What’s a parent to do? The news is so full of nutritional advice it can seem impossible to know where to begin an attempt to feed children well. Sugar is increasingly viewed as dietary suicide. Fiber is fantastic for preventing constipation, irritable bowel syndrome and is linked to a reduction in colon cancer. Blueberries and walnuts have antioxidants, salmon and tuna have vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Too much tuna has too much mercury. Too much cow’s milk can lead to iron-deficiency anemia. Too much soy milk is risky as well. How does a parent put all of this advice into action?
My patients’ parents often ask questions about nutrition. I offer them a collection of nutritional advice soundbites; the top ten of which may form my next blog posts. One bit of “wisdom” I have always put out there is this: “Make snacks count”. Snacks are a great chance to get in the foods we most want our kids to eat. As a mom of 15, 12 and 10 year old kids I certainly try to practice what I preach. Sometimes though, I fail. It struck me today as I watched the 12 year old gleefully eat her bowl of very sugary cereal complete with colored marshmallow bits, that there is something about summer vacation that seems programmed to allow these failures.
My childhood summer vacations were spent on the beaches of Virginia, North and South Carolina, in the woods around my grandparents home on the Chesapeake bay and on a lake in the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were formed of long days of freedom, swimming, exploring and happiness. Sand and heat, mosquitoes, crabs and fireflies, lemonade and Fritos formed the texture of the days.
Fritos? Yes. Now looking back on those days I realize how much of my summertime memories center around foods enjoyed only then. Some of course were healthy summertime treats, some were not. S’mores, Fritos and the occasional bowl of sugary cereal were a wonderful break from the extremely healthy diet my mother usually fed me. Now I realize that I have programmed my own children to expect the same sort of nutritional holiday. Sugary cereal never enters my house and to their credit, the kids don’t ask for it either. They know though, that on vacation away from home they are allowed to get a box of the junkiest cereal their little hearts desire. It seems to me that this kind of holiday has a place in their lives.
I may have benefited from being allowed to lie in a sunny spot on a houseboat with my bowl of chips. How? It taught me moderation. As the Roman writer Petronius said:
moderation in all things, including moderation.
Perhaps if we allow our kids the occasional nutritional holiday they will crave the junk less regularly. Outright prohibition doesn’t seem to work well, for adults or for children. Allowing junk food holidays at times provides us an opportunity to discuss why it is usually not allowed. Maybe they will appreciate it more. I do know for certain that as I sit here now I am certainly enjoying my bowl of Fritos.