The mother is not fond (to put it mildly) of the junk food her kids eat at school during their classmates' birthday parties and other special occasions. Rather than allowing them to eat the cupcakes, juice pops, and other sugary treats, she gives each of her kids a Tupperware container (the "junk food collector") and makes them place the treat in it, and bring it home.
She regularly fires off angry emails to the school district and to other parents concerning the treats, and believes there should be permission slips for any food not on the school's lunch menu. School district officials have called her hostile, and while some parents agree with her message (with a childhood obesity epidemic, do kids really need regular injections of sugary treats into the school day?) many other find her tactics offensive.
Granted, it seems as if this woman is a bit unhinged. I did a little digging, and it seems her crusade might be more about weight than it is about health. (In an interview with the U.K. newspaper The Guardian, she told the interviewer that she will not eat until after she's exercised, even if she doesn't get in her workout until 4pm. She also claims she's a master at meeting with people in places and at times of the day that do not revolve around food, lest she, you know, want to eat something.)
But while her methods are questionable and offensive, is she wrong? In my opinion, no.
My children's health and nutrition are very important to me. Isabella's diet is made up of about 90% organics and the twins eat nothing but organic. I made all of Isabella's baby food, and I'm now making the twins'. The fact that one in five preschoolers is now obese (obese, at three or four years old) scares the shite out of me. The hubs is not a small guy. Weight issues run in his family. I do everything I can to make sure Isabella eats healthy foods and gets plenty of exercise. I don't believe that my kids need a lot of sugar-laden treats in order to survive or even to be happy.
That said, as I wrote a few months ago, Isabella is hardly denied sweets. She gets a small dessert after dinner a few nights a week (we don't offer if unless she asks, and if she's eaten a decent portion of her dinner, she gets a small cookie or a sugar-free popsicle), and now that it's warm, the hubs has stopped the ice cream truck for her a few times, and we've also taken her out for ice cream as well. We used to give her one M&M as a reward for using the potty while we were potty-training her (that's since been discontinued, not because I stopped it, but because she no longer asks for it.).
But I don't allow her to eat cookies and other snack-type foods before lunch or dinner. If she says she's hungry, she can have as many carrots, cauliflower florets, edamame, grapes, or blueberries (all of which she loves) as she wants. But do I let her stick her hand in one of the many boxes of cookies or crackers my aunts and grandma are constantly bringing over here? No. And they think that's criminal.
Most of my relatives, including my mother, believe I am the Cruella de Vil of food. My grandma and my mom have told me on numerous occasions that my withholding sweets from Isabella is going to make her develop an eating disorder when she's older and that I am "denying her her childhood."
No, they're not kidding.
And so they sneak Isabella food. If my grandma comes over to watch Isabella and the twins in the mornings when I go for a run or do some errands, she gives Isabella cookies, ice cream, or whatever it is that she happened to bring over for her that day. This, even though I always leave Isabella her morning snack (which is usually fruit, or cheddar bunnies, or some other healthy, kid-friendly fare). And I know this because Isabella tells me.
One of my aunts hustles off Isabella to the back bedroom of my great aunt's house where we have dinner every Sunday and lets her feast on a hidden bag of M&Ms. She thinks I don't know about it.
There is a cupboard in my kitchen that is literally full of crap food for Isabella that I didn't buy. And while I may have given her more of it in the past, the fact that my relatives are on me constantly about how horrible I am for not offering my child her weight in cookies each and every day makes me want to withhold it from Isabella even more. It really pisses me off because their actions seem to me like a gigantic "screw you." I know that in my Italian family, food is a way to show love. But they don't respect the way I'm choosing to feed my child. They think they know better and tell me constantly, "we allowed you to eat whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted when you were growing up." What if I was raising Isabella as a vegetarian? Would they sneak her meat? What if I were raising her as a Buddhist? Would they kidnap her and take her to church?
The thing is, because it's not an everyday part of our lives, Isabella doesn't even ask for treats. Occasionally, she'll ask for whatever treat my grandma brings over (since dear grandma shows it to her the second she walks through the door) but 5 seconds later, she's moved onto something more important, like trying to putting Dora stickers on the cats. She doesn't whine for food, or even get upset when I tell her no, you can't have more ice cream or a second cookie, or whatever.
So here's the bottom line. I'm not sending Isabella to preschool with a "junk food collector." If there's a birthday party or Valentine's Day celebration at her preschool, she can eat whatever the treat happens to be. I'll have to accept the fact that she'll be eating a morning snack twice a week that's provided by another parent and might not be all that healthy (she's attending a semi-cooperative preschool, and parents provide snacks for the entire class on a rotating basis). And I won't be staging a revolt at her preschool, or firing off angry emails to teachers and parents, although I will admit to hoping for an "approved" snack list of mainly healthy foods to be mailed home in advance of the school year.
But when she's home, she'll eat the way the hubs and I want her to because the health of her little body and her tiny teeth are more important to me than making sure she has a favorite flavor of potato chip by the time she's 3 years old.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some puppies to skin.