I'm finally coming out of the food closet.
There's no doubt: our kids eat too much sugar. We eat too much of it, too. So much so that we can't enjoy foods or drinks that aren't laden with it. Added sugar is in everything -- ketchup, bread, heck, sometimes in meat. And then there's sugar in all the things that we don't realize because they essentially break down into sugar: pasta, breads, crackers, all those processed carbs we all love so much. It's all sugar. Likely you already know all this as it's been a hot topic for quite a while now. Experts, Dr. Robert Lustig chief among them, are very publicly telling us that sugar is killing us. (If you aren't one of the 4 million people who have watched his Ted-Talk like video, now's the time). He says that all this sugar (more specifically fructose) leaves us and our kids susceptible to disease, including cancer. He even goes as far as calling it poison.
So why why why do we still serve sugary snacks in school? At sports games and practices? At each other's houses after school? Why is a birthday not worth celebrating without the whole class getting a giant cupcake each? And then following up with a cake and pizza party?
This is where I have to come out of the food closet (or, would that be pantry?): My family is a Paleo family. Or I should say: We try to be a Paleo family. Our goal is to eat whole foods: fresh fruits and vegetables, organic meats (more for the animals -- I feel for the pigs especially), and no processed foods. We do not eat cereal. We do not buy packaged snacks or treats. Even though I love Goldfish, for instance, and agree that they are relatively healthy, still I don't buy them. We have no candy in the house except occasionally dark chocolate. And no processed foods. (OK; I will admit that I have a loaf of whole wheat bread and a box of whole-wheat pasta in my cabinet). But by and large: At home, we eat real food.
When I tell people this, they are usually kind, but I know what they are thinking: She's crazy. Or nicer: She may be able to do that, but it'd never fly in my house. But why not? My m.o. is this: My kids are getting so much crap outside of my house — all those places noted above and then some — that the only way I have a fighting chance to keep them within a healthy range is eliminating it entirely within my walls. Because every weekend there is a birthday or a "special occasion" that brings with it carb- and sugar-packed foods. And nearly every day there's some event, playdate, or activity that gets a side of junk food served with it. I can't monitor this. I don't want to monitor this ... I work full-time and I don't want to tell anyone else what to serve in their house.
Except now. Right now in this blog post, I urge you to think about the snacks you serve in your home -- to your kids and your kids' friends — and the snacks you bring to school, to soccer, to girl scout meetings. Could they be healthier? Instead of Goldfish, can you bring clementines? Instead of packaged granola bars, can you bring pears? Instead of juice boxes, can we just refill our kids' water bottles with ... water? I've found that when you bring fruit or other healthy snacks, the kids are fine with it. It's the adults that like to think that kids "deserve" to have treats and insist on them. But now with all the evidence stacked against carbs and sugar and the sheer amount of junk that our kids are getting at every turn, can we change this thinking?
Nutrition Labels: 3 Things To Avoid
And this may be going too far, but what the heck: I encourage you to try a Paleo diet for your family -- or maybe just a non-processed food diet. I am a big fan of Mark's Daily Apple, and his cookbooks. Also Mark Bittman's. I'm excited to try out Lustig's new cookbook: The Fat Chance Cookbook which is all about eliminating processed foods from your family's diet. (Even he says he serves his kids homemade cookies at home.)
If we all work together on this then I won't have to be the freak who doesn't have Goldfish in her house.
Chandra Turner is the executive editor of Parents magazine.