Sugar Freak

If you asked my relatives, they would tell you that I have a lot in common with the mother in this NYT article.

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.

13 Responses to “Sugar Freak”

  1. # Blogger Simply-Mel

    Everything in moderation is the way I roll. We dont have the obesity problem that the States have and I think its because we dont have the array of fast food / convenience food outlets.

    I do not think its unreasonable AT ALL to ask the school to provide the parents with an approved list of items to bring...that is what is done here and it works wonderfully well.

    Treats are just that. A treat - something unusual, not everyday, a rare surprise.

    I would seriously sit your family down in a calm manner and explain how deeply this upsets you. It is also undermining your authority and confusing Isabella ito the fact that other caregivers in her life are doing something 'illegal' in your home.

    Now. Get back to those pups girl.  

  2. # Anonymous Ness @ Drovers Run

    I agree with Simply-Mel, I'm also an 'everything in moderation' person. I agree that a no unhealthy snacks before dinner rule is a great one. If my family did what yours are doing I would be DOWNRIGHT PISSED AS HELL. It's deliberate sabotage. Even my MIL who doesn't agree with me on everthing (like of course it's perfectly okay to take the kids outside for a walk in the howling cold wind...um not when they have overly sensitve airways it's not) and we have reached a kind of 'give and take' relationship, or at least we did before she went back to England, and I get to keep my way :) heh. But still, I would be insanely angry if I were you about the sabotage, because worse than the treats they give Isabella, is the fact that they are undermining you as a mother, and making your rules seem wrong to Isabella. DING DING DING - warning bell.

    So, in a nutshell, I realise that since they're Italian, there probably will be no 'sitting down calmly' as Mel suggested, but perhaps a full scale hissy fit on your part might go down better? Your call! I for one, can't wait to read about their reaction!

    I know already with my mom, she always has a treat for my kids when they walk in her door, but she doesn't bring the stuff to my house. I see it as part of 'looking forward to granny's house', and she keeps it to one treat - and she clears it with me first, so thats ok with me.

    Good luck my friend.  

  3. # Blogger My Wombinations

    I am with Ness in that I would be FURIOUS if my family did what yours is doing. I have cut people completely out of my life for less. That is really, really bad.

    If you are interested in keeping the peace, maybe you should send them to my neck of the woods for a spell. About 95 percent of the moms I know are Whole Foods shopping, CSA membership holding yoga practicing upper middle class types who would not dream of letting anything containing sugar (and yes, I do mean Yo Baby) their precious child's lips. Ever. No dessert. No birthday cake. No special ocassions. Ever.

    And while it may sound like I am mocking, which I am to a certain degree, we also never have dessert and I can probably count on two hands the number of times Sam has had a cookie or slice of cake. Partially it is the culture up here. Parents seem to compete to see whose child eats the least sugar. But it is also just kind of the reality. While "everything in moderation" is a great thing (and something my "two bites of a cookie and done" daughter practices better than me), I also don't think kids NEED to get a taste for junk food. ESPECIALLY at 2 and 3. I would not deny my 8-year-old candy at the movies or the occasional Fun Dip. I loved that stuff as a child.

    But you are so right. Obesity is a major problem in this country. We do not know how to regulate ourselves. But no extreme is a good plan. Kids do not need 40 cookies a week, but they also don't need a cauliflower cake for their first birthday (true story).

    You seem to be completely on the right track--moderation, balance, no "taboo foods"--to having children who respect their own bodies' ability to tell them when they are full. Your kids will thank you for that skill.

    As for your family? Tell them they can stay in my hood for a few weeks:)  

  4. # Anonymous Lis Garrett

    We rarely keep sweets in the house, but we don't deny our kids treats. My kids are FAR from being overweight - they're barely on the scale as it is - so that's not my concern. My concern is what too much sugar does to their behavior. There are those who dispute the 'sugar high' claim, but I've definitely seen it in my kids, particularly Jacob.

    The schools (here) do not allow treats unless it's a child's birthday. In fact, there is a strict 'no junk food' rule at my kids' school. And with as many food-related allergies, schools are becoming more vigilant about what's available to eat.

    My mom was BAD about sending TONS of junk at Easter, Halloween and Christmas and Valentine's Day. I had to put a stop to it, because my kids would go nuts with all the candy. We might give them a bag of M&M's in their stocking or basket, but that's it. And while it might sound 'cruel' to some, that's just the way we roll.

    I agree that people have to respect the way you choose to eat in your own home. But no, I've never told my kids they weren't allowed to indulge with friends during special occasions.  

