Today’s parenting world differs in many ways from that which my mother experienced. Granted, life and motherhood in the Western world tends to shifts with each generation no matter what. Nowadays though, the presence of not only social media, but the relentless access we all have (whether we like it or not) to news articles, unsolicited advice, conspiracy theories and much more, can leave the modern day parent…well, confused.
Everyone’s parental journey differs, but there are several common themes I constantly see penetrating the everyday in some worrisome and preoccupying manner: cyber bullying, the sexualization of our children, wide spread consumerism, and food to name just a few.
I’m confused. I’ll just be honest.
I, like many, have dived head first into attempting to provide my family with the healthiest option when it comes to our diets and household products. I used to think I knew how this worked: don’t eat more calories than you burn off, get plenty of sunshine and water, watch those everyday sugars, and live your life.
The rabbit hole of healthy family eating habits is an interesting one, not least because slowly but surely you start to realize that few really know or recognize how the human body actually works (myself included), and that quite frankly most of the readily available food isn’t really food anymore. The statistics of chronic lifestyle disease in the USA and other (close behind) countries is undeniably staggering, and as parents many of us feel it’s our mission to protect our brood from falling prey to those massive lifestyle issues. And then you go to the dentist with your five-year-old and you hear that he has not one but eight cavities and wonder where the heck you went wrong.
This is what happened to us just two weeks ago. Our family is mindful about food, always have been. I used nutrition and exercise to reverse a serious health issue about six years ago (with the supervision of an ‘open minded’ doctor), so you could easily call me a convert when it comes to food being thy medicine. To say I was shocked about my son’s situation was an understatement. Sure, we may have been too lenient on the sweet treats from time to time (the ebbs and flows of young family life does mean that you do good some days and not so good the next, after all), but we have always had a very stringent dental routine, and my kids are thrilled to sit down with a bowl of raw spinach and cauliflower as a daily snack — no exaggeration.
I was left spinning in circles about not only the dental care he would likely need, but also about how this happened and how on earth I could stop this from continuing. Obviously I had gone seriously off the rails somewhere with our daily diet and lifestyle, so the first step to rectifying that would be to identify the cause and change the behavior. Simple enough, right?
If you’ve ever attempted to research good nutrition practices for your kids, you’re probably chuckling to yourself right now. To put it plainly, there are likely 26,535,788 answers to that question on the internet, and depending on which doctor/nutritionist/dentist you ask, you may get a few more.
So where do you start? As a parent where do you even begin to make the right choices knowingly and intentionally in today’s all-access world?
I started with simplicity. We’re two weeks into a complete family lifestyle overhaul, and it’s going wonderfully, but easy it is not. I read every single label on every single package, of which there are now few since almost everything processed is a worse choice that a simple whole food — go on and wince with me fellow moms, for whom convenience has also been a saving grace.
I try not to absolutely lose my s#@t over what is organic, GMO free, locally or humanely sourced, grain fed versus corn fed versus grass fed, no antibiotics, no hormones, sugar free, aspartame free, high fructose corn syrup free, cage free, free range, and every over freaking label that can be slapped on our food to confuse and attract us.
I’ve found that if I’m buying a simple whole food (like say, a fresh vegetable or an egg), I don’t have to worry about most of those things. I try to buy organic where I can (does anyone know for SURE what that even means in commercial size farms anyway?!) and I try to stick to the five ingredient rule for everything else. More than five ingredients (or ones that I can’t pronounce) and it likely is getting a little too far removed from ‘real’ food. And lastly, above even those chemicals and flavorings, I watch out for the sneakiest of additives: sugar. Sugar is in everything nowadays. Savory crackers? Sugar. Wholegrain ancient seed ‘great for you’ bread? Sugar. Milk? Sugar.
I’ve realized that even when I think I’m giving my kids a healthy and nutritious snack, I need to be wary and to check those labels. I need to know that 4 grams of sugar is equal to 1 teaspoon, and that my kids’ bodies should realistically not be given more that 4-6 teaspoons of added sugar per day to process (depending on which source you are reading at the time).