Food struggles are often in the top 5 of American parenting challenges. We live in a tough environment for healthy eating: cheap, tasty, non-nutritious foods are everywhere (someone please explain to me why the checkout counter at every single store needs to be stocked with candy bars!?) AND the food industry advertises nearly all of their processed products with healthy sounding tag lines. Even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we often aren’t.
I really hate to get into food power struggles with my nearly 4 year old. Someone always loses a power struggle, and really, who wants mealtime to be a battle? So she eats boxed mac & cheese every week, she gets pizza from the neighborhood slice shop, she will often have only brown rice or only roasted sweet potato fries for dinner. I offer her the protein and veggies and she chooses not to eat them. Oh well.
But there are 3 things that I just do not allow in our home. They may surprise you as they are touted as healthy options, but hear me out:
- Cold cereal. I did once buy a box of Cheerios when she was a toddler and she loved it, but no more. Cereal, with the exception of whole oats (not instant) and small batch whole food based granola, is completely devoid of inherent nutrition. It’s highly processed, has sugar added and all of the nutrients listed on the nutrition panel are the result of an enrichment blend that is added at a stage of processing. I understand the appeal: it’s delicious, easy and, if you believe the box, good for you. The problem is that I seldom believe the box when its advertising what’s inside. So, what does she have for breakfast? Yogurt, fruit and nuts, french toast, 2 ingredient pancakes, oats cooked on the stove (and then doused with grass fed butter), and rice cakes with nut butter. Not perfect, but always with some protein and fat to start the day.
- Fruit juice. This one I don’t even let her have outside our house. At birthday parties, I’m the nut job dumping 90% of the juice box contents down the sink and refilling it with water. When juice hits our blood stream, it spikes our blood sugar levels immediately. Even eating candy is better because at least you have to chew that, which gives you a little longer to digest. When she does have juice at special occasions, I dilute it strongly. To me, it’s just not worth it. I don’t want to set her up for metabolic issues in childhood. And I don’t love the idea of developing a taste for such intensely sweet drinks. The first thing I urge all my clients to give up is soda, sweetened tea and coffee beverages and juice, so it makes sense to not want to begin in the first place. She drinks water, whole milk, seltzer and herbal tea instead.
- Gummy vitamins. Ask any dentist and they’ll tell you to stay away from the gummies. And why must we make everything into candy these days? If you need to supplement your child’s diet, there are numerous ways to do it (I like drops best, but sometimes chewable tablets are all I can find). I know some parents use gummy vitamins as dessert and then feel good about giving a treat that’s beneficial, and I totally hear that. But with all the sugar and stickiness, it’s not the best choice.
Now that I’ve sounded all high and mighty, I’ll let you in on the junk food my kid has every day.
- Chocolate. I eat chocolate every day so it makes sense that she would, too. We enjoy chocolate covered almonds, chocolate pudding, dark chocolate bars and chocolate chips every day. Often at breakfast! So we don’t have perfect diets by any means. We enjoy fun foods and know that delicious things make life a bit sweeter. But we focus on chocolate that leans more bitter than sweet and get most of our sweetness from fruit where we’re getting a bit of inherent nutrition, too.