I would love to tell you that it’s nothing but pure joy when I accompany my twin boys to their friends’ birthday parties but I’d be lying.
At a recent classmate’s birthday party, the other moms all sat around the edge of the room while the designated party helper circled the kid’s table with a cart full of soda, pouring on demand. She reached my 7-year-old twin boys and asked them what they’d like to drink.
“I’ll have some water, please,” they both echoed in a rare display of twin-like unison.
“Oh.” The teenage girl sounded a bit surprised that children were opting for water over the plethora of sugary sodas. “Well, do you want a soda, too? I have Sprite, Coke, Orange, Root Beer…” And with that, my son Jack looked up to me and said, “Mom, can we have soda?”
Despite the fact that my children have never had a soda in their lives, I didn’t freak out and shout “NO! What are you thinking? That stuff will poison your insides!” because I was prepared for this moment. Instead, I told my sons that they could have the soda but it would be their “treat of the party” and it was their call to make. Both boys knew what that meant because our family has a rule for junk food at parties and special events: pick any one treat — it can be the birthday cake, the ice-cream, a cupcake from the buffet table, a juice box, or in this case, the soda. But it can only be one. My husband and I try our best to teach our kids (and ourselves!) that it’s okay to indulge once in a while but that it’s important to limit that indulgence and to really stop and enjoy the treat you’ve chosen. In this circumstance, both boys decided the birthday cake looked more appealing than the soda and politely asked for water.
The other moms around me looked on in absolute amazement. Their eyes wide and jaws dropped, they couldn’t believe my children had opted for water over soda and were shocked to hear that they have never had soda before. After doing my best to explain our reasons for not drinking soda or juice without sounding like a total judgemental jerk, the women inevitably came out with the most common question I get when people find out our family doesn’t eat processed food.
“Well, that’s great but what happens when they’re older and can eat whatever they want?”
It’s a valid question but also a silly one. As all clean eaters will tell you, eating a diet full of unprocessed food makes you feel good. No scratch that, it makes you feel amazing. Kids are no exception to this. As our boys get older, they are becoming more and more aware of the effects of junk food and when we do allow them to have it, the boys now connect the sugar rushes, the mood swings, and the sore tummies with the junk food they’ve eaten. Knowledge is power and the simple awareness of this is often enough for kids to continue eating clean for their adult lives. We also believe the best way of preventing the “forbidden fruit” syndrome is to provide enough boundaries to keep our kids safe but just enough choice to empower them in making good choices on their own.
It warms my heart to hear parents teach their kids that junk food, like birthday cake and pizza, are only for special occasions. I hope we can all agree on that. But I challenge you to take this one step further. When it comes time for those special occasions, why not teach our children that moderation is key? Why not teach ourselves the same thing?
So many of us justify “special occasions” as a guilt-free binge session. Take the birthday party example: a child who perhaps eats quite healthy at home is granted the party’s two-hour window to eat whatever they want. They fill up on processed food (cake, ice-cream, chips), sugary beverages (soda, sugar-added “fruit” juice, gatorade) and all sorts of frankenfoods (where every ingredient is man-made and formulated in a lab) until they’re sick to their stomach. This is not a healthy approach to food.
There will come a day very soon when our kids will make all of these decisions without us hovering over them and while it’s wiser to teach them that junk food is only for special occasions and not as an every day food, I worry that we’re doing harm by conditioning them that in those “special occasions”, it’s okay to devour whatever crosses your path without thought.
- Adopt our family's rule of "one treat per party"
- Reading food labels
- Going for a family walk once a week
- Tracking your own calories to understand where your body's fuel (aka food) is coming from - we love to use My Fitness Pal
Whatever it is, the first step is always the hardest. But I promise you, whether it’s eating cleaner, exercising more, or just being aware of how many calories you’re eating, the step after that will be a little bit easier. And then the one after that is easier still! And before you know it, you will have overhauled your lifestyle, you will love your body, and you will have habits that are worth passing on to your kids! Your spouse, your family, and the rest of the nation could sure benefit from your good example.