Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Foodie and Her Principles: or, how long can you keep your kids away from McDonalds?

A couple of days ago, I called my son's babysitter to tell her I'd be a bit late dropping him off because I had some errands to run and he had asked to come with me. She said, "Oh, okay, we'll hold lunch until you get here, as my husband is bringing us lunch today."

As G and I walked through the grocery store, buying fresh fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and a re-usable container so that I could start mixing homemade 'yogurt drinks' for D in his school lunches, I reflected on what 'bringing lunch' might mean. 

I was pretty sure it would mean McDonalds. I opted not to ask, because I didn't want to know. While I briefly considered taking G for lunch before I delivered him to the sitter, I decided against it.

You see, my husband and I tend to think we're pretty flexible about parenting and don't subscribe to many hard-and-fast rules about food, TV, etc. While we do have our boundaries, if they get crossed accidentally when our kids are with other people, it's not the end of the world. 

McDonalds and other fast food restaurants are so far outside the realm of possibility in our world, that I don't even think about them. We manage to go on road trips without having to use them; instead, we'll stop at a grocery store, pick up some snacks or makings for sandwiches, and have a picnic at a park. It has worked for us so far. I don't really consider those places to serve 'real food', and since I only eat real food, they are just not an option. Occasionally, if we need restaurant food, we will opt for pizza or Chinese food, but never a fast food burger.

It isn't a point of pride that we don't go to McDonalds (at least, I didn't think so until now), it just isn't part of our reality. Since our sitter had told me that she only cooks homemade food, that she might occasionally bring in McDonalds for lunch hadn't even crossed my mind.

At the end of the day, G came bounding up to me, saying, "I got a toy! I got a toy!" and I knew then without a doubt where his lunch had come from. I was unprepared for the heavy, sick feeling I got in my stomach, thinking about it. I looked at D, and thought, wow, he's almost six, and he still doesn't even know what McDonalds is (he said to me, "I've been to McDonalds. Isn't it a farm?"), and poor little three year old G has already been exposed. The sitter was shocked to hear that it was his first experience with McDonalds.

I guess we're really not normal, are we? But to be honest, I don't want to be normal.

I had always said that while I wouldn't take my kids to McDonalds, because I'm not interested in eating it or participating in the fast food culture in general, I also wasn't about to forbid them going there. Extremism doesn't breed moderation, and moderation is the overall lesson I'm hoping to instill in my children.

I'm also pretty sure that they'll be able to tell the difference between fast food and 'real' food, because as  a kid, I certainly could. I always looked forward to going to McDonalds because I was supposed to like it, but the food always disappointed. As an adult, it was never a place I wanted to go. I did eat other kinds of fast food until I slowly realized they just didn't taste good or feel good in my body when I ate them.

I tell my husband regularly that it's not so much what we say as what we do that will get through to the kids. If we told them fast food was bad for them but they saw us eating it, they'd want to eat it. If we told them too much TV is bad for them, but watched it a lot anyway, and talked about it all the time, they'd get a different sense. In reality, TV is not part of our lives, and neither is fast food, and that is what will register with our kids.

I never under-estimate the power of emotional ties to food, and the importance of childhood memories and comfort food. In my case, and that of my kids', I'm hoping that those emotions are tied to feelings of togetherness around the table, of home-cooked meals, family gatherings, and fresh cookies out of the oven.

It was gratifying to watch D and G eat Trout Provencale, roasted sweet potatoes, steamed beans and carrots and coleslaw that night for dinner. They each asked for seconds. I'll rest assured that in spite of my urges to be extremist and impose my will about fast food, it's a better tack to offer healthy, flavourful, real food and let them make their own decisions.

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