Thursday, June 28, 2012

Just one more cupcake?

...One just never seems to be enough.  This past week was my son's 6th birthday party.  As such, we had grandparents in town visiting with dinners and desserts, birthday cakes, and leftover 'treats' from goody bags.  It seems that the family get togethers and holidays always amplify the challenge of clean eating, as it is not simply the one-day occasion itself that entails the desserts and goodies, but also the preparation, family weekend visits, inevitable leftovers, etc.  After observing my children and their behavior after receiving BOTH sweets and gifts at holidays, I have concluded that less IS more.  At the risk of being the party pooper, it seems to be in everyone's best interest to limit the goodies and gifts.  Don't get me wrong; I am all for giving the goodies on occasion, but I try not to go overboard.  The cliches "the more you give the more they want" or "give them an inch and they'll take a mile" could NOT ring more true.  As with treats, the more toys they receive, the more they expect and want!

In general, we try to follow an 'everything in moderation' philosophy on eating.  We attempt to eat all of the food groups each day (perhaps not all in one sitting), and to reserve sweet treats to every-so-often (though lately, it seems every-so-often is becoming 'every-TOO-often').  Accordingly, we at least TRY to incorporate as many fruits and veggies into our diet regularly.  To do this, I TRY NOT to keep treats, chips, junk food, etc. in the house to avoid their inevitable temptation.

There is no question that if a child ever has the OPTION between potato chips and carrot sticks, most likely they will reach for the potato chips.  Adults at least have (on most days), the ability to restrain themselves with the logic and rationale that junk food is not only bad for their health, but also makes them feel tired, moody, and bloated afterward.  Kids, on the other hand, simply are not as disciplined.  My son Charlie would eat nothing but chips, cookies, crackers, cake, ice cream, and popsicles, if left to his own devices.  And, unfortunately for anyone within a mile radius, the post-treat 'moody' equivalent in children is a tasmanian-devil-like state, as anyone with kids can attest.

Therefore, I try to keep these sweet and salty 'treats' infrequent enough that they do not consistently crave them.  However, I have noticed that our calendar fills up quickly with days/occasions/holidays/camps/sports practices/birthday parties/(even ironically, pediatrician visits), etc. at which they inevitably receive some sort of a 'treat'.  Whether it be a juice box, lollipop, popsicle, cookie, or ice cream, these days and occasions seem to be happening frequently enough that my kids can't seem to shake the habit....the more they eat of these treats, the more they crave them.  I can only imagine that these processed foods have the sugar, salt, chemicals, or preservatives that is something akin to a drug addiction!  It is almost impossible to keep them infrequent enough to keep their cravings at bay.

I must confess, I just recently included plenty of 'processed' treats in the goody bags at my son's 6th birthday party including, Cars themed fruit 'snacks' (aka sugar), goldfish, and chocolate chip oatmeal bars.  Looking back, those were clearly not the most ideal goody-bag options.  Perhaps I didn't have the nerve to fill their bags with apples, grapes, and bananas.  I know my kids actually would have been happy with these options (they seem happy with anything from a 'goody bag').  But for some reason, I could not picture the majority of party-goers being excited about a bag full of produce!

A few years ago, Jamie Oliver introduced his 'Food Revolution' to the U.S., with his initiative to educate Americans about healthy eating, and ultimately overhaul the food choices, menus, and diets in the homes and schools of some of the most 'unhealthy' cities in America.  With his British-accented, passionate, quirky, and charismatic personality, he remains determined to make an impact. After watching a few seasons of his show, I became even more inspired to pursue a healthier diet for my family.  We are far from perfect and have miles to go.  (i.e. I am still guilty of serving store-bought chicken nuggets, simply because I haven't made the 'homemade' ones often enough for them to get used to them).  Nevertheless, the first step is becoming educated/aware of both the risks of eating a diet loaded with processed foods AND the benefits of eating a cleaner diet.  At least I am much more aware now, and continue to look for healthy recipes, keep fresh produce ready and available, and introduce healthier options more frequently than before.

Interestingly, I have found that the more often you eat healthier foods, the more often you crave those too!  It seems that when we are eating plenty of produce on a regular basis, it is not a chore to get them to eat it.  But, if we go through a 'veggie drought', for example, they often push it aside upon re-introduction.  Incidentally, my son's school requests that we send a lunch with three components: (1) main course (sandwich, pasta, etc), (2) a fruit and (3) a veggie.  Because of this daily presentation of produce at lunch, my son actually WILL eat a decent variety of vegetables now...thanks to this school requirement! At the beginning of the year, he would only eat carrots, and only on occasion.  But by the end of the year, he was eating carrots, celery, broccoli, cucumbers, and even came home with a radish from their school garden one day (if even just to look at it!). Granted, he insists on dipping all of these in ranch, but hey, baby steps right?

My biggest gripe with the unhealthy treats is not the obvious bad-for-you ingredients (however you pronounce them).  Rather, it is the opportunity cost (for you economics geeks) of not only lost nutrients, but of the re-training of your taste-buds to enjoy the healthier options.  If our kids become accustomed to eating tasty crap all the time, fruits and veggies will never have a chance to compete! Rather, if we mostly eliminate all of the excess sugar and salt from processed foods, their taste buds will learn to love healthier options.

With regard to our schools, I give Jamie Oliver big kudos for even attempting his mission to overhaul school cafeterias.  As long as french fries, cookies, and soda machines are involved, there is no point in even introducing healthier options.  In my humble opinion, kids simply do not have the capacity to employ the discipline necessary to make healthier choices when these drug-like tasty treats are an alternative.

Finally, I admire Michelle Obama, and her 'Let's Move' program, designed to fight childhood obesity within a generation.  According to the following associated website...

"Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams. Combining comprehensive strategies with common sense,Let's Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping kids become more physically active."

Given the magnitude of this epidemic in our country, I cannot think of a more pressing initiative on which our first lady should devote her time and resources.

She has even recently published a cookbook, American Grown, featuring her love for gardening and healthy eating.

How fitting that my following post includes 4th of July recipes for desserts that are completely NOT in accordance with my attempt at healthy eating...but I also believe that life is too short to completely obsess over this healthy eating initiative ALL the time, and in some cases, dessert must NOT be missed ; )

As a sidebar, I have been guilty of answering my children's perennial question, "Just one more cupcake?" with a YES (and a sigh) some cases, candidly, just to avoid picking the fight, or in other cases, simply giving into the celebration of the occasion.  However, I have concluded a better answer is a solid NO...sorry kiddos, but hopefully when you get old and gray, and your metabolism slows to a snail-like pace, you will thank me one day!

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