veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Independent Kindergartener

When I think about getting my kids to eat nutritious food, in the back of my mind I know that one day my kids will grow up and be faced with making decisions about what to eat on their own. Right now I decide what’s for dinner, I let them know what the options are for breakfast each morning and I am the one who packs their lunch. I know that teaching my kids about what it means to eat nutritious food is just as important as getting them to consume it. One day I won’t be there, looking over my daughter’s shoulder, to guide her in her food choices. All of this I know will happen one day. I just didn’t realize that day was today.

“Sweetie how come you are not drinking any water from your thermos during lunch?” I ask my 5 year old after her first two weeks of kindergarten as I unpack her lunchbox at the end of the day.

“Oh I don’t need my thermos, Mom,” she replies with the attitude of a teenager. “I like to get chocolate milk instead.”

“You BUY chocolate milk every day?” I ask in amazement.

“Yes, its sooooo fun, mom,” she responds with a smile.

“But I don’t give you any money,” I wonder aloud, “so how are you buying milk without any money?”

“My teacher asks us if we want to get milk,” my daughter explains, “so I get in line and pick my milk.”

“And then what,” I coax her to tell me more.

“Then I stand in line and I give the lady my number, 40655, and then I go sit down and eat my lunch and drink my chocolate milk.”

There you have it. Just like that the chord of nutrition control had been severed the minute I enrolled my daughter into kindergarten and the teacher handed out student ID numbers for making purchases at lunch time to be billed to the parents at the end of the month. Now, it’s my daughter’s choice. Sure, I can still guide and advise her. But at the end of the day, or in the middle of the day, I should say, it is my 5-year-old, standing in the school lunch line, choosing what she wants to drink. All of a sudden it is no longer about only giving her healthy choices. She has met the school lunch line and now it is up to her to make healthy choices on her own. Of course, I can lobby to improve school lunches and do away with flavored milk. I plan to participate in the PTA committee for school wellness and bring about healthy changes in the years to come. But I also have to deal with the reality of today – my daughter purchasing high fructose corn syrup chocolate milk for lunch.

Just before bedtime that night I call my daughter over to me for a serious talk. We talk about drinking regular milk and how it is good for your body. We talk about chocolate milk that she has at home (in small portions and without the high fructose corn syrup) when she can brush her teeth right after so the chocolate doesn’t sit on her teeth all day and give her cavities. I tell her about how she eats many treats but ones that are approved by me and not necessarily consumed during school. We talk about how she needs healthy food to give her energy and keep her awake so she can learn and play at school. Most importantly, we talk about making healthy choices that are right for her, rather than just doing what everyone else does.

I have no idea how much of our talk got through to my daughter. And of course, drinking chocolate milk at lunch is not the end of the world. But it is the tip of an iceberg that is lurking beneath my feet. The tip of unhealthy habits may seem innocent and inconsequential, but I know better. My gut tells me that giving in to high fructose corn syrup drinks at lunch for a 5-year-old will only pave the way for more unhealthy habits to come. I know that if I stand my ground for nutrition over empty calories, she will feel better, have more energy and develop a taste for more healthy food down the road.

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