You and Your Kids: How Much “Health Food” is too Much

I picked my older son Jack up from school the other day to find him wearing a necklace made of Frootloops (artificially colored “cereal” that is literally the bane of my existence). OK, I will openly admit that I took a slightly not-so-silent gasp as he ran over to me filled with pride over his creation. I pulled it together just in time to meet his enthusiasm with a smile at the same time thinking, “OMG, my kid is wearing a necklace made of “food” with carcinogenic dyes.”

So, that evening Jack’s culinary nutritionist-mom (me, that is) decided to email his teacher to “just throw out there” that in the event that she has food related activities in the class, I am happy to make suggestions for the healthiest products on the market to use (ie. New Morning Fruit-e-O’s versus Fruit Loops). I received a very nice email back from her stating in not so many words that to teach kids about what is healthy, they also need to experience what is not healthy. Point taken.

This whole experience triggered a very important thought process for me: How much “health food” is too much? A weird question posed by a person who devotes her life to teaching people about eating healthfully. But, at the same time a very important question to ask and address. And one I deal with every day in my work and personal life.

Many years ago I had a client who was extremely frustrated because her eight- year-old daughter was exposed to and devoured junk food (hot dogs, pizza, cookies, cakes, candy and soda) at birthday parties. My first question was, “Do you ever expose her to those foods?” Her reply, “Absolutely not!” My response, “We live in a world where we cannot keep our kids sheltered from junk food. If we restrict them too much, they are bound to rebel. It is our job as parents to educate our children as to what healthy choices are and to set limits that we feel are most health supportive from a physical and behavioral standpoint.”

So, do I practice what I preach? Absolutely! And I imagine that many of you want to know how I do it, so here it is:

In our home, the food we eat is always without artificial ingredients (colors, flavors), preservatives, antibiotic and hormone residues, nitrates and nitrites (common preservatives found in lunch meats including hot dogs and bacon). All of those ingredients in foods make me cringe (but by the same token I know that cringing is OK sometimes too!). We eat everything from kale to candy but only food that is made with the purest ingredients.

When we are outside of the home, I loosen the reigns a bit (for Jack that is). Birthday parties are a free-for-all. For summer camp Jack brings lunch like everyone else but otherwise has what all the other kids have; though I do send him with organic, nitrate and nitrite-free hot dogs for Friday cookouts. When we go to the movies he gets to go to the candy store for a treat (which he only ends up eating a small amount of). On Fridays when we have swim, he gets a “junky” ice cream from the vending machine (one without colors). And as for me, once in a while, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I indulge myself with sour snakes and Haribo gummy bears—a favorite from childhood. Though I have been on a quest to find the perfect natural gummy bear and I think I finally have (Yummy Earth gummy bears)!!!

What it boils down to is making educated choices for yourself and your children. If you drink soda but want to offer a healthier option, there are natural sodas on the market (Knudsen, After the Fall, etc.) or you can make what Jack calls juice beer, seltzer mixed with your favorite juice (and a splash of lemon or lime). If you like the sweets (like our family), go as pure as possible. If you like the hot dogs, go with a brand like Applegate Farms (as pure as a hot dog can be). If you like chips (also like our family), go for ones without trans fats and artificial flavors. There are always healthier alternatives for “mainstream” choices. But also know that it is OK to go for the junky junk now and then. In fact, it is important to!!! And, make sure to always talk to your child about healthy choices and not-so-healthy choices in a fun and informative way.

Life is about balance. Moderation is my mantra (I have done all the extremes and am over it)!

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