Alarmed by the title? Don’t be. There is a reason I did not name this blog “2 perfect children with 2 perfect parents.” We are all about balance and making better choices in the Cook household these days. Life is difficult enough without food stress.
Matthew learned to read food labels when he was in pre-K. It was around that time that I started to really take a hard look at what was in our food. Enough already with the calories and fat…what’s actually in there? My primary focus at that time was sugar…Holy Toledo! Have you turned over the wrappers of our kids’ favorite go-to snacks? That was a huge education for me. Sugar is everywhere and often disguised under multiple names within the same list. Tricky!! Little by little we started scaling it back. Then I read “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan, and high-fructose corn syrup left our pantry shelves forever. You have to look, but it is totally possible to find ketchup and barbecue sauces that are sweetened with sugar (remember we are going for “better” here, or honey and molasses) at any major grocery store.
Over the next few years I continued to educate myself about what’s in our food, and limited certain ingredients that are believed to be harmful. What’s the easiest way to pick the healthiest choice? It usually comes with the shortest ingredient label. Apples and bananas are easy. Compare Triscuit crackers to Club and you will really see the difference. BHT, MSG, nitrites/nitrates and hydrogenated oils I avoid whenever possible. I am still serving meat to the boys a couple times a week – but I have gone to mostly vegetarian fed/organic selections. I choose organic produce when our budget allows, but at this point it’s honestly not all that realistic.
“But chicken nuggets?” I found a brand with whole grain bread crumbs and ingredients I can live with. I serve them a couple times a month. “And pizza?” Yep – we all love it. Thin or whole wheat crust, cheese for the boys (a few veggies for Henry) and veggie-packed, no cheese for mom and dad. “And hot dogs?’ Every once in a while we grill Hebrew Nationals (yes, with nitrates) for them, and I’m looking into other brands. Balance. Better choices.
I often feel like I am walking a tightrope. I want my boys to be healthy and make good choices, but I also want them to be kids. If Matthew and Henry had never had chicken nuggets, pizza or hot dogs they wouldn’t care about them. But they have, and they did not drive to the store and buy them with their own money, right? So…we talk about healthy choices…a lot. We talk about them at dinner, at the grocery store, and in the restaurant booth. We negotiate: “you can toss a marble in the Good Job Jar for every carrot eaten” or “yes, you can order the french toast, but please ask for it without whipped cream and butter.”
Will our family ever zip through a drive-thru again? Probably. Will my kids make good choices every time they are out of my sight? Nope. Will they have hot dogs, cheese puffs and marshmallows at a cookout this summer? Most likely. But we have them thinking. We are exposing them to a variety of tastes and textures and helping them explore what they like. Steve and I are eating a wide variety of foods, and offering up bites at every meal. Fear is not the goal. I love food. I want them to love food. But I also want them to love themselves…and learn that being active and eating well (most of the time) are the two best things they can do to ensure they live long, healthy lives.