When I saw this article on PETA's recent controversial campaign, I immediately thought of three things. First, I’ve met more than several chunky vegans. Second, my mother and I recently had a conversation wherein she explained to me that the reason she can’t lose weight is because she’s not willing to give up carbohydrates for the rest of her life. And when I asked why she has to give up carbohydrates, why she can’t just eat less in general, she looked at me as if I’d lost my mind and said she’s not sure.
Third I thought about how little I seem to be able to influence my children’s dietary preferences. The older my kids get the more I think parents are not to blame/thank for how kids turn out. I mean I know if you lock them in the shed for twenty years they probably won’t turn out too normal – of course. But beyond the basics, I’m certain that both of my children arrived here who they are and nothing (but nothing!) that I have done since can change that.
Recently Little One had to choose a meal he wanted to eat from some pictures in a workbook. The first meal was PB&J, a string cheese and some juice. “That’s just gross,” he said. “Jelly is gross, cheese is gross… I choose a salad, a chicken leg and a glass of milk.”
What self-respecting 6-year-old talks like this? And if you’re wondering if his propensity to follow the South Beach Diet is what has made him my Little One – well, we think so, but the doctor insists it’s genetics (we don’t know whose genetics, since his father is very tall and his mother is built like a linebacker, but anyway, who are we to argue with the doctor).
And the chicken leg thing? His dad and I can’t even watch him eat chicken. We use a fork and pull the meat off, remove the fat, gristle, skin, etcetera. He picks up the whole leg, like a medieval king, and eats it with his teeth until there’s just a clean, smooth bone left. Then again, he does his Midwestern-of-German-descent relatives proud – maybe these things skip a generation.
Lest you think I’ve had anything to do with it, his brother wouldn’t eat that meal unless bribed with seconds of mashed potatoes & gravy and ice cream for dessert.
They have heard a lot about nutrition during their short lives. “They’re not bodybuilders – they’re toddlers,” I had to argue with their athletic father on more than several occasions. “They need carbohydrates for proper brain and muscle development.”
And while it's true that J likes to eat more similar to me and Little One, their dad – neither of them really choose to eat like we’ve taught them. I was alone with them and suggested we go out for pizza. J was all over it. Little One screeched, “I haaaate pizza! Just take me home so Daddy can cook me some meat.”
But even better than meat, for Little One, is fruit. When J was a year old, I was reading Dr. Sears’ advice for feeding toddlers and my husband scoffed, “Why does he have to eat so much fruit? I can’t even eat that much fruit – and I outweigh him by 200 pounds!” Today J eats plenty of fruit… you know, when he has to in order to get seconds of mac & cheese or dessert.
Their dad and I do agree on many nutrition principles and are both disgusted with what passes for “lunch” at our kids’ school. When J started first grade, he would tell me things like he had a corn dog and apple juice for lunch. Then I learned that there’s an optional salad/fruit bar (whose idiotic idea was it to make that optional?). So I told him that from now on I expect him to choose something from there, anything he likes, an apple, some carrots, whatever. Just something.
The next day I asked what he chose from the salad bar and he said, “Pudding.”
Dessert is at the salad bar too – of course! How could I not have known? So that backfired, as good-parenting attempts often do.
Little One starts first grade tomorrow and I’m going to have to forbid him from going to the salad bar or he won’t eat anything for lunch that has calories. The other day he was riding in the cart at the grocery store and he begged for clementines, then grapes, then blueberries… Finally he screamed, “Oh watermelon! Can we pleeeeeease get some watermelon!”
I listed all the fruits we had in the cart and already at home and said, “We don’t need any watermelon.”
And as I was squeezing the avocadoes he looked at the pasta, rice, beer, butter, cheese and crackers in the cart and said to no one in particular, “Well – we don’t need ANY of this shit.”
So maybe parents have a teensy bit of influence – I am sure I have no control over his dietary preferences, but I admit that I might know where he gets that mouth.