A nutrition client I saw recently reminded me of this post I’ve been meaning to write. I love working with moms of little kids. They are really receptive to my suggestions but often seem to be stuck in certain conventional ideas of what “mothering” should be. Many of them find comfort in baking with their kids. Notice I say THEY find baking with their kids is a comfort. They associate baking cookies/muffins/cakes/brownies and other treats as a special time when they bond with their kids. I suggested to this her (as I do to all moms I counsel) that she find other ways to have special time with her kids, other than baking. She asked me, “What do you do instead? Do they miss it?”.
Here are the reasons I do not bake with my kids:
1. I hate to bake because the directions are too specific and I hate following directions – miss the ½ tsp of baking powder and you’ve just wasted an hour of your time. How annoying!
2. I don’t want a tray of cookies (gluten free or paleo) staring me in the face, tempting me to eat them, or tempting my kids to eat them and climb the walls.
3. I don’t want my kids to associate baking treats (and eating them) as comforting; a special bonding time with mommy.
This also reminded me of when I approached my local school board and asked them to stop the food birthday parties in the school. I joined the district “wellness committee” and sat in a room of gym teachers and nurses all on board with ending food celebrations in the classroom. However, we saw backlash from the local parents; all worried that we were infringing on their rights as parents to bring in Hawaiian Punch and chocolate cupcakes to feed to kids at 11am, just before lunch. “The kids will miss it!”, they cried. Really? It was the metabolically deranged mothers who had the issue, not the kids. School is a place for learning, not for learning to eat crap. So is it really the kids who want the sweets, or the moms?
Sweet foods do not equal love
The association with sweat treats and love doesn’t need to begin at 2 or 3 years of age. There are plenty of other ways to bond with kids other than baking sugary treats. Sugar is more addictive than cocaine. Why do we need to associate a parent’s love with an addictive substance? Just because we as adults find comfort in cookies, doesn’t mean we spread this to our children. With obesity and diabetes on the rise, we don’t need to create a reward/comfort pathway associated with sugar. Oh and just because you made it at home, doesn’t make it healthier because it’s “homemade”. If it contains sugar or even excessive amounts of healthy “paleo approved” sweeteners and nuts it is not a good habit to indulge in on a regular basis.
There are plenty of other ways to bond with your kids over foods that are healthy. Visit a local farm and pick your own cherry tomatoes or string beans. Watch the chickens scratch at the ground and notice the different noises they make, and how they scratch at the ground THEN look down to see what’s there. Observe how playful the pigs are with each other. Go to the beach and harvest your own seaweed and mussels for dinner. (Just make sure you have a shellfish license and get the mussels at low tide as close to the water line as possible). If you can’t find a local farm, make food sculptures out of fruit or vegetables. Take celery and fill it with cashew or almond butter and cover it with raisins for “ants on a log”. Have them help you make healthy meatballs (kids love the playdough like texture of ground meat). Older kids can use the immersion blender to transform a chunky veggie soup into a smooth and creamy dinner. Harvest your own eggs for breakfast. Blend your own smoothie. Go fishing for your dinner. A fun thing to do with adventurous kids is to taste tests. Identify this meat (venison, lamb, goat) or with vegetables. Investigate how the Native Americans in your area ate and recreate a dish. Learn about another culture and try their food. When my kids were ages 5 and 7, they loved the series called “Families of the World” and as a parent, I really enjoyed watching them too! The list goes on and on. It doesn’t have to be about addictive sugary treats.
How to cut sugar and other bad foods out of your kids’ diet:
Preschool and young school aged kids seem to believe, “The store was out of _____ this week” (insert your food of choice here). Keep on repeating it and they’ll soon forget there was even a product called _____. At Halloween, our family is visited by the magical “Switch Witch” who gathers all of the Halloween candy in exchange for a small present. Older kids may be more motivated by a monetary reward. Christmas stockings don’t have to be filled with Santa Pez, candies and chocolates. Small games and a little fruit are our family tradition. There are also great non-chocolate advent calendars filled with legos or playmobile toys. Even better are the simple calendars with pictures inside, like when we were kids. For those of you with babies, set the bar LOW. Your kids won’t know the difference. Our Easter Bunny gives oranges, bananas and toys instead of chocolate. I’m not saying my kids have never had chocolate or cake on special occasions or when we’re at a party, but they don’t associate them with mom’s love or with being “good”.
Maybe this year you decide to go for a moonlight hike in the snow with your family after your holiday dinner or on New Years Eve. Or, maybe you read the book Stone Soup and make it on a chilly afternoon instead of baking a batch of brownies. I’m sure you’ll find your own traditions whether it’s telling ghost stories by candlelight, playing board games next to the fire or breaking out the computer and seeing which places you’d like to visit on Google Earth. There are millions of ways to spend an afternoon other than baking with your kids; and your family will benefit from not having a tray of sweets as a result.