Thursday, September 22, 2011

'Mommy, There's Chemicals In My Food!'

It has now been two weeks since we started our new school and daycare routines. And I gotta tell you. I am beat. Like crazy beat. Like blind and ready to feed the kids pop-tarts. Okay, maybe not that tired. Though more than ever I totally get it. Most people aren't too lazy to cook. They are just way too tired to cook from all the other stuff they have to do to keep their lives in balance.

We have been managing well enough with school food. I have packed a healthy lunch, a bottle of water and a whole fruit everyday for Thing 1. The routine of preparing lunches in the evening is getting easier. Now if I could just same the same about the morning routine!! For the most part, Thing 1 eats my food and not the school's food. He does drink the juice that the school provides almost every day. That is something I do not buy at home, so it's a huge treat!! I have not checked if their juice is additive free, but right now it is a peace keeping measure. So while I assume that there might be some yuckies in there, I can't possibly take his juice away.

I have asked several questions of my biggest Thing every day after school. Did you like your lunch? What was the school serving? What didn't you like in your lunch? Were you full enough? Many days he comes home with about one third to one half his lunch uneaten. But that's the thing about whole foods, whole grains and full fat foods, they are filling. We are so accustomed to overeating in our culture that to see a child with an already small tummy eat real food, well it can seem like they are only picking at their food. My kids could down a whole bag of potato chips in one sitting. But give them an egg and raw cheese on whole wheat and they won't finish it. It isn't because they don't like it, it is just that real food is filling. Give the kids good foods and they will figure out how much. We as caregivers can't be swayed to give them junk foods just to see them actively eat.

On the third day of school Thing 1 brought me home a present. A single serve bowl of Malt-O-Meal Berry Colossal Crunch Cereal. This sweetened corn and rice cereal contains both natural and artificial flavors. Oh joy. The cereal contains only 12 grams of sugar. There are 6 grams of sugar in each teaspoon of sugar. And since those 12 grams include any natural sugars from the corn, 12 grams is on the low side for sweetened cereals. I was surprised enough to check the ingredient list for sugar substitutes. Nope, none. Then I thought...since the serving size is only one ounce (or three-quarters of a cup), sugar still makes up a sizable portion of the total cereal. You see, one ounce weighs in at slightly over 28 grams. This one ounce of cereal has 12 grams of sugar, so the cereal itself is around 43% sugars by weight.

Thing 1 brought home the cereal because he said he had had it for breakfast and he liked it. He said it was a present for me. So sweet. He has begun to bring home little cups of juice and other treats for DH and me. I need to do better about consuming these gifts. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I also don't want drink artificially colored juice.

This brings me to the next part of this post. You might be asking yourself 'If you don't want your kid drinking colored juice and fake food, why not just put your foot down?' That is a valid enough question. In the first few days I told Thing 1 that he was free to choose the food he ate. He ate some food from school and some from his back pack. I didn't like the trend so much, so I had a talk with him during the weekend. I told him that Mommy would not be mad at him for eating the school food. I wanted it to be his decision. But that I wanted him to look at certain things as treats, like that cereal, as opposed to every day meal items. And then I dropped a bomb on his impressionable little mind. I told him that some of the school food has chemicals in it. And I would prefer that he eat the food that mommy makes from scratch.

I define the term 'bully' as a person who is mean because they can get away with it. A bully is someone who picks on people who are smaller, weaker or otherwise not in a position to fight back (I am sure everyone knows an office bully who hides behind some trumped-up title). I have questioned, was I bullying my child by telling him that his food had chemicals in it? On one hand, I really wasn't. The Malt-O-Meal cereal contains artificial flavors, synthetic vitamins and BHT to name a few. That cereal does indeed contain chemicals. Do I know for certain that all the food the school serves contains chemicals? No, I do not. I did notice that after our chat, far less school food was consumed. On the other hand, I know that Thing 1 does not fully understand what it is to eat food containing chemicals. Does he believe that there is cleaning solution in his favorite grilled cheese sandwiches? Does he believe that there is lighter fluid in the juice? Even the average educated adult can't explain the difference between chemicals we know are bad for us even in small doses (think posion control) and the items that the FDA says are Generally Regarded As Safe in the doses they prescribe. I certainly can't. I just know I don't want to eat ANY chemicals if I can help it.

