Monday, January 16, 2012

the great junk food compromise

Remember when you were a kid, how you loved to hang out at certain houses because they had all the food?  They had the chips, cookies, the soda, and a mom who worried little about who should eat what, and when. 

I always wanted to be that cool mom. 

I didn’t anticipate that I would grow up to be a little obsessed about the quality of the food I would provide for my kids.  I also didn’t anticipate that Olivia would develop allergies to gluten, wheat, dairy eggs and peanuts—and a hypersensitivity to white sugar.  These limitations only reinforced my conviction that we should eat local, organic, whole grain food.  No white flour, no white sugar, no preservatives or artificial ingredients.  Better for us.  Better for the environment.

A kitchen full of vegetables and whole grains shouldn’t be so strange, but in these days of bagel bites and brownie mix, it makes me pretty much the most uncool mom on the planet.

When the kids were younger, their friends wanted chewy granola bars, Kraft Macaroni ‘N Cheese, and BBQ potato chips when they came to play. 

Determined that these 8 year olds would not push me around in my own kitchen, I offered PB&J on whole wheat bread, pistachios in the shell, fruit leather, and enough buttered whole wheat noodles to build a ladder to the moon. 

Since Gareth began high school, the ramifications of serving only healthy snacks have grown.  If you want to stay connected with the teenager in your house, the one who wants to hang out with you about as much as he or she wants to spend the afternoon doing laundry, you need to make your house into the hangout for his or her friends. 

How?  Well, I love ‘em, but I have to say that teenagers are a little like rats.  They reside in all neighborhoods; they’re a little too greasy; they leave a trail of trash behind them wherever they go; and most important for this conversation: they congregate around a fixed set of factors.  If you put food, shelter and water in close proximity to one another outside, you will attract rats to your neighborhood.  Similarly, if you put video games, a couch, and food under one roof, you will attract teenagers to your house. 

The difference?  Teenagers are a lot more fun to have around than rats.  Most of the time anyway.

When Gareth goes to friends’ houses, they wow him with Costco-sized boxes of Cheetos,Poptarts, pizza, soda, Oreos. 

How can I compete? 

Would those growing boys like some Asian tofu and black beans for the playoff game?  Perhaps a little gingered rice on the side?   

I have to face it, serving apple slices and almond butter for a Super Bowl snack would be something akin to forcing an 11 year old to wear plaid coolats to school when everyone else is wearing Levi cords (yes, that happened to me). 

Even I'm too cool for apple slices during football. 

I figure that after years of my harping, Gareth knows what’s healthy and what’s not.  He’s also a typical teenager who wants to do everything in exactly the opposite way that I’ve taught him.   

In some ways, I have to let him; otherwise he’ll just end up further and further away—simply eating junk food at his friends’ houses instead of at mine.

So when Gareth invited friends over to watch the playoff game yesterday, we made chili and homemade chicken wings—no objections there, but still, against all my convictions, I found myself in unfamiliar aisles at the grocery store: purchasing root beer, chips and dip.  Why?  So that Gareth’s friends will like hanging out with us, yes, but also to give him the room to choose the healthy and green eating habits we’ve laid out for him. 

I hope that's how it will work anyway.

I like to think that small-house-big-picture is about our hope that the shape and function of our family can influence the world around our little home in some small way.  It is about that, but we don't create our lives out of a vacuum.  We also must account for the ways the world around our little home shapes us--and that when necessary, a little compromise never hurt anybody.

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