It has now been two weeks since we started our new school and daycare routines. And I gotta tell you. I am beat. Like crazy beat. Like blind and ready to feed the kids pop-tarts. Okay, maybe not that tired. Though more than ever I totally get it. Most people aren't too lazy to cook. They are just way too tired to cook from all the other stuff they have to do to keep their lives in balance.
We have been managing well enough with school food. I have packed a healthy lunch, a bottle of water and a whole fruit everyday for Thing 1. The routine of preparing lunches in the evening is getting easier. Now if I could just same the same about the morning routine!! For the most part, Thing 1 eats my food and not the school's food. He does drink the juice that the school provides almost every day. That is something I do not buy at home, so it's a huge treat!! I have not checked if their juice is additive free, but right now it is a peace keeping measure. So while I assume that there might be some yuckies in there, I can't possibly take his juice away.
I have asked several questions of my biggest Thing every day after school. Did you like your lunch? What was the school serving? What didn't you like in your lunch? Were you full enough? Many days he comes home with about one third to one half his lunch uneaten. But that's the thing about whole foods, whole grains and full fat foods, they are filling. We are so accustomed to overeating in our culture that to see a child with an already small tummy eat real food, well it can seem like they are only picking at their food. My kids could down a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting. But give them an egg and raw cheese on whole wheat and they won't finish it. It isn't because they don't like it, it is just that real food is filling. Give the kids good foods and they will figure out how much. We as caregivers can't be swayed to give them junk foods just to see them actively eat.
On the third day of school Thing 1 brought me home a present. A single serve bowl of Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch Cereal. This sweetened corn and rice cereal contains both natural and artificial flavors. Oh joy. The cereal contains only 12 grams of sugar. There are 6 grams of sugar in each teaspoon of sugar. And since those 12 grams include any natural sugars from the corn, 12 grams is on the low side for sweetened cereals. I was surprised enough to check the ingredient list for sugar substitutes. Nope, none. Then I thought...since the serving size is only one ounce (or three-quarters of a cup), sugar still makes up a sizable portion of the total cereal. You see, one ounce weighs in at slightly over 28 grams. This one ounce of cereal has 12 grams of sugar, so the cereal itself is around 43% sugars by weight.
Thing 1 brought home the cereal because he said he had had it for breakfast and he liked it. He said it was a present for me. So sweet. He has begun to bring home little cups of juice and other treats for DH and me. I need to do better about consuming these gifts. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I also don't want drink artificially colored juice.
This brings me to the next part of this post. You might be asking yourself 'If you don't want your kid drinking colored juice and fake food, why not just put your foot down?' That is a valid enough question. In the first few days I told Thing 1 that he was free to choose the food he ate. He ate some food from school and some from his back pack. I didn't like the trend so much, so I had a talk with him during the weekend. I told him that Mommy would not be mad at him for eating the school food. I wanted it to be his decision. But that I wanted him to look at certain things as treats, like that cereal, as opposed to every day meal items. And then I dropped a bomb on his impressionable little mind. I told him that some of the school food has chemicals in it. And I would prefer that he eat the food that mommy makes from scratch.
I define the term 'bully' as a person who is mean because they can get away with it. A bully is someone who picks on people who are smaller, weaker or otherwise not in a position to fight back (I am sure everyone knows an office bully who hides behind some trumped-up title). I have questioned, was I bullying my child by telling him that his food had chemicals in it? On one hand, I really wasn't. The Malt-O-Meal cereal contains artificial flavors, synthetic vitamins and BHT to name a few. That cereal does indeed contain chemicals. Do I know for certain that all the food the school serves contains chemicals? No, I do not. I did notice that after our chat, far less school food was consumed. On the other hand, I know that Thing 1 does not fully understand what it is to eat food containing chemicals. Does he believe that there is cleaning solution in his favorite grilled cheese sandwiches? Does he believe that there is lighter fluid in the juice? Even the average educated adult can't explain the difference between chemicals we know are bad for us even in small doses (think posion control) and the items that the FDA says are Generally Regarded As Safe in the doses they prescribe. I certainly can't. I just know I don't want to eat ANY chemicals if I can help it.
I want my kids to want to eat clean food too. My search for a better meal isn't just about ethically treated meat, or local foods, or even pesticide free foods. There are dozens of chemicals that seep into our food supply in myriad different ways. I simply want as many of them out of my chow as possible. And I want the same for my kids. Did I resort to scare tactics when I exploited my young child's impressionable mind? I suppose I did because I didn't give him the full story. I haven't told him yet why there are chemicals in our food, how they got there or who put them there. How can he make an informed decision with only half the story? In this case I am a little too much like the New York Post.
But while I negatively motivated Thing 1 into eating clean last week, I did not accomplish the ultimate goal. I do not want my kids to be afraid of processed foods. I want them to be confident and empowered to eat clean, fresh, healthy foods. I don't want them to feel guilt when they will undoubtedly be faced with Cheetoes and Coca-Cola. I want them to have a varied experience. And while I want them to ultimately choose to eat ethically sustainable raised clean foods, I want them to choose it because it is what they want. That is true empowerment.
Of course I do still intend to TALK with them about their food choices. My children are a captive audience for me. While I want them to make good choices for themselves on their own, I do fully intend to sell my viewpoint. And considering that I work in sales for a living, this is a deal I fully intend to close. Though I promise to not be too judgemental if they grow up to be men that eat McDonald's every other day and drink Coke with every meal. Right now I think Thing 1 is squarely in my camp while Thing 2 might end up in the food industry's camp. Time will tell...I promise to keep fighting the good fight.
This Post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays