Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Helping My Daughter Face the SAD (Standard American Diet)

My three year-old will be embarking on pre-school in just a few weeks.  This will be the beginning of a new chapter in her (and my) life.  There will be a side to her that I will not be a part of.  She will make new friends and build new relationships.  This will inevitably mean hanging out with these friends at their houses.  Aside from the usual nervousness every parent feels when their first born starts to ease her way out of the comfort and safety of the nest, I struggle with how to handle the food situation.

I am constantly amazed at the types of food that parents serve their children and friends who are over to play.  When I think back to my own childhood, it was the same way - sweets, goldfish crackers, popsicles, candy, juice boxes, cookies, etc.  But now that I have educated myself on the true impact of what we eat, those items are RARELY found in my house.  Juice is a treat.  Fruit or veggies are snacks.  Is it hot outside?  Cool off with some frozen grapes or cherries - not a fudgsicle!

Not to mention the overwhelming presence of fast food given to young children.  I see the same parents with their drive-thru snacks/lunches for their kids at the park every week!  People meet up for a playdate and bring fast food chicken nuggets to hand out to the kids.  YUCK!  I hate for my daughter to eat these processed (I hesitate to even call them "food") foods, but I don't want her to be an outcast.  Also, I don't want to shelter her to the point of an all out junk-food binge once she is more independent. 

She actually had her first fast-food item just last week because I felt guilty.  A friend came to our house with her daughter to play.  She had brought Chick-fil-a nuggets with her for everyone to eat.  I, being a vegetarian, (unbeknownst to her) had to refuse.  But what about my daughter who does occasionally eat meat?  Wouldn't it be rude for me to have both of us politely refuse the snack an invited guest brought to my house?  Because of that sense of polite obligation, I allowed my daughter to eat it.  I hated every second of it.  I pride myself on the fact that we had not succumbed to feeding her from a drive-thru for her entire 3 1/2 year life.  Did I make the wrong call?  Was I terrible for going against my values for the sake of cordiality?

I struggle enough with telling my new friends that I am a vegetarian.  I don't want hosts to go out of their way for my own choice.  I certainly don't want them to think I look down on them for eating meat.  My husband and entire extended family are omnivores!  How do I handle it when it isn't even my friend?  It is the parent of my daughter's friend.  "Hi!  Nice to meet you!  Please don't feed my daughter junk food."  People are free to make their own choices.  I know there are choices I make regarding the upbringing of my children that other parents would disagree with - and I'm OK with that.  I am doing the best I can.

I almost feel like it's ingrained in people's heads that having kids and their friends over means having the typical, unhealthy snack foods at the ready.  I'll admit, even I began to feel pressure to get some since so many of my daughter's peers had those processed snack foods at their houses.  I almost felt unprepared for having kids over!  I started questioning myself and thinking we had to get "kid-friendly" foods like juice boxes, ice pops, fruit snacks, crackers, and frozen pizza rolls.  I don't want my daughter's friends to not want to come over because we don't have these snacks in our house.  

So how do I let other parents know about the dietary expectations I have for my family?  Should I just let it go and let her eat whatever other parents provide?  I know she will always get healthy food at home.  Is that all I can hope for?  How much exposure to junk food is needed to avoid all-out binging in the future?  I don't have the answers to these questions yet.  What are your thoughts?  What other dilemmas have you faced raising children or making healthy choices for yourself?

Image Credits {1, 2, 3}


  1. I think the way we eat has a lot to do with how we were raised. It is not a bad thing to send your choice of foods with your daughter when she visits someone else's house. I think more parents need to be concerned about what their children are eating. As she grows you won't be able to watch over her 24/7 (I have 3 adult children, I know this), but she will always fall back on what, and how she ate growing up. I think you should keep that enforced. Good luck to you, and I hope you find some calming answers.

  2. I agree with Angie that the way we eat has a lot to do with how we were raised. I have three girls and even though I worked full time, I always had time to cook really healthy meals (always a salad and vegetable w/main dish). It wasn't that hard - but it does take planning. Kids will eat what you have around the house. I always encouraged the kids to have their friends over and I made platters of veggies & hummus, fruit & cheese, etc. ahead of time. A George Foreman grill is the biggest time saver so you don't have to fry things! When they go to a friend's house, encourage small portions in the name of good manners - then they don't over do it. Good luck and enjoy the years ahead - I absolutely loved them!

  3. My wife and I discussed this after reading your article. We both agreed that you should not have to stock your house with junk food just so other kids will enjoy visiting your house. It's very possible for you to have healthy, delicious items for the kids. Get some whole wheat or gluten-free pizza dough and have the kids make pizzas with fresh, organic veggies!

    When you daughter is out at her friend's houses, you should just let her eat what they are eating. Just make sure you remind her about your views on eating healthy food and that if she chooses to eat junk food at other houses, that it is just a treat. Continue to feed her healthy, natural foods at home and she will grow up enjoying that stuff. To this day, some of my favorite comfort foods are things that my mother made when I was a child. I don't even remember what I ate at other houses...

  4. I think I can offer you a kid's perspective. I am 22 years old now, but as a child, my dad was exactly like you. He is a hippy at heart, and knew the importance of natural foods (and other items). I was not allowed to have baby wipes because they had chemicals, he used soap, water, and a cloth. And I was not allowed to have any junk food. at all. So when I brought my lunch to school I had fruit leathers instead of fruit roll ups like my friends, and tuna fish sandwiches instead of lunchables. My dad was of course looking out for me and for my health. but at school i felt left out. everyone came to lunch with all the same foods, and mine were always different. no one wanted to trade with me, or even sit with me. my mom ended up feeling so bad for me, when we went out on weekends she would fill be with any candy i wanted because i couldn't take it home to dad.

    should you just give up your beliefs so your child can be popular? of course not. but should you restrict her diet so much she feels left out? no. like all things in life, a healthy balance is the solution. let her have a treat once in a while, but maintain her healthy diet at home. expose her to both, let her make her own choices, and always guide her when she is lost.

  5. I am not a health nut! I try to eat healthy but I do not. Believe it or not I didn't grow up on eating candy, drinking sodas...those were a treat.(now they are part of my daily diet) We always had cooked food. We still do for dinner. I love Bulgarian/Greek cuisine.

    Now that I am a mom and deal with my little picky eater I have decided that I will let her eat everything that she wants to a certain limit. She is not allowed to drink soda. Now if a friend was to come over I always have healthy snacks to offer and if we were to go to a friend's house I make sure to bring what my daughter will eat. I believe that every parents makes the decision that is right for their kid and I do not judge. I know that in the end if she eats the needed nutritions to help her grow then I have done an Okay job.

  6. I understand how you feel! My kids never eat any junk, so they don't ask for it and it surprises me when people say that their kids eat only pizza and chicken nuggets. Kids start off clean. You teach them how to eat and what to eat! a 3-year old is old enough for you explain to her which foods make her grow and which foods make her sick.

  7. I agree in part with every post on here, and would also like to add that making a healthy version of the popular kid foods is a great way to go. Get your kids involved in the prep work,helpt them choose the healthiest alternatives. My youngest son at 13 still loves my breading for homemade chicken nuggets, and firmly believes if he gets sick its because he hasn't eaten enough veggies lately. (I'm going to break my arm patting myself on the back for that one!) Your daughter will grow up healthy and well adjusted if you keep talking about the natural goodness in real food. And don't beat yourself up about allowing the "junk food" that will pass thru her lips.

  8. Wow. I truly appreciate all of you who have taken the time to leave such thoughtful comments. You all bring up such important points. I am really trying to instill in her the health benefits (growing big and strong, staying healthy so you can run and play, not getting sick, etc) of eating healthy food and making good choices. She really seems to be understanding. I know I tend to over-analyze things (food and nutrition especially), but I think it's good to hear input from others to help shape a well-rounded perspective. While I would love for her to eat healthy foods all the time, I realize it really isn't in her best interest overall. I want her to experience all life has to offer and be confident in her own decisions. I can only hope I shine enough light on the important things to help guide her. Thanks again for all your comments. I have enjoyed reading them and truly hearing your points of view.