Postcards from Mommywood: I'm Sick of the Food Police

I'll decide what my daughter can (or can't) eat!
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Postcards from Mommywood: I’m Sick of the Food Police

I’ll decide what my daughter can (or can’t) eat!

-Diane Clehane

Children eating lunch

Last week I went to orientation at the kindergarten my daughter will attend in September. At the end of the session, we were handed a list of “forbidden foods” that the kids aren’t allowed to bring to school in their lunch boxes. They included all forms of nuts (the most terrifying snack of the modern age), popcorn (a choking hazard), hot dogs (ditto), string cheese (”too stringy and unsafe”), any type of candy and fruit snacks and fruit roll-ups (“candy in disguise” and “all sugar!”). I’m down with the candy ban, and I’ll even give them the string cheese, but fruit snacks? Just who is in charge of deciding what my child eats?

The answer is obviously not the parents.

I get that there are plenty of studies that show kids are getting fatter and are less physically fit. I personally believe that rather than too many calories, it has more to do with our children’s ridiculously over-scheduled lives that barely allow for ten minutes of physical activity on the playground. Kids have pretty much eaten the same things for decades: chicken nuggets, pizza, pasta, burgers and the occasional ice cream cone. Why is it such an issue now? I’m guessing the fact that we barely let them move without someone tethered to their jackets plays a significant role.

As someone who grew up eating Entenmann’s cupcakes and Ritz crackers while sitting happily in front of the television on Saturday morning, I know it’s a different world today when it comes to nutrition. I would not allow my daughter to eat the junk food that I did. My parents, like virtually all others of that era, took a much more laid-back approach to nutrition – and child rearing, for that matter.

I think I pretty much fall in the middle when it comes to my degree of vigilance over what my daughter eats. She’s allowed one small healthy snack when she gets home from school and never gets candy except for the occasional lollipop from a bank teller or a receptionist at my hair salon and on holidays. She’s never had soda and gets low-fat milk or water with all her meals. Juice (organic, if possible) is strictly a once or twice a week treat in her lunch box.

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I’m a grown-up and I’m perfectly capable of deciding what my daughter should and shouldn’t eat – and I think other grown-ups should respect that. In other words, as much as I love Chef Jamie Oliver and his effort to get American kids to eat right, I don’t want him showing up at my door telling me what to feed my daughter. I’ve got it covered, thanks.

At the Children’s Success Academy in Tucson, Arizona, the rules go way beyond forbidding foods that might cause allergic reactions or choking. Nanci Aiken, who once worked as a cancer researcher at Johns Hopkins Medical School, is the self-proclaimed food cop of the ten-year-old school, and she takes no prisoners.


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0 thoughts on “Postcards from Mommywood: I'm Sick of the Food Police

  1. MarylandMom5 says:

    It’s funny, the opposite problem is taking place at my son’s daycare. They often fill him up with carb-ladened snacks such as ramen noodles in the afternoon or give him graham crackers in the morning, even though he has breakfast with us before he leaves for daycare. In my view, the daycare isn’t being tough enough with nutrition, yet, when I’ve said something to the teachers–that my son often won’t eat dinner because he had that carb-heavy snack late in the afternoon, they just shrug their shoulders and tell me that they serve the food they’re given by the daycare’s distributor, and don’t have much control over the issue. In my view, substituting fruit for noodles or cookies shouldn’t be that expensive or that hard to do.

  2. NancyPiho says:

    Diane, I agree with you completely… in theory. The matter of reality, however, is another story.

    You, and parents like you, do assume responsibility for what their kids eat. You are well-informed and understand the difference between one trip to McDonalds and a steady diet of it. You aren’t likely to be swayed in your purchasing decisions by the constant junk food advertising and omni-presence of “snack foods” that all of us are increasingly presented with.

    But what about parents who, for whatever reason, don’t put nutrition at the top of the list of their concerns for their kids, either because they don’t know a lot about it themselves, or have more pressing concerns, like getting food on the table in the first place?

    In researching my book “My Two Year Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything,” I ran across many parents who have so much going on in their lives and their kids’ lives that “what the kids eat everyday” simply did not make the Top Ten. Enter the snack food industry, the soda industry, the fast food industry, and all of the “convenience” packaged food products designed to make our lives so much easier, and food very low-cost, and you have the makings of a family with serious nutrition problems.

    And I must disagree with the point that children have been eating the same menu for decades. There was a time — not too many generations ago — when kids ate exactly what the rest of the family did. End of story. No special meals, no kiddie foods, not a lot of junk.

    I do get it that you find the Nutrition Police and those that want to tell everyone what their kids should be eating highly annoying. But that is because with parents like you, they are just preaching to the choir.

  3. MsB says:

    You clearly pay attention to feeding your child properly.

