I am so excited to be joining the Around the World in Six Weeks Parenting Blog Carnival, along with Jessica of School of Smock, Sarah of Left Brain Buddha, Deb of Urban Moo Cow, and Lauren of Omnimom.
What can we learn from parents around the world and how they raise their children?
- What should we teach our kids about eating and food?
- Is too much self-esteem harmful to kids?
- Do American kids have too much academic pressure? Or not enough?
- How do we raise kids with good character?
- How do we raise independent kids and foster their self-control?
We’ll also be giving away a copy of Parenting Without Borders, signed by the author Christine Gross-Loh! Enter the giveaway by commenting on any of our Carnival posts during the next two weeks. We’ll announce the winner by July 15th!
Nutrition and Eating: How Does America Compare?
This week we are focusing on the complicated and potentially controversial topic of nutrition, eating habits, and feeding our families. I found myself nodding along at some of the very compelling points made in this chapter, and other paragraphs caused me to squirm, gasp, or shake my head in disbelief.
Here are some of the key points in this chapter of Parenting Without Borders, focusing mainly on the author’s observations/criticisms of American eating habits:
- Americans eat more packaged food than people from any other country- we frequently choose “convenience foods” to feed our children.
- Nearly 40% of the calories consumed by American children are empty calories- sugar and fat. A disturbing portion of those come from fast food and junk food.
- Many other countries frown upon the habit of snacking and grazing on the go. (Stroller snack compartments, anyone? Spill-proof toddler snack cups?)
- Other countries focus far more on being grateful for food and not rushing.
I was surprised at my overall reaction to this chapter; I wasn’t expecting to feel quite so chagrined when it came to the glaring discrepancies between America’s food traditions and rituals with those of other countries. I was prepared for the obvious (and notably disturbing) points about junk food, empty calories, and convenience food, but I was even more bothered by the points about snacking, rushing, and gratitude.
My husband and I try very hard to provide well-rounded nutrition to our family; we have always made it a priority to include whole grains, lean meats, chicken, and fish, and plenty of fruits and vegetables when preparing meals for ourselves and our children. I will admit that one of the things that causes me to put on my “Judgey Mom” hat is when I see children ingesting ridiculous amounts of sugar.
In our house, we don’t even serve our children juice regularly, let alone soda. Sure, we often indulge ourselves, and the kids, in “sweet treats” such as cookies or ice cream (or the chocolate chip pancakes I am so fond of making on the weekends) but we don’t integrate massive amounts of sugar into our diets. I must admit, I was buoyed by the fact that many other cultures embrace the concept of “treats” and some are far more open about allowing sweets, and even candy, for young children! (Those cultures are, in general, eating far more well-rounded diets.)
Am I Too Lazy About Nutrition and Eating Habits?
I am far from perfect. I will admit, I am even a bit hypocritical about food: I may scoff at the notion of offering my children Doritos on a regular basis, but I feel absolutely fine (read: superior) about allowing them to eat “Veggie Straws” nearly daily. I often succumb to my own variation of convenience food; while I agree that it is preferable for my toddler to eat my homemade steel-cut oatmeal with fruit for breakfast, I routinely choose the path of least resistance and allow her to eat a Nutri-Grain bar instead. It is clear to me that this choice is downright lazy, but I allow myself to be placated by the fact that, hey, at least the word “grain” and misleading prefix “nutri” are included!
My toddler has only recently made it onto her growth chart- from about 9 months on, she has failed to maintain her former weight gain curve. I am so obsessed with her gaining weight that I rationalize my food choices for her with, “At least she’s eating something!” (The notion of “picky eating” is apparently quite unique to America, by the way.) My children are both skinny, taking after their mother’s childhood “beanpole” body type; childhood obesity will likely never be a problem for them.
But there are other reasons to eat well than fear of obesity.
Once again, I was equally bothered by the “bad habits” of American eating as I was by the differences in nutrition quality. I cringed when I read the sections about snacking, grazing, and rushing through meals. Our family is so guilty of falling into that trap; our dinners often consist of me standing up while shoveling my food in over the counter, my six year old wolfing down her dinner so that she can dash off to join her friends again, and my toddler standing up in her booster seat until we finally give up and let her leave the table, with or without her food in hand. Sure, I could dismiss the idea that eating should be a sacred family ritual as something that works better in other cultures, but here’s the thing: Savoring meals together in a deliberate, conscious way makes sense.
We constantly allow our children to snack just to get them off our backs. Again, while we try to offer fruits, whole grain crackers, hummus, cheese, etc, much of the time, I frequently fall victim to the Whole Foods pseudo-healthy convenience food trap. (Annie’s, anyone?) Packaged food is still packaged food, even if it was made with organic wheat flour before it was processed.
We are also guilty of snacking “on the go”- in the car, while walking around, on stroller rides, at the zoo; this divided focus really conflicts with many of my beliefs about being present and eating mindfully. When our oldest daughter was three, my husband and I attended a Conscious Parenting class; not only did the teacher discourage snacking “on the go,” she also maintained that there was really no reason for our children to be drinking water or milk in the car. I must admit, we never did break that habit of bringing sippy cups in the car with us.
How Do We Balance Making Good Eating Choices & the Reality of Our Busy Lives?
The syndrome of busy-ness many of us are afflicted with makes it even harder to find the time to prepare high quality, nutritious meals for our kids. It is so much easier to dump out a box of Mac-n-Cheese than it is to make something from scratch. This is compounded by the fact that of course our children prefer the Mac to our homemade broccoli casserole. And whose fault is that?
I feel like it is a very fine line to walk between the ideas of “Make food choices with integrity” and “Give yourself a break- you’re doing the best you can.” I am the first to admit- I don’t know where to draw this line. It’s all about balance, but let’s be real- How often do we all choose the path of least resistance when it comes to feeding our kids?
- “OK, fine. Have a granola bar.” I realize dinner is 30 minutes away and this will ruin your appetite, but please, for the love of God, leave Mommy alone in the kitchen!!!
- “Here, sweetie! Take this bowl of goldfish crackers and please stop screaming in the car!”
- “You need to sit down at the table when we’re eating…ok, on second thought, feel free to wander around the living room with this bowl of fruit and leave Mommy and Daddy alone!”
Sound familiar? (Please say yes, or I will feel even worse about my eating choices!) While I agree that the “busy American lifestyle” does not make it possible/convenient/easy to savor hour-long meals at the table with our families, shop daily for fresh produce in order to cook homemade dinners, suffer through long car rides sans Veggie Straws, (you should seriously check those out. Costco, baby. Doh!) I admit that reading this book made me want to try a little harder.
It isn’t always necessary to completely overhaul your family’s food choices: (Unless you subscribe to the Fast Food Nation method- then you should totally hire a consultant or something) Sometimes it is enough to implement smaller degrees of change. Instead of swearing off all packaged food, I am going to try harder to offer fresh snacks like fruits and veggies to my children more frequently. (that whole no-snacking policy is waaay beyond me) Instead of ceasing all of our grazing-on-the-go habits, I am going to try to decrease them and help our children focus on one thing at a time. Instead of giving up and letting our toddler wander around the house with a fistful of waffle, I am going to try to impart the value of staying seated at the table with her family members.
Like I said-degrees of change. And as the wise and witty Norine of Science of Parenthood commented to me the other day- “Progress- not perfection.”
Don’t forget to check out the other bloggers in our Carnival this week:
Left Brain Buddha- Mindful Eating: We Are HOW We Eat
School of Smock- How We Teach Our Kids To Be Picky Eaters- And What To Do About It
Urban Moo Cow-Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast
Omni Mom- Food, Glorious Food