healthy and with an appropriate distaste for fast food. But, you know what? (Here’s where I get Greek on my kids’ asses.) Not in my house. It’s not food and with me, my family only eats food. Period.

My hard stance will quite possibly give fast food forbidden appeal. I’ll deal because, in the end, that stuff is fabricated to be addictive and when you don’t develop a taste for it — and you’re raised on homemade juicy grass-fed beef burgers, homemade fries sprinkled with crunchy sea salt, homemade chicken katsu (i.e., a type of japanese fried chicken) — you’ll taste the nasty. Maybe not the first time, or the second or third. Eventually, though, you’ll get that it just doesn’t taste good.

Something just occurred to me. I wonder if part of keeping restricted junk food from becoming the forbidden fruit is making it homemade. I’ll say it again: fries are good! (Can I get an Amen already, or what?!) Burgers, too. And when you make the stuff at home, from scratch with whole ingredients, they make a perfectly great meal. Making brownies, ice cream and whatever else is your kid’s “poison” at home is a great way to reinforce that no food in and of itself is bad. Rather, the way it’s made or the ingredients that are used can be bad.

I often talk to the Hungry Boy, who is only 4.5, about not liking junk food because it’s not real ingredients. I find it empowering — both for him and for me, as a food lover — to keep from demonizing any food and instead help him distinguish between natural food and what is ultimately totally unnatural and not meant for our bodies. This distinction, though it may feel complicated at first, helps maintain the joy and fun of food. Because, ultimately, that’s what it’s all about.

So, my bottom line: NO junk food, not in my house. Maintaining as healthy and pure a diet as possible for as long as possible is my goal. It’s also about being realistic, setting limits once the flood gates have opened, and committing to making my kids favorite foods homemade.

What do you think? Sound like a plan parents would want to follow?

Talk more soon,
OHM
xox

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Every Third Thursday of the month, One Hungry Mama and Ms. Mary Mack will be talking food, family and finding the delicious balance that can be found in between it all. Join our discussion by leaving a comment below!

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