How do you keep kids eating right during summer break?
I’m not proud of it. Back when my daughter was 2, I was reviewing restaurants in Silicon Valley. We went to a Filipino cafe, where my daughter selected a long, gelatinous purple log covered in what we thought was flaked coconut. I still don’t know what it was, but she took one bite and was set to spit that sucker out. I told her, “No, swallow it! We don’t spit food out.”
Our lunch companion thought I was a sadist. “If you thought that was bad,” I said, “my dad would make me sit there until ALL of the food was gone. As long as it took.” It ended up being a game of one-upmanship, whose parents had committed greater crimes against nature in the name of getting us to eat healthy.
I still don’t have it dialed. Here it is summer, with its unstructured, idle days, a pantry full of snacks and no one supervising too closely. I’ve learned my lesson about the unexpected consequences of a clean-plate-club rule. Ditto the “you can have your dessert as soon as you finish your dinner” variation.
Physically moving the delicious stuff to a “pilfering from this basket requires adult consent” special spot seems to make the forbidden fruit all the more tempting. Eschewing all bad-for-you snack foods makes your house the pariah on the block (and your kids mysteriously seem to play elsewhere). Focusing on fat grams and calories puts too much emphasis on weight and leads to body self-image issues. Setting arbitrary limits (“and it was decreed, the number of cookies you shall have is two”) opens up the opportunity for negotiation and, shudder, whining.
Then, of course, there's the magnetic pull of super-cheap, super-convenient fast food (see my picks for navigating the dollar menus) -- it's just so tempting on the way back from the pool and at the sweaty end of day camp.
So, I’d be interested to hear what other moms out there do to gently guide children toward healthy food choices during these first lazy, crazy days of summer.
-- Laura Reiley, Times Momma, food critic and Mouth of Tampa Bay blogger