There’s a brand new way to brag about our kids: Talk about how much they hate junk food.
It’s not enough that we crow about traveling baseball teams or casually mention the pre-K chess semi-finals. Lately, it seems like a lot of us are quick to recount stories of our children denouncing processed foods.
I’m guilty too. My chest swells with pride when my kids voluntarily employ some bit of nutrition knowledge I’ve tried to impart. And not for nothing, but my son’s contribution to his preschool’s quote wall is “Candy canes are not growing food”.
(See how easy it is to brag about this? I’m doing it right now.)
But this new breed of parental boasting also worries me a bit. For one, why are so many people afraid to admit that their kids might possibly like the taste of junk food? I caught some flak for doing just that in my post “My Kid Likes Junk Food. And That’s Okay”. My point wasn’t that we should load up our kids with chips and soda. Rather, that most kids think cheese puffs and store-bought cookies and root beer taste really good, so it’s important to find a way to deal with it. (In my house, that means occasional junk when we’re out and about–but that doesn’t have to be your strategy.)
If we’re under the impression that our kids will happily reject the sleeve of powdered donuts after t-ball practice or the class party cupcake, is there less incentive to get angry and really change things?
I believe that eating habits are about your environment–that eating less junk is about creating healthier surroundings, not exercising iron-clad willpower. There are plenty of grown-ups who struggle with their weight and eating but are incredibly well-versed on health and nutrition. I just don’t think that two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese because they don’t have enough knowledge or self control.
There are loads of factors contributing to the “obesogenic” environment. But the fact that hyper-tasty, high-calorie food is everywhere is definitely central. It’s hard for kids and adults to be surrounded by junk food (and constant messages from advertisers to eat it) and not fall into unhealthy patterns.
As a dietitian, I teach children about the benefits of a whole foods diet. If they apply it to their lives, I am over the moon. But it’s just not enough.
We have to work to change their environment. That means removing some of the ubiquitous, hyper-tasty treats after sports games, scout meetings, school clubs, and church so that moderating junk isn’t such a trying task for parents (and kids).
Maybe then, a kid choosing a banana after soccer practice wouldn’t be so unusual after all.
And it certainly wouldn’t be something to brag about.