The Habit-Driven Holiday

So I attended the twins’ pre-K Easter party today.  Mercy.  I actually really enjoy rooms full of pre-schoolers because I’m weird like that.  I do have to admit, however, that my enjoyment becomes somewhat strained when we give them all a plate full of “treats” to eat and then set them loose on the world.  The volume increase alone can be staggering.  In my attempts to reinforce my kids’ good eating habits I usually feel like a Scrooge at all holiday affairs.  Don’t get me wrong, I let them partake, but do a fair amount of talking beforehand and whatever meal they have before an event like this is exceptionally nutritious and my expectations for their participation in consuming that meal are very high.  While the table of offerings at their parties have, thankfully, decreased a bit since the parties at the beginning of the year, it is still chock full of nibbles that my kids don’t usually get (including candy) and each of these parties includes some kind of take-away that also includes candy. …  See, you’re even thinking I sound a little mean.  And maybe I am, but I just don’t think a 5 year old needs to consume the sugary equivalent of a King Sized Snickers bar (and even I can appreciate the wonder of a King Sized Snickers bar) as an afternoon snack to celebrate Easter.

So in my concern about these dietary issues, I’ve assumed that I am alone, that the other parents think this is fine and dandy, and that I am the only one who thinks this whole equation doesn’t add up.  But today I listened.  Each of the parents that came to help was coaching children to take some of the healthy choices, pushing grapes and carrots and popcorn, eagerly offering water over juice boxes, placing limits on the time and amount of take away candy consumption that would occur.  Sighing and shaking their heads as they watched the escalation begin.  So I left wondering why, if we all think this is a bit much (as we seem to), we continue to do it this way?  These kids are 4 and 5 year olds; wouldn’t now be the easiest time to train them NOT to expect all of the junk?  Wouldn’t now be the time to develop family and community traditions that don’t require us to walk around harping after our children and thinking we didn’t pull it off anyway at the end of the day?  Let me be clear; I am not suggesting that we stop having parties.  And you should know from my earlier posts that I am also not suggesting that we ban chocolate.  I just want to explore the scale.  So many of our daily dietary choices are based on habits, and often on habits that are not particularly healthful.  Do we continue to binge and to teach our children to do the same out of habit?  And do we then grimace at the amount of noise and the tears that follow 40 minutes later when they crash?

Lest you all think that you should send my children Easter treats in the mail, I should tell you that next weekend, they will get Easter baskets and that those baskets will have some candy.  A chocolate bunny, some mini chocolate bars, and some lovely white Jordan almonds.  No high fructose corn syrup (which wasn’t THAT hard to do) and none of the food colorings that are on the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s “Food Additives to Avoid” list (this was harder).  Their baskets will also have a small toy (thank you Legos).  As for eggs we will, at some point, be dying eggs…  I have yet to decide HOW we will be dying them as all of the “kits” also include “Avoid” colors.  I am sure, however, that I will be able to convince my children that any method we choose for coloring eggs is fun.  What 5 year old doesn’t want to do a messy art project as a family?

Should you do what I do?  That’s not what I’m saying.  Is all candy bad?  I have NO idea (except about chocolate, which is good, plain and simple).  I do know that for ME responsible parenting means trying to bring as many days as possible into some kind of alignment with my fundamental beliefs.  I fundamentally believe that the additives in much of our food are cumulatively harmful; I actively stress the importance of teaching our children to eat better than we do.  Celebrating a holiday does not mean giving up who I am, and who I want us to be.  Separating our harmful habits from our cherished traditions may well help us to enjoy our holidays and celebrations even more, as ourselves, and as who we want to be.

So that’s my plan for the upcoming holiday. What’s yours? Is it what you want it to be? Are you celebrating by habit or by design? And, more selfishly, if you do something cool and food safe with eggs, do tell. Yes, there are millions of things out there on the web… Which are your favorites?

