More Cake Please

by Laura on September 27, 2009

in Blog

At a recent birthday party, there was one little boy, who after having eaten his cake, was relentless in his attempt to get another piece, even before all the guests were served. The hostess repeatedly said to him in a gentle voice, “You’ve had your share. We need to make sure everyone here gets a piece.”

He continued as if he hadn’t even heard her, “How about that one, or that one,” he said, pointing at different pieces.

He was about 8, old enough to understand that he had to wait until everyone else had been served to even consider having another piece. But it got me thinking about what it was that drove him to this cake obsession.

Because he was a bit round about the belly, I immediately jumped to the conclusion that there were no boundaries when it came to treats or snacks at home. But then again, my son was the first in line for cake, even before the birthday boy. And, I know that in my household, it isn’t a free-for-all when it comes to sweets and snacks, and we do set boundaries.

(Note to self: Remind Grayson that the birthday boy always gets first piece.)

I thought if my assertion was correct about that first little boy (and for the sake of this blog, let’s go with it), then I could see his persistence for wanting more and more cake, was a result of lack of food boundaries at home. A home where there isn’t much thought about food, and the allure of fast food and snack food marketing has taken hold.

As for Grayson, could his place in line for cake be a result of too many boundaries? Could I be micromanaging his food intake too much?

Two ends of the spectrum – one, where the child is so accustomed to unending supply of treats and snacks, that he craves more and more and more. The other end, my son, who is allowed sweets and snacks on an occasional basis, but when offered, he jumps at the chance. It’s kind of like overindulging so he can get it all in before he heads home where he knows that treats aren’t an all day, every day occurrence.

My conclusion: It is all about regulation.

Those who have too much and those who have too little. (Although I’m not ready to admit that my son has too little, I just think it is his excitement for something that tastes so good).

I am a true believer of the idea that you are what you eat. And, that by establishing healthy eating habits as a child, you’re giving children the confidence and the knowledge to make better choices when they are out on their own. And I know, as my children grow and gain independence, they will be exposed to foods (i.e fast and convenience foods) that we might not otherwise have exposed them to in our home.

I’m already seeing that happen at first grade lunch. Grayson is generally happy with the lunch I make for him, which rarely includes a prepackaged item, except for the occasional yogurt.  Yet, he comes home wondering when he can have a fruit roll-up, Cheetos, chocolate or bubble gum in his lunch, because that’s exactly what his friends are getting in their lunches.

As Abby Ellin explains in her NY Times article “What’s Eating our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods,’ “While scarcely any expert would criticize parents for paying attention to children’s diets, many doctors, dieticians and eating disorder specialists worry that some parents are becoming overzealous, even obsessive, in efforts to engender good eating habits in children. With the best intentions, these parents may be creating an unhealthy aura around food”

In our house, our food choices are based upon ensuring everyone gets a good balance. We strive to teach moderation so that they can become will allow our children to be good eaters and to be more discretionary about their food choices. As a kid, the Charles Chips man came to our door every week, and we filled up on barbecue potato chips, pretzels, and even a bag of candy. Coke was always in the fridge, and Grandma made dessert several times a week. I made it through childhood without having an major health problems.

The key is, while it was available, it wasn’t accessible – at least not unless I asked my parents first. They taught us boundaries, and instilled upon my brother and I, the importance of eating a well-balanced meal before indulging in “the good stuff.”

At this point in their young lives, my children need guidance. They need boundaries, knowing when to stop eating the stuff that just makes you crave for more. Yes, there have been times when I’ve gorged myself on Doritos. I knew, even as I was scraping out the last bit of crumbs from the corner of the bag, that I couldn’t do this all the time.

We are always quick to blame marketing, television and big business as the ills of society. Sure, they have some role in it, but I believe that the main factors in ensuring our children are building a good relationship with food are the diet and exercise habits of the parents.

We can’t err on either side – lack of moderation or too much moderation, because if so, then the children cannot learn self-moderation. We can’t instill in children the need for an obsessive assessment of a food’s nutritional value before eating it, but at the same time, they need to know eating cake, candy or fast food all day long, isn’t the right choice either. It can be an occasional choice, but not the ONLY choice.

It is hard to do, but we must teach our children to have a healthy relationship with food. When we set them out on their own, and all the high school kids are heading to McDonald’s for lunch (my assessment: because their parent’s didn’t pack a healthy lunch like I did for my child), we want to be assured that even if they do partake in a Double Cheeseburger, fries and a monstrous soda on occasion, that they realize it may not be the best choice on a daily basis.

Am I what some refer to as an obsessive Nazi parent when it comes to what my kids put in their mouths? No, I haven’t gone that far in my parenting, but after seeing both Grayson and that other little boy in action at the party, they have both given me cause to pause.

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