We all have plans for how our children will eat. The other parents will drool with jealousy over the varied and sophisticated palate of our little ones. They’ll run around the playground clutching carrot and celery sticks and turn their nose up at white bread. This works for a while, until your child leaves the house. Then it’s all over.
For the first time since I had my son, in January of 2012, I braved going to a Friday night Shabbaton dinner at my shul. With Shabbat starting early in the winter, it was pre-meltdown time for him and my 4-year old-daughter. Of course I forgot our little booster seat, so my eating-dinner-like-a-mentschette plan was in major jeopardy. When a family friend (aka the “baby whisperer”) told me it would be his pleasure to hold little “Dimples” on his lap during the fish course, I threw him the baby and ran to my seat to stuff my face while I had two hands and a lap free.
When the dinner buffet opened, I retrieved my son. He told me how “Dimples” had been a pleasure, had a great time, and had eaten dinner already. What did he have? A whole glass of water, gefilte fish, chrein, and challah. Chrein?! As in horseradish!? I jokingly invited said baby whisperer to change that diaper in the morning! I gently told him that babies aren’t supposed to have so much water, FYI… Of course my son was happy and healthy and they treated him well. They hadn’t fed him badly. They’d just fed him things it hadn’t occurred to me to feed him.
I know my dream of having a vegan baby is never going to happen. My whole family already thinks I’m nuts for being vegetarian and working towards being vegan. I just thought I’d be the one to make a conscious decision to give him fish for the first time. Then, just to add to his new food experiences, while he was on my lap during dinner, my friend sitting next to me put a couple pieces of chicken in his mouth. It was nice of her to feed him for me while I was trying to eat, but again, I just thought I’d make a deliberate choice to feed him chicken for the first time–or not. I told her that he’d never had chicken before and we all had a good laugh when he couldn’t even chew it with his couple of tiny teeth. We had to take it out of his mouth. “See,” I said, “He’s a natural-born vegetarian!”
In reality, our kids’ diets are out of our control much of the time. We pack their lunches for daycare, camp, and preschool, but they’re still provided with snacks. Schools are responsive and understanding to allergen concerns. But what about food coloring, white flour, sugar, and salt? At my daughter’s preschool, parents take turns buying snacks for the week. They give us a list that includes apples, bananas, and grapes. It also includes pretzels, cheese, and crackers.
I always buy whole wheat options when I buy the snack, just as I would for my house. If I asked the other parents to do that, would I be laughed at? I simply don’t want my child eating pretzels and crackers made of white flour, hydrogenated oil, sugar, and salt.
My sister just started her son at a prestigious daycare. She’s preparing to attend her first parents’ association meeting and challenge the cheap, bulk, empty-carb snacks they serve, such as Ritz-type crackers. In addition, she is adamant that her son only consume organic dairy. The daycare provides non-organic milk to the children. She’s joking, “Boy, they’re going to love me.” But she feels so strongly about her son’s health, she’s willing to risk causing a stir. She provides all of his food right now. She was about to reign herself in and let them give him some applesauce at snack time. Then she looked at it. High fructose corn syrup. Does a 12-month-old need HFCS with his applesauce every day? I think not! She felt vindicated for being so vigilant.
I have a decision to make in this area myself. We just received the early bird notice for my daughter’s summer camp. We fully intend to enroll her again. She returned every day singing Jewish songs and excited to do mitzvahs (good deeds). What more could a Jewish parent want? Well, she also came home every day bouncing off the walls and cranky at the same time. By my estimation, between Laffy Taffy, fruit roll ups, lollipops, popsicles, and cookies, camp provided the kids with three to five items a day with food coloring. It’s the only reason I can think of that she went back to normal immediately after camp ended. I understand why a camp operating a high-quality, yet reasonably-priced, program would keep kids happy with treats and try to save money on snacks by buying industrial bags of cookies, crackers, and pretzels; and let’s not forget those awful popsicles that come in a number of nuclear colors and are practically free when you buy them by the case.
Although I don’t want to seem ungrateful by questioning the camp, I also don’t want my daughter ingesting food coloring and trans fat on a daily basis, not just for her behavior, but her health. Perhaps this week we’ll start perfecting recipes for raw vegan granola bars, fudge, and other such healthier treats. If we really hit on something she can’t tell isn’t the real (processed, bad for you) thing, maybe I can offer to make some with the kids at her camp!
Addendum: To put a point on it…today my daughter started her first dance class. What do they reward the kids with at the end of moving for an hour? A lollipop from a bulk bag of food coloring and high fructose corn syrup.