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3 responses

  1. I have to admit that I really do not like Easter. We are not religious so trying to fake the whole Easter bunny ritual bugs me. The kids love finding eggs and that is fun for us all, so we do the eggs and baskets and say that it is celebration of spring. We have traditionally spent Easter day at a nature center to celebrate nature and it’s changes. In the past we have avoided candy, except for one small, about one inch chocolate something and fill their baskets with new toothbrushes, new raincoats, and other items we think wii be fun for spring like kites. For the eggs we have used homemade dye and crayons. So I will also be interested if others have suggestions to replace the dye. Our kids do love coloring with crayons on the eggs. So maybe a mix of crayons and markers might work well, especially if you have different sized marker tips so they can color the whole egg with wide tips or do more detailed art with smaller tips.

    As far as the parties for kids go, I could not agree with you more. I have found so many parents in my camp too and I have personally emailed and called the teachers to express concern and ask if we could try to do things differently. To my surprise teachers agree with me, they do not particularly care for the kids to be jacked up on sugar either, it is harder for them. I have found some parents really push back though and fight pretty hard for the junk and sugar and I have realized that so many of us are so bound with this idea that we should do for our kids what we did, even though it does not always make sense or even make us happy. I just keep talking to them, even though I am sure I am annoying them and I tell my kids that they can choose one thing only. I don’t really care if people think I am mean. And, I always talk with my kids after if they bring up the point that so and so had lots of treats about why it is not such a great idea for our bodies and why it is important for our health to make healthy choices. Because I am mean, my kids make pretty good choices now even when they are without me at parties and I am grateful for this.

    Just this week my kids were offered a pack of super small “bite sized” cookies and they ate two and gave pack back to me to save for the next day. I have to admit that I was shocked because I was prepared to let them eat the pack. But, it made me feel good to know that they can self regulate and hopefully it will stay with them their whole lives.

  2. I totally agree that pre-school is the time to band together as parents and try to shift holiday (and other school) celebrations away from junk food. Not only because at that age children are easier to teach in a lasting way, but because parents of children that age are much clearer on the link between diet and behavior. By the time kids get older, their bodies get larger and less quickly affected by sugar, so it is easier to assume that they are fine with all that junk food.
    “Well, just look at him! He’s a nice kid, he does well in school. He can handle his sugar, that kid!”
    Maybe the behavior is not as affected, but the body still is affected by sugar. The evidence pointing to sugar as the causative agent in obesity, diabetes and a host of other health problems is pouring in as our country pushes the demographics of type 2 diabetes higher and higher and younger and younger.
    Of course, this diatribe does little to help a parent know what to do about holiday parties…., and school events, and school lunches, and scout meetings, and dessert – and all the times and places that our traditions and practices include sugary treats.
    I say the following when discussing food for gatherings…. “My child has a bit of a problem with sugar, particularly late at night. Can we stick with water or milk for a drink and non-chocolate (sorry Little Sis – there’s the caffeine issue), non-candy snacks?” Most parents will go along with this.
    Recently I had to argue with my son’s otherwise phenomenal teachers that a can of Coke was not an acceptable reward for reaching a goal in a reading program. I had to argue. I had to go to the website of the school board and find a wellness policy of which they were clearly unaware and contradicting. When I pointed it out to them they changed the reward from Coke to little toys.
    I try to be as nice as possible. I state it as my problem, my kid’s problem, my concern as an RN if all else fails, but the only way to stem the tide of over-zealous treat-ify-ing,we’ve got to start stating our opposition to including sweet treats and junk food in every gathering.
    So, like Little Sis, my child will receive some candy in his basket – one Lindt chocolate bunny, one bag of ‘natural’ Jelly Bellys with natural colorings, and a token nasty Wonka treat that he will prize… along with some books. I am happy to say that he already knows about the books and is very excited about them. Maybe I could have skipped the Wonka nasty after all?

  3. Pingback: Here Comes Peter Cottontail… | my sister's pantry

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