Even Foodies Give Their Kids Packaged Foods

How many moms feel the sting of those judgmental glances shot our way when our kid grabs a stack of ten cookies and eats them all during the reception after the school band concert?

Or the friction our kids give us because we put kiwi instead of cookies in their lunch, and carrots instead of chips in their snack bag?

I know those feelings. And if you think foodie moms must avoid those embarrassing moments or kid confrontations because they are living the gold standard for all things edible, you’re wrong.

As I prepared to spend the day with a woman who cans her own fruit, I figured I would be feeling pretty inferior — especially since it still bothers my Italian dad that I serve my kids pasta from a box and tomato sauce from a jar. I thought I’d be learning all sorts of ways to pull together quick and healthy gourmet meals my kids would savor. Instead, I started to feel so much better about all the times I say okay to my kids requests for packaged food.

My day with food blogger and author Emily Paster turned out to be liberating in a completing surprising way, and I am sharing it with you so we can all relax a bit about what and how we are feeding our kids.

After a couple hours of hanging out and interviewing this self-professed foodie for a feature in my OverAchiever Mom TV Show, I was eager to finally meet her kids when the school day was done. As we left her house to pick up her son from school, I was shocked to see Emily grab a bag of fruit snacks. She said she knew he’d be hungry, and she wanted to bring something she knew he would eat.

Wow, I thought. Even when my kids want chips or cookies for a snack, I give them apple slices or carrots. And the times when I do give in to junk food because of convenience or lack of resilience, I feel I’m not living up to my job as a mom to keep them healthy. I often cringe if I didn’t have time to cut up an apple or restock the frig with grapes, and they eat packaged snacks instead.

I’ve even stricken fruit snacks from our shelves. My whole sordid history with fruit snacks started when my kids were toddlers, and we were taking a long vacation. I read up on what to bring to satiate the kids’ appetites and energy levels for hours in the car, and fruit snacks was right at the top of many lists of recommended foods. At that time I thought  they contained ACTUAL FRUIT, so I bought multiple boxes. It wasn’t until after I had been buying fruit snacks for several months, and my kids had gotten hooked on them, that I read the package and realized they were nothing more than a healthy name for candy gummies (just like I’ve been told over the years ago that granola bars are a healthy moniker for candy bars and muffins are mostly just cupcakes without the frosting).

The Food Network says “these sticky fruit snacks have around five teaspoons of added sugar per pouch. Many also contain small amounts of partially hydrogenated oils—another name for artery-clogging trans-fat. There’s also no protein, healthy fat or fiber to make it a satisfying snack—meaning, your little ones will be hungry soon after munching a pack (or two)… Many fruit snacks are made from food coloring and dyes – including yellow 40, red 5, and blue 1, which has been linked to behavioral problems and hyperactivity in children.”

So how could this food blogger and author hand them over guilt-free to her son? Easy. She admitted she doesn’t stress about every little thing she serves or each unhealthy food her kids eat. She’d rather give them food they’ll enjoy and finish, than battle with them every meal. Hmm, I thought. I may have zapped fruit snacks from our life, but I did spend years in face-to-face combat with my kids at meal time.

I was even more surprised later to learn that this gourmet cook — who whipped up a wonderful roasted root hash later that evening — was serving her son mac and cheese for dinner, and she allowed him to eat it by himself watching videos on an iPad. Her older daughter found some leftovers in the frig that she ate on her own.

Doesn’t she espouse the family dinner? I wondered. Emily told me that many nights her children eat typical kid-friendly foods after school before their evening activities, but she and her husband eat her homemade meals  together after they put the kids to bed. She didn’t worry about not having that “critical conversation around the table nightly,” which all of the parenting magazines say is so important. Even though our family squeezes it in a few nights a week between all our activities, I still feel bad on the nights when each of us is eating leftovers or (ugh!) packaged food on our own.

But to Emily, it was a no-brainer. It didn’t fit their schedule; the kids didn’t want the food she cooked. She and her husband needed the time together to decompress and enjoy each other’s company after he came home from work. It was the opposite, but very important, lesson than the one I expected to learn from her. And I was glad I did, because it allowed me to back off on my unrealistic food standards.

Then the biggest surprise of all came after this question: Does she buy all organic food? I was floored and relieved to learn that she does not. I’ve felt guilty for years that our family doesn’t have the financial resources to buy organic milk, meat and more.

I pride myself on being healthy, and I feel I’m being a good food role model for my kids when I’m eating lots of fruits and vegetables and serving balanced meals. I try to avoid buying packaged food or serving food from boxes, bags and cans, but it’s not easy, especially when trying to come up with bagged lunches for schools, snacks for on the go, and fast meals I can make and we can all gobble down in between the tennis practice after school and the piano lesson in the evening.

It took a day with Emily for me to figure out that kids are kids. They want candy and pop and mac and cheese. And there’s no reason to give them, or yourself, grief about it. In between the healthy food, they’re going to eat all kinds of things that we think they shouldn’t.

Working  moms are often so conflicted by our inability to make meals from scratch because of our concern over everything we read about the dangers of packaged food. But what we really need to remember is the big picture: If our kids are happy and healthy and growing, we must be doing something right!

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