“Everyone always has such junky food,” she lamented, shaking her head in dismay and disgust. “My friend packed THREE candies for lunch, and she ate them ALL – can you believe that, Mom?”
True story. Those are real sound bytes out of the mouth of my 5-year-old kindergarten daughter, not a real foodie adult.
As in so many other spheres of life – like when she nurses her baby dolls, dragging them around the house by their heads, which are stuffed under her shirt – she has learned about food habits by watching me and mimics a great deal of my language.
And while I’m thrilled that my influence has been so effective on her thinking about food, I do have some concerns.
I was having a conversation with a friend, another former teacher, the other day about our young children and how they notice other kids’ food at lunch. We worried mutually that our well-trained youngsters would hurt other kids’ feelings by saying stuff like, “Your food is junky,” or worse: “Doesn’t your mom love you? She sends you junk food for lunch!”
I whipped out my pencil and wrote a note exclaiming, “That’s a great idea for a post!” That’s what it’s like hanging out with me, by the way – just weird.
Because We Love You
As real food parents, of course we get the, “Why is my food different?” question, and more often, “Why can’t I eat that, Moooooomm?” It’s been both of our common responses to say, “Mommy loves you so much and doesn’t want you to put bad foods in your body. I don’t want you to feel yucky later.”
That becomes a more complicated answer when other kids’ parents clearly make different food choices – how does one explain to young children that although we serve healthy food because we love them, it doesn’t automatically apply that the parents who don’t send healthy food to school love their kids any less.
The real answer has something to do with ignorance, hopefully, lack of skills, possibly, and the intense influence of the culture, certainly.
But how to say that to a 5-year-old?
Silence is Golden
The first line of defense that I recommend is to teach your kids not to talk to other kids about their food. I will say to my young ones, “We don’t want to make other kids feel badly, do we? Not all parents know everything your mommy knows, so we have to let the parents do the learning, not the kids.” That’s my chance to say to my kids, “That’s why Mommy spends time on the computer, to teach other parents about how to put good foods in their families’ bodies.”
Your child might become very concerned about a friend’s health, which could easily happen with a sensitive little soul who has heard many times, “We get sick if we eat junk food,” and may even be brought to tears about it. As with other scary-world topics, I always put it on the adults:
“You are so sweet to be concerned about your friend, but we have to trust that mommys and daddys will take care of their children. If you’d like, Mommy can talk with Mrs. so-and-so and suggest some healthy fruits and vegetables for lunch. Maybe we can have your friend over and have apples as a snack!”
(But only say that if you’re willing to do it!)
EDIT: Okay. Folks. Many of you are absolutely correct that this is pretty out of line. I just said to tell your kids NOT to talk to friends about food, and here I am saying I’ll school other parents. I wouldn’t do that but with already-very-close friends, and we’ve already talked about food. So…since I’ve never had a crying girl, I could only imagine what I’d say. I imagined quite poorly, and I’m sorry! I WOULD say that we could invite the friend over for a nice apple, and a few ideas from the KS community are really good too:
- Remember that we have junk food sometimes too, so maybe lunch is your friend’s “once a day” or “spoil day” kind of treat.
- Every family has different ways of doing things, and some people stay healthy in other ways, like exercise…
- You know how gluten is bad for Daddy, but maybe it’s not bad for Mommy? We have to remember that everyone’s body is different.
- It’s very sweet that you’re worried about your friend, and I know that makes God happy that you love her so much. But we need to trust other kids’ mommies and daddies, who God gave to them to care for them, to do the mommy/daddy jobs. I’m sure your friend eats good food a lot of the time, too…
No matter how well-trained your kids are in real food, junk food is an awful temptation, hard to resist. Here’s what one mom had to say on a Facebook conversation about kids and food:
My baby started kindergarten last week and follows it with a few hours of ‘parks and recs’ daycare in same school where I work…. My heart broke on Friday when I picked him up and he was eating a 6 pack of Oreos and a juice box. He is 5 but I teach him what the body needs, but he just cannot say NO to the junk food. Does it ever feel like a solo expedition when other adults just don’t get it?
I know she’s not alone in this! (Join the community on Facebook, and if you already “liked” KS and aren’t seeing this good stuff in your feed, visit the KS page and leave some comments or shares or thumbs up/likes, and I think you can get real foodie talk back in there, or change the settings on KS too.)
In that situation, I usually bring our own snack and deal with the “I’m different” consequences as best as I can. Because it’s hardly ever “just one” treat, as I wrote about a while back with “Do we Really Wonder why We’re Obese?”
One small way my kids get to be “more like the others” at lunch is when they pack frozen smoothies in their Squooshi pouches. They’re so darn cute that people don’t even realize they’re filled with homemade goodness. I’m pleased to welcome Squooshi back as a sponsor this month! (Here’s my review.)
Join the Conversation
It’s hard sending real food in the lunch box (my gallery of photos) every day when the sale ads at back-to-school time make it clear that other parents are sending lunchmeat, iceberg lettuce, processed cheese, apple juice, and cookies. I happened to notice that was the front page early last month, and don’t forget the Lunchables.
I also noticed the regular price of Lunchables was $2.50, on sale for 88 cents – they want you to stock up since they won’t go bad…because they’re not real food! Yuck. (Fight back with The Healthy Lunch Box.)
So how does a real food family respond? How do you make sure your kids eat healthy food when they’re out of the house, not feel totally ostracized, AND remain kind to other kids who aren’t eating healthy food?
As with everything, it’s a tricky balance.
Real food moms don’t love their kids more, but they certainly take more time on their food. It’s my hope that you’ll take a few minutes today to think about how you’ll teach your children to interact with others about food, too.
Chime in! How do you deal with all these “food and friendship” issues?
Disclosure: There are affiliate links in this post to Amazon from which I will earn some commission if you make a purchase. Squooshi is an October sponsor receiving their complimentary mention in a post. See my full disclosure statement here.