Wide eyed, my sons would drift down the cereal aisle. Enamored with the brightly colored boxes and cartoon characters, they’d point their chubby fingers and ask, “Can we get this one? How ’bout that one?” Much to their disappointment, when our oldest were little ones my husband was adamant that we not buy those sugary treats passed off as breakfast cereal.
Trained as a chef, he taught them how to read labels and discern the better options, but that didn’t completely curb their desire for those off-limits brands wrapped in enticing packages with promises of prizes inside.
As so often happens when you’ve been parenting numerous children for more than a decade, we’ve made some concessions along the way. My husband still prides himself on providing us healthy choices and nutrient rich meals, but he’s allowed a few ‘fun’ options into the wobbly-wheeled grocery cart.
In order to satisfy the kids and uphold a standard, he got creative. Now we mix a box of something a bit sweeter (still no marshmallows or chocolate chunks) with a low sugar option. For example, plain wheat puffs get mixed with honey wheat puffs and frosted flakes are cut with plain flakes. Fruity rounds are even a possibility when combined with plain cheerios.
We simply purchased a few large plastic containers in which to marry two brands. Since we are usually on a tight budget we got even craftier and discovered that the containers from our cat’s dry food (the hard plastic kind with a hollow handle) also make great containers.
While my eldest have complained a time or two (or ten) about the deprivations they suffered as our experimental first kids, the education wasn’t lost on them. Our second son has become a regular label-reader and in general our teens exercise wiser choices when it comes to what they put into their bodies.
Honestly, I think education and flexibility are the keys when training kids to eat right. Especially, if you don’t want them to reject all of those lessons the day they are old enough to buy their own meals (although some amount of rebellion is to be expected from some personality types).
My aunt’s neighbor forbid all manner of sweets in her home. She worked tirelessly to provide only high quality, homemade meals and she kept all of her loves on a strict meal plan. Unfortunately, at every.single.opportunity her husband and children got to indulge (outside of the house), they gorged themselves like it was their last meal. Accepting my aunt’s party invitations, they’d arrive with open hands and empty bellies into which they’d cram every available chip, brownie bite and cookie while mama’s back was turned. When asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, the neighbor’s petite, youngest daughter proclaimed she planned to work in a grocery store so she could have all the food she wanted.
Companies spend big bucks marketing to consumers and so it is completely understandable that children are going to believe those pretty boxes contain yummier food. Additionally, our sweet tooth gets fed by all those artificial sweeteners hidden in everything from cookies to hot dogs. Recognizing those facts and then finding smart ways to offer alternatives has proved the most successful plan in our household of ten.