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Treats, not just a treat anymore

Written by Amanda Levitt, ND

Why is everyone compelled to give children junk food at every event?

Math night: colored popsicles, Choir: Processed ice cream and a bag of candy, religious school: ice cream with every imaginable topping.  It is ubiquitous! Even when I take my kids on a bike ride to a local park to see tadpoles and hike around, the well intentioned ranger offers a lollipop.  What is this need to ply our children with junk food at every possible opportunity?  Isn’t the experience reward enough? The last straw for me is when a group of parents wanted to buy a cotton candy machine for our school.  Once a year at Art Night (which is a fabulous, enriching event at our elementary school) the school rents a cotton candy machine.  Don’t ask me how this became a traditional or what in the world relates this junk with art…but ok, once a year, we can choose whether or not to partake.  Buying a machine is another matter. Besides issues of storage and cleaning, I can predict that at each and every school event, that machine would be rolled out so we would get our money’s worth!   Aren’t we supposed to be advocating for our children? 

I can tell from the way other parents roll their eyes, that they think I’m a bit much.  “What’s the big deal, it’s a party”…but you know what? It’s not just a party here and there anymore.  It is ubiquitous.  No longer are treats a treat! They are becoming a regular part of our kids’ diets.  As a naturopathic doctor and mom of three, I am passionate about nutrition and want my children to make good food choices that are actually health promoting.  Every day in my practice I educate my patients about nutrition.  With my pediatric patients, we talk about how foods help your immune system, help build muscles, give your brain the nutrients it needs to help with learning.  With older kids, I emphasize foods that will help their skin and hair look healthy and beautiful, help athletic performance, ok, and even make you look great in those new jeans.  Personally, I  need to eat healthfully and stay fit if I want to have a fighting chance of keeping up with my family, work and community involvement!

In our family, it is not about obesity, though the rate of obesity in America is increasing at an alarming rate.  It is about consistently choosing healthy options.  Whether it is a meal, a treat, a relationship, it is up to us as parents to advocate for our children. This is a topic of discussion in our household.  Hmm. You eat the healthiest food in your class. You have the best behavior and are in the highest reading group? Coincidence?  Maybe not.  We talk about this not to push kids to be perfect, but to emphasize that healthy choices have desirable benefits.

I feel vindicated when they turn down Hi-C or Sunny Delight, or decide not to eat the “chemical ice cream” or green yogurt.  I work hard as a parent to help them develop a palate that includes a variety of healthy foods, and to choose treats that have some nutritional merit.  They can trade in a junky snack for a more organic option.  I am not a purist.  I appreciate the indulgence of a little chocolate, some good ice cream or an icy frozen yogurt.  It’s not the sugar that I object to, though I do try to keep it to a minimum, it is the artificial colors, artificial flavors, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats… to name a few ingredients that I don’t want my children to ingest. I would prefer them to have ice cream without chemicals, juice pops, frozen yogurt, home baked cookies, popcorn, or fruit kabobs with fresh whipped cream as a treat.  I can think of many other snacks that aren’t pure sugar with color, chemicals and artificial flavors.  Food doesn’t have to be laden with fat, sugar and chemicals to be delicious.

Why do I always have to be the heavy…the junk food police?  I find it frustrating as a parent to have to monitor what choices are available at every event and deal with my children bargaining and harassing me about junk food while I would rather be enjoying my meal and socializing.  If mostly healthy choices are offered, it limits the negotiations, meltdowns, and viral infections that often follow a sugar fest.  And hey, I would like to be the good guy sometimes too! The one who doles out the treats! If they receive junk food everywhere else, I never get to be the one to style them out with my healthier versions.  If junk foods were not present at every event, I don’t even think kids would miss them.  It is up to us to encourage a change in food climate.  School parties can include a cookie or brownie, but how about adding a fruit plate, and some cheese and crackers, carrots and hummus, yogurt and fruit.  Let’s teach our children and ourselves that every event doesn’t warrant binging on junk food, and that healthy foods or even the experience itself can be the reward.

Amanda M. Levitt, ND  has been practicing as a board certified naturopathic physician for over 10 years, applying her expertise in nutrition, herbal medicine, and other natural therapies to treat digestive problems, women’s health issues, pediatric conditions, and a wide range of general health concerns. Dr. Levitt is an owner and practicing physician at Whole Health Natural Family Medicine in Hamden, CT.  Dr. Levitt has three beautiful children and a wonderfully supportive husband.

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  1. Amy Hobson #

    Amen, Amanda. I couldn’t agree more.

    September 8, 2011
  2. Wow. It felt as if I could have written that. I feel exactly the same as you. I’m so tired of being the MINORITY!!! If you need to feed your kids junk- I have a laundry list of healthier options for you. No it’s not ok to feed my twins trans fat or HFCs @ school. No it’s not ok to reward picking up trash with candy. No it’s not ok my kids get made fun of for cottage cheese or seaweed or sweet potato in their lunch. It’s a constant struggle. Let’s talk about the plug ins most teachers have in their classes next… Replaced with an essential version for my kids classrooms thanks to me!!!

    September 9, 2011
  3. Ashley #

    Wow! I couldn’t agree more!
    My son is only 27mths, and it’s already a battle with other people (never him) as to why we feed him what we do, and why we don’t give him pop tarts, goldfish crackers; soda; coco puffs; etc. Pull out the hummus and rice cakes and my kid goes crazy; and frozen mango pieces are the biggest treat in his eyes! But yet, friends, family and even strangers (sigh), often try to demonize us because they feel as though we’re ‘depriving’ him of fun and a sense normalcy (oh jeez).

    Thank you Amanda for a) shedding some light on an important issue and b) making me feel like I’m not alone in refusing to equate ‘fun’ with crappy food choices. Cheers!

    September 24, 2011

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