Lines in the Sand

by Sally on November 23, 2009

Cloth or disposable, breast or bottle, attachment parenting or cry-it-out. When you become a mother, they’re some of the Big Choices you’re faced with right off the bat. But even when you’re past the baby stage—when your Diaper Champ can no longer contain the stinkiness and everyone is (kind of, sort of, almost) sleeping through the night—you’re still left with dozens of Big Choices to make everyday, ones that have a much greater impact than Pampers or Fuzzi Bunz: What to put on your child’s plate.

As moms, we’re no stranger to judgment—even from, well, strangers. (I never thought well-meaning elderly women actually said, “Oh my, don’t you think that baby needs a hat?” until it happened to me.) But if you’ve ever caught flak for spit-shining a paci, try being a dietitian at a corn-dogs-and-Doritos-type party with your kids. “Really? You let Henry eat that?”

The current debate among dietitians sparked by the Raise Your Hand for Chocolate Milk campaign—whether chocolate milk in schools is a good way for kids to get calcium or just more sugar for a generation that doesn’t need it—got me thinking about the choices we all make when feeding our kids. About how those choices, just like the early baby-days decisions, can be complicated and personal. And about how vastly different those choices can look, mom to mom—even when those moms are dietitians. Sure, we all try to follow the basics: lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, healthy fats. But when it comes to the nitty-gritty details, we’re all over the map.

Personally, I lean old-school. I’m one of those “all foods fit” types, because while I strive to make healthful choices 90-ish percent of the time, I don’t want to live in a world without pizza and cupcakes. Or chocolate milk, for that matter. And I don’t want my kids to live there either.

I guess that might be surprising, for those who subscribe to the berries-and-organic-twigs notion of what a dietitian eats (and feeds her kids). But I also have my lines in the sand: I’m okay with a sweet treat everyday, but my kindergartener has never tasted soda. I don’t mind the kids’ menu for (albeit extremely rare) family restaurant outings, but I absolutely refuse to keep hot dogs or chicken nuggets in the house. I see no problem with day-glo-pink squeeze yogurts for Henry’s lunchbox, but you won’t ever catch me buying gummy fruit snacks.

How about you: What seemingly forboden foods don’t faze you? And where do you draw the line?

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Vicki Glembocki November 24, 2009 at 11:20 am

On the chocolate milk debate: of all the chocolate out there you can add to milk (hershey’s regular and light, nesquick, ovaltine, etc), what’s the healthiest one?

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Brooke November 24, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I have a 17-month-old girl. I feel better about Goldfish when I buy the whole grain variety. She’s not that into eating plain bread anymore, so I do go for toast with jelly (and not the healthy kind of jelly!) as a “dessert-y” way to get her some whole grains!

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amy zimmerman November 24, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Love your article. As a pediatrician and a mother of two, I believe in all things in moderation. On busy days of errands, a lunch may consist of string cheese, goldfish and grapes (more well rounded than what I do for myself) Truth be told, you can only hide the junk so long (daycare, school, birthday parties, etc) and the more taboo the foods seem, the more they are desired!

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Kate Kelley November 24, 2009 at 2:51 pm

Love love love your thinking. (And your writing!). As an adult, I’ve always been reading ingredients lists and rejecting foods containing more than 10 ingredients or anything I can’t pronounce. On top of that I have gone, in the past five years, organic, local and homegrown. I had high ideals for my children–until the first one, J, suddenly stopped eating at the tender age of 15 months. We went through dieticians,nutritionists, therapists and growth specialists who all advised us “try feeding him anything he’ll put in his mouth put butter on it..”

Now our second son, O, is the best eater this side of of the Rockies. He is nearly 26 pounds at 11 months. (And although I hate comparing them, his older brother is also nearly 26 pounds at three years.) O is a dream baby in terms of he’ll eat anything I feed him. I can cook good for you foods again! He’ll eat every vegetable, fruit, grain, or protein–and lots of it. “Well-meaning” elderly ladies insist I feed him too much.