  5. # Blogger Sugar and Ice

    I know parents all over the spectrum. I've known parents that wouldn't let their own child have a bite of cake on their own birthday. I have cousins that give their three and four month olds full bottles of undiluted (non-organic) apple juice without batting an eye.

    I guess I'm with the everything in moderation crowd. I'm somewhere in the middle. I did make LG a little cake for her first birthday, her first taste of cake ever, and she promptly got frosting in her eye and wouldn't have anything to do with it. My grandfather tried to give her Coca Cola last summer when she was 2 and a half, and I nearly flipped my lid. Most of my family knows better. She gets a small dessert every once in a while. Usually, I use it as a bargaining chip to get her to eat her dinner. She's in the 90th percentile for height and something like the 30th for weight, so right now it's working for us.  

  6. # Blogger In Due Time

    I think you're doing a good job.

    We were too poor growing up for lots of treats, so now that Im an adult I tend to splurge too much.

    I would love to eat healthier but NYEBoy prefers to eat out every night and Im not fond of cooking and cleaning for one. And you can't even mention the O word or he will run. LOL I hate that.  

  7. # Blogger Pregnantly Plump

    It sounds to me like Isabella eats a very well-rounded diet. I wish I could get Little Elvis to eat carrots or cauliflower! He will happily lap up any fruit, but the only vegetable he knowingly eats is peas.
    I think grandparents just want to spoil. Did you really get to eat whatever you wanted as a child? I didn't even know you could put sugar into cereal until I was middle or high school. I had Cheerios, Rice Kripies and Raisin Bran as options. Now, my mom will gladly offer Little Elvis chocolate milk for breakfast and as a night time snack. If he doesn't eat his meal, she'll just hand him a treat. I think it's her chance to spoil him, although I do point out that she NEVER did anything like that for me, so maybe she shouldn't do that for him.  

  8. # Anonymous Anonymous

    You are a great mom. Your kids will thank you one day, trust me! I am in my mid-30's and I constantly thank my parents for not allowing me a a ton of sugar as a kid. Like you, they were fine with the birthday parties or a special holiday. I was lucky to have grown up in the country though, and my father always had the most gorgeous veggies growing in our huge garden out back. Because we had fresh vedgetables and my parents knew how to cook them, I actually used to ask for seconds of brocolli or spinach. My mom did not even allow me to have GUM until I was a teenager.. but hey I have 3 tiny cavities as an adult, and have a healthy relationship with food. Keep doin what you're doin!!  

  9. # Blogger Tracey - Just Another Mommy Blog

    No matter what you are doing, it all comes down to she is YOUR Child. And the fact that you are doing something that you are trying to HELP HER HEALTH with while they are trying to sabotage really stinks.

    No advice. Other than try to really discuss how you FEEL about what they're doing, rather than how you're right and they're wrong.

    That's it. I'm spent of advice.

    Good luck.

    Hope the twins sleep even better tonight!  

  10. # Blogger Shannon

    When I can I will get organic stuff but around us it can be 50% to 75% more than the other fruits and veggies... but I just can't afford it other wise... I had one mom yell at me about it but you know you do what ya can lol...

    but Lore gets mostly sugar free desserts... why because the girl is a sugar freak... she loves her chocolate... she gets that from Jeremy's side of the family most of them have all worked for Hershey at one point or another lol... but we still water down her juice and use sugar free jelly... but I agree with ya... while we are careful with what we give Lore giving my PCOS and both sides of her family having diabities why add to future issues...

    But lore tends to be a meat and fruit eater lol...  

  11. # Blogger Mom24

    I think it doesn't matter one bit if people agree with your approach or don't, I would be very upset at the blatant disregard and disrespect of my parenting. I think it's truly dangerous for Isabella, and presumably the twins down the road, to be raised to sneak things that Mommy doesn't know about, and I would do whatever I had to do to put a stop to it. To me, they are sending a very loud message to Isabella undermining your parenting, and I don't think you should allow that to continue.  

  12. # Blogger Veronica

    Have we ever talked about how my sister is raising a macrobiotic baby?

    What you're doing is EASY in comparison to her situation.

    One day, we can talk about it.  

  13. # Blogger MsPrufrock

    I have this issue with my in-laws, though on a much smaller scale. They are forever ruining her dinner by giving her popsicles and biscuits (cookies) when we're over there. Luckily, we're not over there too often, and they never come to ours.

    I am happy for P to have sweets every once in awhile, but would never dream of giving her anything beyond raisins or a bit of fruit before dinner. Like one of your earlier commenters I am paranoid about the PCOS thing, so I try to be as conscious about P's sugar intake as I can without being a control freak.  

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