If you try to eat healthfully, or feed your children healthy food, holidays can be a minefield. Since October, I feel I’ve been fighting a losing battle with the dessert onslaught. It started, of course, weeks before Halloween, when every store had loads of candy on display, leading up to the night of sugar debauchery. But this was followed by Thanksgiving with its pies, Christmas and its cookies, Hanukkah gelt, New Year’s Eve celebrations. And just as we are ridding out bodies of these build-ups of fats and sugars, we have Valentine’s Day.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I love chocolate. But I can’t eat it every day, nor do I want my kids to. And with all the talk about childhood obesity, you’d think I would be joined in this sentiment by other parents, but so many of them seem to let their kids eat junk food that I find I’m often the lone dissenting voice.
The elementary school where Nora, now in 4th grade, goes (and my other kids attended), is one of the more progressive schools, and candy is banned from lunches. But at school-sanctioned events, like the annual crafts fair held each December, the food table is a riot of cookies, cakes and sodas. I’ve worked the food table; kids start buying soda at 10 or 11am, whenever we open. Fourth graders are allowed to go out to lunch, and Nora reports that some of her friends spend all their lunch money on candy (since my daughter can’t be trusted to resist the siren call of the candy store, we let her buy lunch only once a week, and only give her enough money for her slice of pizza or bagel with cream cheese).
After school, there’s an ice cream truck and an ices cart on school property, and on the walk home, we pass a gelato store, a chocolate bar, two ice cream shops and two bakeries.
I know one mom who made it a rule to allow her son a treat only on Fridays. But if he went home for a playdate with another kid, on say, Tuesday, and that kid got ice cream every day, he had a second treat. Plus there were school birthday parties — if you have an enormous cupcake in school, do you really need a huge scoop of ice cream three hours later? I feel like the Grinch if I keep saying no to treats, but when I look at the nutritional content of food and see that a scone at Starbucks has 500 calories — and a child of 9 should consume about 1,600 total calories in a day — that doesn’t leave a lot of room for the fruits, vegetables and protein that a growing body needs.
When we were in Italy last summer, we had a daily gelato. But you could have a teeny portion, about a quarter of what you’d get at Haagen Dazs — and still be satisfied. I know that you could encourage a kid to not finish her ice cream, but what child would say she’s had enough when she still has half a cone of cookies ‘n cream?
I’m all for celebrating the holidays. But let’s try to recognize this one with flowers.