So my dilemma is, how to prepare one meal for two kids at opposite ends of the spectrum. (O is 95th% and J is 3rd%) But to answer your question: banned foods are those containing high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, and food colorings with numbers. Foods I wish we didn’t have to rely on so much are chicken nuggets, crackers and pizza.

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Sally November 24, 2009 at 3:36 pm

Making your own chocolate milk is the way to go over buying the premixed stuff b/c you can control the amount of sweetness (plus, it’s cheaper). I don’t trust artificial sweeteners for kids, so I wouldn’t recommend any of the “lite” ones.

Here’s how the three common ones stack up (the calories are all pretty similar, between 80-100 per serving).

*Hershey’s syrup: A two-tablespoon serving has 20 grams of sugar, or five teaspoons–The first three ingredients are high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, and water.

*Ovaltine mix: A four tablespoon serving has 18 grams of sugar and is fortified with some vitamins and minerals. The first three ingredients are sugar, cocoa, and whey (from milk).

*Nesquik powder: Two tablespoons have 18 grams of sugar (but there’s a lower-sugar version for 13 grams or about 3 teaspoons of sugar) and is also fortified. The first three ingredients are sugar, cocoa and soy lecithin (an emulsifier).

Ovaltine seems like the better choice by the numbers. Not all kids will need the extra nutrients, but I like that it doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup. Whole Foods may have some kind of fancy all-natural, organic chocolate milk mix, but I’m too poor to shop there.

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Sally November 24, 2009 at 3:39 pm

Kate–stay tuned for a post that touches on this topic soon.

Great comments everyone, thanks a lot!

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Vicki Shanta Retelny December 10, 2009 at 4:10 pm

OMG – I love this debate as it’s one that I’ve had in my own head for almost 4 years now! Although, I can teeter on orthorexia in my own food life, with the my two tots I am more forgiving when it comes to the occasional chocolate fudge brownie, lollipop or even hot dog (typically instigated by my hot-dog-loving husband).

So it’s a struggle, but I’ve come to terms with it in my own head by chalking it up to food & nutrition education – the kind that I had as a child – try everything at least once and soon enough the healthy foods will rise above the rest. Afterall, how long can you live on candy canes and ice cream?
-VSR

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Amy Shaffer February 24, 2011 at 1:07 pm

We buy Trader Joe’s Organic Midnight Moo – organic sugar, water, organic cocoa, organic nonfat dry milk, vanilla, xanthan gum, soy lechithin and citric acid.

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Jess Pedersen March 24, 2011 at 5:17 pm

I LOVE your blog, Sally! And I love the way you think (and write) about food! I totally agree about soda. And I also draw a line when it comes to fast food. Isaac (2 1/2) has never had a fast food hamburger, nuggets, or french fries. He’s never been to McD’s or any other fast food chain. I do buy all-natural organic chicken nuggets at Whole Foods — they aren’t the blended creepy kind and it’s something that he really enjoys a few times each month. I am a label reader and won’t buy anything with hfcs. My one concern is that he has never had red meat or pork (except for a stray piece of bacon that my stepdad slipped to him one morning). Jorgen and I don’t eat red meat or pork and I’m worried that Isaac may have issues with digestion if he eats some in the future, not to mention anemia issues. We don’t buy chocolate milk and we don’t make it at home, but it’s a special treat for Isaac when we go to Starbuck’s and he gets the Horizon milk. The TJs sounds good, though!

Do I sound too strict?

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Sally March 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm

Thanks for your nice comment, Jess, and for reading my blog! I wouldn’t be concerned about Isaac not eating red meat or pork. As long as he’s getting sources of protein and iron (like beans, chicken, and iron-fortified breakfast cereal), he will be just fine. You don’t sound too strict at all–you’ve just decided what kinds of foods you’re comfortable having in your home and what you’re not. As Isaac gets older and you’re not in control of what he’s eating all the time, he’ll get more exposure to other kinds of food (like fast food, soda, and sweets), but what he consistently gets at home is most important.

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