I want my kids to want to eat clean food too. My search for a better meal isn't just about ethically treated meat, or local foods, or even pesticide free foods. There are dozens of chemicals that seep into our food supply in myriad different ways. I simply want as many of them out of my chow as possible. And I want the same for my kids. Did I resort to scare tactics when I exploited my young child's impressionable mind? I suppose I did because I didn't give him the full story. I haven't told him yet why there are chemicals in our food, how they got there or who put them there. How can he make an informed decision with only half the story? In this case I am a little too much like the New York Post.

But while I negatively motivated Thing 1 into eating clean last week, I did not accomplish the ultimate goal. I do not want my kids to be afraid of processed foods. I want them to be confident and empowered to eat clean, fresh, healthy foods. I don't want them to feel guilt when they will undoubtedly be faced with Cheetoes and Coca-Cola. I want them to have a varied experience. And while I want them to ultimately choose to eat ethically sustainable raised clean foods, I want them to choose it because it is what they want. That is true empowerment.

Of course I do still intend to TALK with them about their food choices. My children are a captive audience for me. While I want them to make good choices for themselves on their own, I do fully intend to sell my viewpoint. And considering that I work in sales for a living, this is a deal I fully intend to close. Though I promise to not be too judgemental if they grow up to be men that eat McDonald's every other day and drink Coke with every meal. Right now I think Thing 1 is squarely in my camp while Thing 2 might end up in the food industry's camp. Time will tell...I promise to keep fighting the good fight.

This Post is shared with Simple Lives Thursdays and Real Food Wednesdays and Fight Back Fridays


  1. This is all well and good- but do you also ask Thing 1 if he had fun at school? Do you ask what he learned or if he made friends? I get that food is your passion and that this blog has a key focus and you may not divulge other parts of your conversations with your kids because they aren't relevant to this blog's purpose - but I secretly hope my kids aren't as obsessed with food at all as I am. There is a faint line between trying to teach our kids to eat healthy and teaching them to obsess over every bite because Mommy will want to know what you put in your mouth at the end of the day. This particular post makes it seem like the only thing you cared about in your kid's day was what he chose to eat...I know that's not the case and believe me I stress and worry over everything I give my kids too. I groan when I read the monthly menu the daycare puts out and wonder what I could do to get better food on the table. But I can't help but share my concern that we are passing our negative obsessions on to our children. Are we setting them up for neuroses? Eating disorders? Are we focusing on the right things? This is an honest question.

  2. Anonymous, you hit the nail on the head. I do not divulge all our personal information on this site and the focus of this blog is food. Typically I will speak only of his day upon pickup, friends, homework assignments etc. We continue to discuss that all the way home and during dinner. My questions about his food comprise only 5 or so minutes of the total evening.

    Also the purpose of this post was to make sure that everyone understands that I struggle with being too focused on food. Also that I do not want to scare my kids into eating healthy. I want support their nutritional education, not make them fear every bite. They are little now, but I trust that as they get older they will understand more and learn to embrace food, not count calories and fret over preservatives.

  3. I am having similar struggles with my daughter's school who just recently implemented breakfast during classroom time. The principal came over the loud speaker and told everyone that they must eat their breakfast so to my daughter, not eating it is disobeying the principal. I'm am very troubled over this and was so worked up at first. I have made my peace as i know she will eat the breakfast, but hate that i have no control over the menu and know that its full of sugar and chemicals. We did make a compromise this morning. She will be allowed to eat school breakfast as long as she drinks mommy's smoothie/milkshake each morning before school. You better believe those smoothies will be FULL of good stuff to coat that little belly before she gets the not-so-good from school.

  4. Thank you for sharing...I have a 2-year old and seem to be constantly struggling with this issue at family/friend get togethers. Who knew that consuming Cheese Puffs was a rite of passage that I was robbing her of???? (My friend promptly went to the store to purchase some when she learned that my daughter had never eaten them.) I do not want it to become a power struggle with my daughter or become a case of the 'forbidden fruit'. Thank you for your candor and sharing your struggles as well as your triumphs!

  5. Reply to Table of Promise - I hope I didn't offend you. I hope it was clear that I my concern was for my own family as well as yours. I tend to do the same thing that I was talking about: What did you eat!!?? AGGGHHH. I feel just terrible. The menu at my daughter's daycare is mostly garbage and I was obsessing for a while. I have just recently started to take a chill pill as it were...but it's hard. I still worry that she's not getting enough good food. But what can you do about it when other parents don't seem to care and the daycare is just trying to feed so many mouths on a budget and all. It's a difficult situation.

  6. @Kristina - I would be furious about the mandatory breakfast. I feed my kids breakfast at home before school.