The question felt a bit out of left field. But as the mother of a child, of a little girl, I suppose I shouldn’t ever really be surprised, right?
She is eight-going-on-twenty-eight, after all. And this growing up business is happening right in front of my eyes. This IS the child who, at 48 inches and not quite 50 pounds told me last year that she wouldn’t wear a First Communion dress with a crinoline under it because, in her words, ‘it would make me look fat’.
Fat. It is a word she has never once heard me say about myself or anyone else. Not even as a joke.
Not, “I’m having a fat day.”
Not, “I feel fat in this.”
Not, “Does my butt look fat in these jeans?”
I don’t even insinuate it.
Not, “Another one of these brownies and I won’t be able to button my clothes.”
Healthy, active living. That’s what I have always wanted to promote to my small people. I know they are surrounded by words, by images, of what people – especially women *should* look like and ever since they’ve been little, I have worked to shield them from any notion of *should*.
The only thing they *should* do is PLAY and eat a variety of foods. Yes, cookies are fine. But there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in their world. There is Gatorade and water and lots of Milk. There is cheese and bread and pasta and fish and chicken.
So, the other day, when my small girl turned those big brown eyes on me, lifted her shirt, patted her stomach and said, “Mommy, do I need to go on a diet?”, my heart hurt. I felt sick.
But I knew it was time for a talk. ”Aren’t you on a diet, Mommy?”
Amazing how they watch everything you do, even when you don’t say a word, yes? I wasn’t on a diet, but I was making some changes to how I was eating. For a few days, I had focused almost entirely on fresh fruits, vegetables and vitamins in an effort to ‘reset’ my system after a few months of poor eating, little exercise and staying up too late while working on my latest book. I wanted to purge my body of the ‘unnatural’ and focus strictly on fresh, healthy foods.
But, my small girl saw ‘diet’. I realized I needed to explain how I typically make food choices for myself and for our family. And why I had been making a few healthier changes to take care of myself.
The key for us is three-fold: fresh foods, the items with the largest number of ‘healthy’ ingredients and anything else in moderation.
Fresh foods are easy to explain: fruits, vegetables, and proteins like chicken and fish
For food staples, I walked to the pantry and pulled out two boxes of food: one candy and Kellogg’s Raisin Bran. I wanted to share an option that had ingredients we recognized and could pronounce: Raisin Bran lists in order: Whole grain wheat, raisins, wheat bran, sugar, brown sugar syrup, 2% or less of salt and malt flavor. We aren’t purists, so it wasn’t difficult to find an option that included unhealthy ingredients. It was a box of candy and the ingredient list included partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, sodium bicarbonate, resinous glaze and artificial flavor (among other options).
The point of this exercise with my daughter (and at this point, both my son and husband as well) was to explain that 1) the first ingredients listed are the most dominant – so if sugar or salt come first, we might want to look elsewhere for a different option and 2) our goal is to put food into our bodies that includes ingredients we can actually recognize and pronounce – in other words – real food.
So….whole grain wheat and raisins? Good. Resinous glaze? Not so good.
This isn’t to say, as I mentioned before, that our home or food choices are perfect. We do eat some cookies and cakes. Sugar isn’t banned and I know you could find items that have some unpronounceable items in their ingredient list. But we are a work in progress. And I’d say 70% of what we eat is fresh and healthy, so I’m ok with the knowledge that we aren’t perfect.
I’m also ok knowing I can and do have these conversations with my small people. And they know I don’t tolerate ‘fat’ – not hearing they believe it of themselves or of other people. And this is a lifestyle we have to live, not one we can simply talk about and hope sinks in.
How do you promote a healthy lifestyle in your home?
Disclosure: I do have a regular working relationship with Kellogg’s though all thoughts and opinions I share in this post and throughout this site are mine and mine alone. I chose to use Raisin Bran as an example because it is a regular healthy breakfast staple in our home.