Being a parent today has certainly changed from the carefree days when I was a kid. Lucky you, moms who got to raise their kids in the 70s & 80s! You had it so good and you didn’t even know it. Let’s start with lunch. You got away with making a bologna and cheese sandwich squished between two slices of Wonder Bread, complete with a bag of chips, an apple, and a Capri Sun drink. I not only wondered what was in that tasty sugar-laden bread that made it so soft and delicious, I also wondered what the heck bologna was actually made from? I am still not clear on that to this day. And let’s talk about the apple. The same bruised up apple would taunt us each day in our lunch box until it was eaten, destroyed, or thrown away. I learned to toss it on day three. Our parents got a feather in their cap for simply making the lunch. It didn’t matter what was in it, they were domestic heroes. That’s not the case today.
Now let’s fast forward 30-some odd years and our generation is faced with a whole new set of rules, responsibilities, and shaming. We get shamed for everything when it comes to parenting, and food is def at the top of the list. My interest in healthy food started as a teenager with my first job at a health food store. I learned a lot while working there and even became a bit of a health nut for a hot second. College life eventually put the kibosh on that. However, I resurrected my interest in healthy eating when I became pregnant. Ever read What To Expect When You’re Expecting? It’s the bible for expecting moms and it has an entire section about food and nutrition. Translation: all the tasty stuff you should avoid while fighting your pregnancy cravings. This knowledge was a total buzzkill since food is basically the only vice a pregnant woman gets. My health food interest only grew when I actually had to feed my baby and eventually provide snacks and a lunch for preschool. This is when I discovered how incredibly complicated this simple task had become. It was also my introduction to the must-have ever popular bento box — eek.
This short and jocose video pretty much sums up the current climate. It was written and directed by my childhood friend and neighbor, Marla Sokoloff Puro. She keeps super busy these days as a mother of two, actress, blogger, and most recently a writer and director — and she totally nailed it!
I started to inquire about the various food options like most moms do today, by asking my friends. I also joined every moms group I could find on social media. The problem was this mixed assortment of moms provided a range of very different advice. Some had suggestions that were the polar opposite of others. So I turned to my trusted resources: Google and my laptop. Aghhh, there was so much information it was overwhelming, conflicting, and confusing. I was still at a loss. And did I already mention the mommy shamers? They scared the sh*t out of me, so I was determined to do it right and stay comfortably under their shame-dar.
In pursuit to learn even more, I got the brilliant idea to watch every food documentary I could find. Yikes! The info was informative, but I found the extreme lifestyle being promoted wasn’t realistic unless we wanted to live in an organic fruit and veggie bubble forever. I knew I wanted a happy medium for my kids. I wanted them to have a few treats at birthday parties or when we dined out while maintaining a healthy diet at home. So after searching high and low and everything in between, I discovered these 4 takeaways that work really well for my family.
1. Just say NO to food coloring!
When I was eight years old, I remember my friend was diagnosed with ADHD. The doctor who made this diagnosis advised my friend to avoid anything containing food coloring because it was known to cause hyperactivity, irritability, and aggressiveness in children. There were also some doctors that linked food coloring to learning disabilities back then. And this was in the 80s! Hence, this information has been known for decades.
More recently reported was “Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Red 40 contain compounds, including benzidine and 4-aminobiphenyl, that research has linked with cancer.” This article is dated 2010, which proves again that this information has been known for years. However, not one time did my pediatrician mention this to me. Not once. There was also an article published the other day reporting “the American Academy of Pediatrics council on environmental health member Dr. Leonardo Trasande said there are “critical weaknesses” in the process to regulate chemicals added to food and that the government doesn’t do enough to ensure all chemicals added to foods are safe.” This is scary stuff.
Unfortunately, a huge majority of food marketed to kids contains toxic bright and appealing food coloring. I try to avoid them at all costs. Luckily, nowadays there are many natural foods which use organic ingredients to enhance the color of foods naturally. When in doubt, it’s best to stick with whole foods. Although, I do realize it ain’t easy…
2. Fat > sugar
Yep, when given the option I will always choose fat over sugar. There are sooo many sugary foods tempting my kids each day, it is impossible to completely eliminate them all. But I do consider anything that contains (processed) sugar “a treat” and limit their intake of these items. This obesity-causing culprit is hiding out in many foods that may surprise you. Such as tomato soup, raisins, yogurt, and even sweetened soy milk. Yikes! What I have also found is that sugar doesn’t satiate my kids. They experience a quick high and a hard crash. Nothing is worse than having hangry kids, right?! There are many types of fats, and some are not so great for us. However, when given the option of fries vs soda, I am going with fries. There are many articles focused on the truth about sugar, and you can read more about it here, here, and here.
3. Fruit is fun
My kids actually taught me this. Bananas are fun to peel, apples are amusing to bite, and raspberries fit perfectly on each of their tiny little fingers. Fruit can be so fun that they truly enjoy eating it. Look, I have nothing but mad respect for the moms who make lunches into elaborate shapes and creatures, but that’s just not me. Alternatively, fruit has become the mealtime entertainment that my kids love to eat without question or putting up a fight. Yay, winning! These naturally sweet salubrious treats are always a crowd pleaser in my house. When in doubt, pull fruit out.
4. Fall in love with water
Did you know your body is made up of roughly 60% water? Water helps strengthen the immune system, regulates weight, and prevents cavities & dehydration. And, as I love to tell my kids, helps them go ‘poops’, which always makes them giggle then drink even more. But let’s move on from all the technical talk and boring statistics. Here’s how I got my kids to fall in love with one of my all time favorite beverages, water!
When I started dining out with my kids, I would always order a bottle of sparkling water. My kids eventually wanted to try what mommy was drinking, so I ordered a bottle for them as well. This can be an expensive habit, though, as many bottles cost upwards of $10 or so. Thus, I treated the “sparkly” water as a treat while flat water was the norm. This introduction to fancy water really piqued their interest and now they have become mini water connoisseurs themselves. I began to buy them the sparkly waters for their lunches, and they really enjoy choosing the flavors themselves. We also make pitchers of water infused with their favorite fruits — see, fruit really is fun! Their appreciation for good old-fashioned water has made the inevitable sugary-beverage struggle so much easier!
Putting aside the food fears and overwhelming options, we’re all in this together as moms who are simply trying our best. I give high-fives and will toast a glass of vino to each and every mom raising kids in this amazing yet insane world in which we live. And unlike our 70s & 80s predecessors, we do have a lot to be grateful for! Daytime yoga pants (their exercise uniform was a hideous jazzercise leotard—bleh), DoorDash when we’re in a pinch for dinner, and of course Netflix. Cheers to you, mamas!