Thursday, February 23, 2012

Let Them Eat Broccoli

DISCLAIMER: I am not, do not claim to be, a nutritional expert. Nor, for that matter, do I want to be. It involves numbers, and the words "glycemic index" make me queasy.

My four-year-old loves to eat. Always has. He will eat almost anything. Many a time have I heard other mommy-friends despair that their children "won't eat anything." Meanwhile, they haul out another tray of Tyson chicken nuggets and sigh.

Stephen Sondheim is famous for his way with words, and to quote my favorite show of his, "Careful the things you say; children will listen."

If you let your child know that it is acceptable to eat only cheese, then guess what? That is all your child will eat. Hunger in America is right around the corner from where your "picky eater" is turning her nose up at a plate of noodles because they "aren't the right shape." And there you are, scraping it into the trash and heating up more chicken nuggets. I firmly believe that kids will develop the traits that are acknowledged over and over again. Kids who are labeled "shy" will continue to be shy if their parents constantly refer to (and make excuses for) their "shyness." The same is the case with "picky eaters." 

Here's the thing; if you are reading this, that means you have internet access. Which means you can probably afford it. Which means that your kid is NOT going to starve. If food is offered, and a kid has no other options, and he really is hungry, he will, eventually, eat it. I refuse to cook separate meals for my four-year-old, and it's not because I'm lazy (about that, anyway), but because I think it's irresponsible to raise a child who grows up feeling that it is the world's job to cater to him. And once I've cooked dinner, the kitchen is closed for the night. No pb & j at 8:30. I know; I'm crazy and mean. child eats hummus. He eats edamame. He will eat tuna, brussels sprouts, and black-eyed peas. We can take him to restaurants that do not have menus that you color on and we can always find something on the menu that he will eat. We have NEVER taken a Happy Meal into a restaurant other than McDonald's because that is all our little angel will eat. I'm not going to get on a soapbox about McDonald's...there are plenty of people who can do that for me. I will just say this: I let him choose between a hamburger and nuggets (no, I will not call them "chicken"...God only knows what they are) and then we get milk (WHITE milk) and apples (by the way, since they have started putting apples AND fries in each Happy Meal, you have to specifically ask for ALL apples, and they will give you two little apple baggies). But McDonald's is an occasional treat, not an everyday thing. And sometimes, sure, I let him have Goldfish crackers, which I know are full of sodium. But they're a treat. Not a meal. Which brings me to my next point...

Little kids do not require as much food as adults do. And their stomachs are small. Which is why it is vital that the food they fill up on is the good stuff.

Food marketing makes me furious. Tyson has commercials that feature kids listing the foods they don't like, but "Every kid likes Tyson chicken nuggets!" Cereal companies can fill a box full of high-fructose corn syrup and artificial coloring, but then plaster "Made With Whole Grain!" on the package, and a lot of parents will serve it up to their kids without a second thought. The thing is, they THINK, because of the packaging, that they're doing a good thing.

If you don't know me, and you're reading this, you probably think my kids, or even my husband and I, are thin. We are not. I'm on the heavier side of curvy, and if Husband had boobs, he would be too. (Now, make no mistake about it, I work every pound I carry...just because you're not a size 4 doesn't mean you are not a goddess...which I most certainly am. I have better hair than anyone I know. So there.) And my son, who is 4 years old, weighs 41 pounds. He is 40 inches tall. His round face and Charlie Brown cheeks are hereditary, and though he seems like a big kid...he is perfectly healthy. I don't feed him processed foods, but I don't completely forbid them, either. (Forbidden fruit is indeed the sweetest...especially if that fruit is in Loop form.)

If you DO know me, then you're probably thinking, "Who is she to be preaching nutrition with her fat ass?"

Take a moment to feel shame for being so judgmental.

Because it's not about being thin; it's not about a number on a scale or the shape of your body. It's about how you view food. It is unhealthy to let it rule your life, whether it be through letting your kid eat whatever he wants or by obsessing over every calorie. It's just food. And you should eat what is best for your body, and feed your kids what is best for theirs. 

I think the reason my son is such an adventurous eater is that I never told him he wasn't. I never made a big deal about it. If he doesn't eat his dinner, then that means he isn't hungry. I'm not going to stop serving vegetables (or anything, for that matter) just because he doesn't like them. That is insane. Why? Because I, as an adult, have earned the right to be "the boss." If we did everything the way our children wanted it done, all we would ever eat is peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If you have fallen into this trap, I want you to take a deep breath, then let it out and say, "I am in charge."
There. Didn't that feel good? Do it again, louder.
"I am in charge."
Your children cannot drive, nor do they buy the groceries. That's your job.
When I got pregnant with Z, I gained four billion pounds. I don't care; she was healthy, I was healthy...and I wasn't planning on wearing a bikini anytime soon anyway. A lot of pregnant women obsess over their weight, during and after their pregnancies. (Actually, a lot of women do that, pregnant or not.) All I have to say about it is this: if that's all you have to talk about, then you are boring. I joined Weight Watchers, because that's the way I lost weight after I had my son, and I plan to do it again. I don't so much care about my actual size as I do about a pair of jeans that I am particularly fond of and would hate to send to Goodwill. But...that isn't all there is to life. Food cannot be the most important thing. It just can't.

If you offer your kid a vegetable once, and he doesn't like it, don't give up. Keep offering it. Eventually, he will try it, and maybe even like it. But if you keep a constant stream of Goldfish and Froot Loops on hand, don't be surprised when your child is uninterested in the broccoli you're serving.

Read labels. Stand firm. And, for heaven's sake, use some common sense.

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