At work, I spend a lot of time counseling both adults and children on health and nutrition. I understand the delicate line between doing emotional harm and crushing the self-esteem of young kids and teenagers and gently encouraging them to make healthier choices. I am careful to spin this in a positive way, focusing more on the benefits of eating healthy foods and avoiding too many sugary drinks and fast food. I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on specific numbers on the growth chart or scale but rather encourage good behaviors.
But as a mom, this issue completely stresses me out. I stress about how much I stress about my kids’ diet. I’m not going to go into the statistics and science on kids and sugar today, but to summarize it for the sake of this post, overconsumption of sugar today is a major health problem.
I know the harms of never allowing my kids to have junk food or any sugar at all. The restriction can backfire when they don’t learn how to enjoy these foods in moderation. And I truly don’t think having some once in a while is bad and I want them to enjoy it!
But the amount of sugar they’re offered any given week that is out of my control has become ridiculous. It’s not anyone in particular’s fault. I think most people agree that everything in moderation is ok and can be incorporated into a healthy diet.
But “moderation” seems to present itself multiple times a week or even multiple times a day in different forms. Each incident in itself might be harmless, but the cumulative effect is where the unintentional harm is coming from.
Donuts are offered at church every week. Sports drinks and fruit snacks are handed out after soccer games. Concession stands, birthday parties, special outings with grandparents, suckers offered after gymnastics for a good practice, all of this adds up. And God forbid they go to any sort of meeting or function lasting more than 30 minutes where a snack isn’t offered. I find it rare a day goes by where a “treat” isn’t offered to my kids. But when something is consumed every day, it’s no longer a treat, it’s an expectation.
My kids used to rarely ask for a cookie or treat. Now, they ask almost daily and when I say “No, didn’t you already have a treat today?” The response is “Yes but only one so far.”
This hit me hard on Valentines Day last month. Each of my kids received loads of candy valentines from their classmates (nevermind we literally just got rid of Halloween candy from October! The new stash should last us until Easter). My 4-year-old had a Valentine party at school where they celebrated with cookies and cupcakes. Each of my kids received a treat basket from their grandma that day. By the time dinner rolled around and each told me about their day, they had well beyond a reasonable amount of sugar for an entire week. I tried not to get too worked up about it telling myself once again, it’s a special occasion, a holiday even.
That is until I took my daughter to Girl Scouts that night and the snack offered was a box of donuts and juice boxes. At 6 pm.
Something in my mind snapped and I literally had to leave the room I was so frustrated. Then I felt bad for being frustrated. I think my professions as a dietitian and physician assistant in primary care make it worse. I’m constantly doing a mental dance between worrying about their health and about giving them an eating disorder. I’m upset with myself for being ungrateful because it was very thoughtful and kind for that mom to stop and spend her own money on these delicious donuts from our local bakery. It’s such a blessing that my kids’ grandma likes baking cookies and makes their favorite treats. I love that our daycare wants to have fun parties and that teachers and programs care enough about kids to make sure they’re not hungry.
And to be honest, part of this is selfish. I actually wanted to go out and get my kids a special Valentine treat but didn’t because I knew they would be getting so much elsewhere. I love baking homemade cookies with my daughter, or taking my kids out for ice-cream, but rarely consider it anymore because by they get so much of this elsewhere.
I’m not sure what the answer is, but I know I’m not the only one. Other moms have expressed this frustration to me, too. This pediatric cardiologist wrote a similar post about his concern with kids and the amount of sugar they’re offered during activities.
I suppose it all starts at home, trying to teach my kids to make good choices. If it’s my turn to bring a snack, I’ll just be the lame mom that offers clementines or carrots I guess. If I want to do something special for my kids I’ll buy them a gift. And maybe follow up with a post about minimalism and clutter.
For now, I’m mostly curious about what others think of this. Let me know your thoughts and how we can work on this!