The other day, my son came home from a birthday party and was starving and cranky. I was taken aback because this was a celebration that he had been really looking forward to. When I asked why he hadn’t eaten he said, “I didn’t think you would want me to eat too much junk food.” Given what I do for a living, you might think that this was a moment of pride for me—that he was able to determine which foods were healthy and which weren’t and had avoided the unhealthier options—but, in fact, it made me deeply sad. Sad because instead of just living in the moment and enjoying the celebration with his friends, my son had spent time thinking about which foods I would approve of and had chosen to skip certain snacks and treats because of what he thought I might think.
Why I Believe Snacks and Treats are Important
As someone who struggled to build a healthy relationship with food for much of my life, my goal has always been to raise kids who have a positive relationship with it. For me, one of the keys to having a healthy relationship with the food I eat has been to make sure that I don’t feel deprived of the foods and flavors that I love, but instead, allow myself to savor and enjoy them more fully. At that party, for whatever reason, my son went the deprivation route and came home cranky because of it. As we talked about it afterwards, I explained to him that while we might not have some of those foods in our own home, at a party or a play date he should feel 100% free to enjoy and explore those foods and that I hoped that he would never again feel as if he needed to please me as he made his food choices.
Limits Are Important, Too
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we shouldn’t set limits around food and should just let kids eat whatever they want, but I do feel that there is an important place in our lives for snacks and treats. And I also believe that there are ways to integrate them healthfully and happily into our lives. Furthermore, I think that by helping our kids to learn to enjoy snacks and treats within reason, we are teaching them a lot about self control and moderation that can serve them in various ways throughout their lives.
It’s All About Proportion
I like to think of it as trying to get the proportions right. I try to look at the big picture when it comes to what my diet. Instead of thinking about each and every food I choose, I ask the question: is most of the food I am eating serving my body well? If the answer is yes, then when the cake or cookies or fries show up, digging in and enjoying some can be a guilt-free and happy occasion, rather than one wracked with anxiety. In my family, that means that we try to fill our meals with delicious food that nourishes us, but we also enjoy snacks and treats on a daily basis. Sometimes those snacks and treats are on the healthier end of the spectrum and sometimes they are straight-up decadence. Either way, we enjoy and savor them because, in the end, that is what food should be about.
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