Thursday, August 20, 2015

Kids+Food: What can you DO?

(This is the second post in a short series - scroll down to the elephant if you want to read the first post!)
In my previous post, I ranted about how I am tired of the cultural norm of feeding junk food to kids at school, sports events, and parties. If you are still with me and haven't written me off as a Crazy Overboard Health Nut Mommy, I hope to offer some suggestions of what you can DO to make this cultural problem better.

Some Ideas:

1. Does your kid play soccer/baseball/basketball on a team where players take turns bringing snacks? Forget sugary juice boxes/Gatorade/Soda and choose water instead. That's exactly what their little bodies need after a good game! Consider a home baked treat or a small snack bag of cheese crackers and fruit. It's a much better alternative to a sugary drink and a sugary snack. At the very least, it's a step in the right direction to choose water and add a piece of fruit. I realize that you may get labeled as the Health Nut if you decline to offer the kids a huge cupcake, bag of cheese crackers, and a juice box. (And, yes, this is an actual example of a post-soccer game "team snack") But, I ask you, what matters more to you? Affirmation from 7-year-olds? Or the long term health of kids around you, including your own?  Now, there is a fine line here. My encouragement is to start with swapping out water and offering fresh fruit. Let's be honest - you will be labeled a complete Moonbat if you offer ONLY these items - even though they are a perfectly acceptable snack. Fine to add a small bag of cheese crackers or pretzels or other packaged snack. After all, some could argue that social acceptance for your kid and your family is also fairly important to their health. I get that.

My encouragement is to try to make small changes and refuse the "oh well it's easier and the kids love it" processed snacks and sugary drinks. This is about long-term cultural change. So be in for the long haul!

Need healthy team snack ideas? Google it. You don't have to be wildly creative here. The goal is to offer something that qualifies as real food. I've also actually found that sending bottled waters, bananas, and packages of peanut butter crackers are cheaper than most of the other snack alternatives. And 8 out of 10 kids will gladly accept and gobble up the snack. Once or twice a kid has looked at me and said, "I don't like peanut butter crackers". Tough. I say this is actually more of a manners issue than something I take personally. I walk away feeling like I have been a responsible parent. That means more to me.

2. Does your kid attend school where there are holiday parties or class birthday parties? Be the mom in your kid's room who volunteers to coordinate the parties, which naturally includes the party food. Make the menu and ask for moms to volunteer to bring them. Instead of having juice boxes, cookies, cupcakes, and fruit on the menu, switch to 8 oz. waters, fruit, veggies with dip, and ONE small treat. Be amazed that kids ACTUALLY eat the fruit and veggies when they are offered. Ditch the candy filled pinatas (hello, South Texas!=) or candy goodie bags to go home. Just ditch them. Or, if a piƱata is an important part of the culture, seriously think about to eliminate the other treats, or at least downsize them. Kindly redirect the efforts of other parents who want to help or donate sweets for parties into things like crafts, keepsake projects, or other things the kids can take home. It doesn't have to be a sweet treat! And, yes, you have to say it: Let's focus on a craft or other holiday take home instead of candy or treats. I have learned you have to be direct, yet kind. If you have to, chat with the teacher in advance and make it a partnership. Most teachers would probably enjoy kid's holiday parties more if they didn't have to deal with the sugar crazy that comes afterwards. Then if parents question the lack of sugary/junky party food on the menu, say the teacher and you have discussed it and she agrees it will be best for the kids. End of discussion!

3. Be the example when you host your own parties. Instead of offering juice to kids (Yes, it seems like I am continually swiping at juice, doesn't it? That's because it has basically NO nutritional value and generally lots of sugar. A piece of fruit is way better!), offer small bottled waters. Kids get excited about having their OWN drink. I've actually found that they could care less if it's water or juice. They just want to have their own. Grab a sharpie and let them write their own name. They care less than you think and probably won't notice the juice or soda isn't there. Also, who says you can't have fresh fruit and veggies as the main option for party food? Cheese cubes? Hummus? Whole grain crackers? Why does it have to be cheese puffs and cookies? I say it doesn't! Save the ONE treat for the birthday treat - that's it! Worried about looking cheap or not generous when you host a party? Splurge on organic fruit, offer cheese and real whole grain crackers. These things are not cheap. Think of adding these items to your menu instead of the fancy cupcakes, decorated cookies, AND donuts. Some people believe it's better to offer more treats because it's a big celebration. But, really, offer less treats and more real food. I think you'll find that parents will actually be happy to find food they can eat themselves and feel good about feeding their kids. You might also see less of the cranky/sugar obsessed/embarrassing tantrums that follow these kid celebrations. More than once I have left a party with my head hung because my three year old thought I was the Meanest Mom in the World for allowing him to choose only one treat. This is not a good scene for ANYone.

Still with me? Good.

Next up: Food+Kids - My Small Success in Changing the Culture

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