Go ahead — be imperfect

Although I don’t feel “old,” being on earth for more than half a century, especially this half century, means I started my adult life in a dramatically different time. I don’t romance the “good old days.” I mourn a few things that have been lost, but I celebrate a lot more that have been gained. Especially communication. When I went off to school 1,200 miles from home, my connection to family was mail, and a five minute call on Sunday. My daughter, in Taiwan, just modeled a new pair of shorts for me through the magic of Skype. We have the ability to connect in real time, for no cost, every day if we choose. I was there for then and I am here for now. Now is better.

Give it a rest. Stressing yourself out about healthy food is worse than a treat.
Give it a rest. Stressing yourself out about healthy food is worse for you than a treat.

However, I would like to see a drop in evangelical fervor when it comes to food. I spend a lot of time surfing the Web and perusing the library for information about real food. There is truly a lot of good information available — so much that nobody can truly claim ignorance about the pitfalls of a diet filled with processed food. But with the absolute certainty that many opposing ideas are presented as “the only right way.” I can also understand why some people just throw up their hands and say: it’s too hard;  I don’t have time; leave me alone.

Everyone should try to eat reasonably healthy food. It is important. But evangelism makes a simple concept scary and confusing. Snap your fingers, and suddenly you are preparing wonderful food, and getting a standing ovation from your family for bringing that fiber to them. It is just not realistic to think you can bring your family from Whoppers and Doritos to brown rice and Brussels sprouts in a week. Your family will hate you, your fridge will fill with well-intentioned, but rotting produce, and you may just give up trying.

It is just not realistic to think you can bring your family from Whoppers and Doritos to brown rice and Brussels sprouts in a week.

Instead, try easing into better eating habits. Make one little change a week. You’re coming through the door with fast food and a guilty look? (In your defense, you are ready to drop, and soccer is less than an hour away.) Drop the guilt and insist that everyone has a half-dozen cherry tomatoes and/or a few cucumber slices with their burger and fries or pizza. Maybe yogurt for dessert?

Even with treats, you can slide in some nutrients. Instead of flavored tortilla chips, get plain (please don’t jump to whole grain at the same time) and make a quick batch of pico de gallo or guacomole. Sure, you might be happier if your loved ones were eating sweet potato crisps with raw almond butter (assuming you can afford such fare), but at least they are getting some nutrition. Dry popcorn? I’m not sure the percentage of people who actually like it that way can be measured, but home-popped popcorn, with some melted butter is much better food than the microwave bags. (It’s also almost free.)

Try encouraging the food you want your family to eat before they get to the snacks. I used to put a bowl of carrot sticks out when the kids were coming home from school. They didn’t want just carrots (is there anything more hungry than a child just home from school), but were willing to eat quite a few. If you can get them to eat one or two, they will often choose to have more. Kids like carrot sticks. Give them something creamy to dip into, and kids can get along with most vegetables. Even strongly vegetable-averse men have been known to dig into veggie and dips.

Will you ever get to brown rice and Brussels sprouts? Maybe, maybe not. But if you try and force that with an iron fist, you will likely only succeed as far as your eye can see your kids. Gently coax them into new habits and I guarantee you will make it further along the journey.

And if your child knows no better than brown rice and Brussels sprouts? Good for you, but for goodness sake, let the kids have a treat now and then. If you think they are not going to find Doritos one day, that is a unrealistic. If you think they are automatically going to say, “That’s gross,” because they have been so well raised, that is delusional.  I watched my six-month-old daughter, the baby who had not had a drop of sugar, under the control of a doting aunt taste ice cream for the first time. Nobody had to teach that child to like ice cream. It was instant, and it rocked her tiny, little world. All your love and good intention cannot stop that reality.

My kids all went to the city when they left home. Rarely exposed to fast-food while growing up, they went on a pretty good fast-food tear for a year or two. Now, they are all good cooks, and prepare nutritious meals from scratch most of the time. They returned to their roots as most of us do.

Relax. If your kids are breathing you’ve done an admirable job today. If you managed to get some fiber into them as well … give yourself a pat on the back.

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