Despite all the things my parents got right and all the ways they made sure everyone in our family was always okay, I don’t remember anyone paying much attention to nutrition. As an adult, I’ve wondered if this lack of consciousness about food choices is cultural, familial, or just missteps my parents made in their lack of intentionality regarding the things we ate. Mostly, I think it was learned behaviors that trickled down from generation to generation. Maybe running a business, pastoring a church, and having three daughters involved in multiple extracurricular activities didn’t leave much time for meal planning or food prepping. Or maybe we lived in a time before there was so much research and information about how harmful chemicals and preservatives in some processed foods can be. Either way, poor food choices has definitely affected my family negatively. Both my parents were deceased before age 55, and both could have prolonged their lives had they made better decisions about food. High blood pressure and diabetes have crept into my family history and are things I have to constantly monitor. Of course, these negative eating habits have been formed and are difficult to break.
As someone who has been relatively healthy my entire life, it wasn’t until my son Malachi was born that I really started to think about food choices and how they have lasting effects on us and those we love. From the moment he was born, I was the “no sugars, no artificial flavors, no dyes” kind of mom. I forbid my family to feed him anything that wasn’t pre-approved by me and threatened to limit visits if they didn’t comply. But honestly, that became exhausting very quickly. As a working, single mom, I struggled with having time to puree baby food, make fresh fruit cups, and keep the organic food from going bad before I got around to using it. I knew I needed to make good food choices, and I was trying, but it wasn’t as easy as I had imagined.
I think I’ve jumped on and fallen off every trendy food bandwagon there is, and I’ve dragged my poor kid along for the ride. We were vegetarian for about a week. We’ve cut out sweets and junk food all together. We’ve done the bento box thing where I gave him tiny bits of about 10 different healthy food items at each meal. We’ve tried the colors of the rainbow to make fruits and veggies more appealing. We’ve gone organic. I’ve wandered aimlessly around Whole Foods without a clue what I was actually looking for, all while envying the women and children who seemed so comfortable there. I have traveled with coolers and lunch sacks to ensure that Malachi never ate a Happy Meal or a gas station hot dog. But despite my best efforts, I knew that I was still missing the mark. I was trying to find a cookie cutter solution, and none of them worked for us. Nothing felt completely right, and I was tired of always thinking about food.
I still have many fond memories of the home that I grew up in. It was a gathering place for family and friends, and there was always an abundance of chips, soda, pizza rolls, and hot pockets. If I’m honest, part of me wants my son to experience the world we lived in back then — kids walked home from school with a few friends and pigged out on junk food until someone’s mom showed up, ordered pizza, and considered it a proper dinner. I mean, I grew up in the era of the 99 cent Whopper. Life was good when a carload of teenagers could shoot through the drive through before a football game and get five burgers for less than 5 dollars. I want my son to have those cool, food related memories, and I’m just not sure the veggie delight of the day can measure up to cheap cheeseburgers. But I also know that it’s my job as his mother to get him thinking in the right direction about food.
I’m finding that there is a balance somewhere between the mom who irresponsibly lets her children eat whatever they want without regard for health or wellbeing, and the mom who totally over-thinks each meal and is consumed by anxiety about food choices. Currently, we’re not following any specific food plan. We still don’t do dyes, and we try really hard to avoid processed foods. I keep much less junk food on hand than my mom did when I was growing up, but there are definitely still chocolate chip cookies in our pantry – right next to the trail mix and veggie chips. When it comes to fast food, we avoid the worst of the worst and usually do Chick-fil-A or Panera Bread if we need to get a quick bite. I’m sure our eating patterns will change and evolve over the years, but I think we’ve found a sweet spot for now.
Changing learned behavior can be quite challenging, but there’s nothing like our precious little ones to motivate us. I don’t always get it right, but I’m trying to make good choices and teach the importance of a healthy diet. I would have never thought that food would land so high on my list of concerns as a parent, but not having my parents here is a constant reminder of just how important it is.