    As a teacher, I have it all – no lunches/snacks, normal lunches like yours, and an entire bag filled with junk.

    One child in my class had the following lunch daily:

    Cinnamon bun with icing (large)
    Sandwich made from sweet bread with butter and brown sugar
    Snacks consisting of either a fruit roll up, pop tart, or some type of candy in a bag or bar

    And they wondered why he couldn’t concentrate, why his grades were poor, and why he had melt downs almost daily. This is just the most extreme one I had – others were similar in the foods, just slightly different junk.

    These are the kids that come into our schools that make the food police necessary. Good for you that you are willing to be the adult and make sure your child has healthy food. But don’t curse the people who are trying to make that a reality for all children.

  4. DianeClehane says:

    You ladies make a valid point. I know there are parents that aren’t doing what they should in this area. I do think, though, the trend of relinquishing important decisions to authorities when it comes to your kids is a bad idea. I have just as much disdain for the parents that are clueless, lazy or both in this area. With all the options that exist at all price points, there really is no excuse for it. The problem is, then the ‘corrective’ actions the ‘bad parent’ prompt extends into the realm of parents who should not be dictated to. A dilemma for, for sure. Not sure what the solution is on this one.

  5. ugogirl says:

    the answer is simple, FREEDOM! stay out of my life and my right to raise my kids as i see fit. this country is slowly becoming more controlling that the USSR was. this is outrageous(the schools dictating food). to think that someone else is going to tell me what to feed my kids is appalling! i grew up fine, eating junk food at times, eating good food at times, eating what my parents fed me and eating what i felt like eating. i am not over weight and am healthy. i am sick of this nanny state, dictate how people live and what they do trend. and don’t even try to say “it’s child abuse” or “child obesity is worse than ever” that’s all b.s. if you teach your children to play and run and have fun then they burn the calories and stay in shape! the obese children are obese because they are lazy. were is the line drawn on using “it’s child abuse” as an excuse to control my life and others’ lives? you could say that letting your child play outside on the sidewalk is child abuse because they may fall and hit their head or break a bone or get cut. or maybe it is child abuse to let your child bounce on the bed, they may hit there head on the nightstand, or maybe it’s child abuse to let your kid play video games for six hours a day–oh wait, you probably like that–or maybe it’s child abuse to bring your child in a car, even with a seat belt, because they may get killed or injured. get out of my life, quit worrying about everyone else and take care of yourself!!!!

  6. OneHungryMama says:

    While I COMPLETELY understand your frustration–and your “leave me be!” reaction–I think that it misses an opportunity. The truth is that we are in crisis. Your family may not be. My family may not be. But, overall, statistically, our (meaning American) children are unhealthy and not getting what they need to develop the healthy habits that will help sustain them over a long life. That’s just the fact.

    Also, it’s not true that kids have eaten the way they do now forever. Chicken fingers, pizza, etc. have absolutely NOT always been the norm. In the history of eating, these foods are extremely new and have defined the way kids eat for only a few generations now. Before that (and still in many countries) children were fed what adults were eating. And, before the explosive growth of packaged convenience foods (also relatively recent in the scheme of things), that meant natural, whole foods. Rice. Beans. Fruits. Vegetables. Sometimes meat protein (when it was available and affordable).

    While it may not be the case for everyone–maybe no one who’s reading this–Americans have lost their way with food. I’ve worked with educators who’ve gone into classrooms and found that kids think yellow wax beans are french fries and that tomatoes come from (I mean, really COME FROM) cans. It’s not just Jamie Oliver’s TV stunt (if you want to call it that). It’s endemic.

    As with any growing movement, there are always extremists and the pendulum always swings too far in the other direction. Frustrating for sure, but to be expected. That’s what we see happening in places like Arizona. That’s why more than ever we need parents–not just ones like me who live and breath food–to chime in. To help define policy. To weigh in. To be heard.

    It’s complicated, of course. Some parents will weigh in that they want to be left alone to feed their child McDonald’s because they don’t see anything wrong with fast food. There’s always a (hard to strike) balance between respecting the decisions that we make as individuals and as families, and also making sure that everyone has the resources to make an informed decision.

    No parent or school wants to do harm to children. And nobody is trying to inconvenience us. We’re all just trying to find our way back to understanding what good food means. And with so much working against us (IMO, big ag, the packaged food industry, marketing, tight budgets, etc), it’s very hard to do.

    So, I guess I wish that instead of saying, “leave me alone,” this was an invitation to talk about the fine line between who determines what and how parents can be empowered to impact food policy.

  7. DianeClehane says:

    My message in writing this post is for parents to take responsbility for their children’s nutrition and not relinquish that important job. Parents need to take responsibility so institutions and the people that run them do not over reach. I know there is a crisis in this country and its because people are too willing to let others so the heavy lifting in all areas of their lives. Its time all grown up acted like grown ups.

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