When I read this article entitled “Why is Everyone Always Giving My Kids Junk Food?”, I felt provoked- provoked to provide answers.
Isn’t that natural though- to answer a question posed as a challenge to society to make us question our habits? I think so. Imagine my surprise to learn that so many people did not have the answers. Well here I am. Answer lady.
First off, define “everyone”. Specifically, family, friends, school, sports, or even your spouse. Once you identify the parties responsible, you can develop a course of action.
Second, define junk food, and define your limits. Be prepared to compromise. This isn’t a perfect world, and you won’t always get your way.
Third, firmly and wholeheartedly believe that you’re not asking too much and that this is the best you have to offer your children.
Fourth, know that other people’s choices aren’t any more personal than yours are. People will be angry at you because they’re angry at themselves for not making the same choices, for whatever reason they don’t. Imagine how you’d feel about yourself if your excuse for serving your children Chef Boyarde was because you were too tired, and you continued to stay up late in front of the boob tube or the computer.
And fifth, understand that we as Americans are just a bunch of fat people who like to show their love with food and socialize over food, and that no matter how many experiences you suggest as a replacement for food-rewards and food-socializing, THAT argument/suggestion will almost NEVER win.
Here is how WE dealt with this situation:
As parents, our first inclination is to protect our children from all the evils of the world. But I assure you that your first weapon of defense against the dark art of food corruption is education. Educate yourself so that you can educate others, and educate your children. This can be done first and foremost by abstinence of the offending “foods”. What I find, however, is that parents give too much credit to “accidental learning” and fail to have dialogues about the choices they hope to instill in their children. TALK to your child. Even a small child can understand that a food tastes good and is good for them. When your child asks for junk in the grocery store, for example, speak the truth- “That’s not really food, honey, it’s full of chemicals that harm your body. Let’s get something like this *insert healthy food* instead, which is good for your *eyes/teeth/skin/body* and will help you grow up strong and smart!” When your child has an understanding of your choices, it’s easier to say no to them, and it’s easier for them to say no to peer pressure. There are many ways to educate your kids about food, including but not limited to visiting a farm or growing some food, cooking food, shopping for food, or reading about food production.
When your team is strong on the home-front, your next course of action is to educate others as to your choices. It’s up to you whether or not you want to have a dialogue about your choices, which may or may not include teaching people about the dangers of crap food, or you can simply state your boundary and make it crystal clear the ways you will and will not compromise. For example, you may have a family member who insists on giving your child junk. Offer to bring foods with you when you visit. If they like to feed the children, list some things that are appropriate, or even places they might buy things like fruit leather (which is less evil than candy). For most children with pure diets, fruit leather is a MASSIVE treat, and this can also be explained to that person. Remember that when people feed children as a reward or social activity, they’re not doing it to piss you off- they’re doing it because that’s how they were taught to show their affection or celebrate. I wouldn’t bother fighting the good fight when it comes to family feeding your children- they almost NEED to feed your children. So the choice is up to you whether or not you want to allow them to eat junk, whether you’ll take the time to help family pick out good choices, or whether you will continue to fight them.
When it comes to environments where you have less control, try bringing up the issue as a QUESTION. Questions are less confrontational, and cause people to reflect. It also puts the burden of problem solving in THEIR lap, which is ideal because they’re the one’s causing the problem. Be firm in your belief that YOUR DIETARY HABITS ARE NORMAL and it’s THEIRS THAT ARE ABNORMAL. We have billions of years of science and history to prove it, and this fact is not debatable. When posing the question, be sure to offer solutions that involve both parties- do not take full responsibility for this, even if you want to. For example, don’t offer to provide all of the snacks all the time, but perhaps you could offer to make a list of group-approved snacks that everyone agrees are acceptable (and push back- make them really question if something is healthy). With sports events, push the health angle, and with teachers, push the “attention span” angle.
Of course, there are going to be arguments. When you do something right, sometimes people act angrily because it makes them realize that THEIR choices aren’t so great. They might even accuse you of thinking you’re better than them, or that their efforts aren’t that great. Here are some examples of ways you can handle that:
Argument #1: “It’s just a little bit, it won’t kill them.”
Rebuttal: “It might just be a little bit, but I don’t want my children having it. Is there a way we can compromise this so every child can have a healthy treat?”
This rebuttal reinstates the boundary without opening up the argument for discussion, since this person does not appear to be understanding the importance of it to YOU. By posing a question, you are going straight to the heart of solving the problem- what is this person willing to do with you to help you both reach your end goal- yours of having healthy treats for your kids, and theirs of being able to treat the kids?
Argument #2: “Not everyone cares.”
Rebuttal: “I care, and I feel that everyone deserves the same opportunity as my children to have healthy snacks.”
This argument is a touchy one, because it indicates that healthy snacks are a superior choice. But The reason it works is because you are posing the replacement behavior (ie healthier snacks) as a superior reward- one that is easily achieved, and perhaps more appealing to the person who is seeking to reward the children and show they care about them. This argument is also powerful because it equalizes all of the children as important.
Argument #3: “It’s too much work.”
Rebuttal: “I could help everyone come up with easy ideas or help facilitate that effort.”
The great part of this rebuttal is that it begins the road to compromise, while not completely taking over the task. If the person persists and says that having the meeting or putting further effort into it would be too much trouble, reinstate your boundary and say, “It’s worth it to me that our children have healthy snacks and I hope you feel that way as well.”
Argument #4: “Kids have to have it sometimes or when they grow older, that’s all they’ll want.”
Rebuttal: “I don’t want my children having these foods now. The choices they make as adults are up to them, but today, *I* am in charge of their health, and I want my children to have healthy foods.”
This rebuttal can be followed by suggestions for healthy choices.
Argument #5: “Your child doesn’t have to participate or partake.”
Rebuttal: “I would hate to think that my child would be excluded because they are making healthier choices for their body. I think this could be a really powerful opportunity to give other children to make that choice as well.”
This should also be followed up with ways you could assist. Most of the time, when you make a “special” request, you are expected to get the ball rolling. These people view your request as exceptional, so allow them to feel that everyone should be equalized under the umbrella of health.
Argument #6: “Other children won’t like it.”
Rebuttal: “There are many healthy alternatives that most children will enjoy such as *xyz*. This will also give the other children an opportunity to try something new, and who knows, maybe we will discover that they can be excited about healthy choices!”
Since this argument is a skeptic/fear based one, the rebuttal needs to point out that children are naturally inclined to like health foods, and you may even site one of the multiple studies that prove so.
If all else fails, stash super goodies in your bag that your children never have, or have a dialogue before you go to a place/event with the person in charge, so you know how you can plan ahead. You could even say to your children, “We’re going to so-and-so’s party, and their mom doesn’t want to make healthy goodies for the children, so I’m going to bring some special goodies just for you guys!” Special goodies don’t have to be food either, they could be small toys, etc.
And finally, find your niche. If you’re repeatedly fighting the same battles, consider finding different social opportunities for your kids, or having family visit in your home.