It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Junk food, maternal compromise, the essential skill of basking

The very smart Mir was discussing the easy Mommy points available when the otherwise nutritionally hard-assed mother slips the occasional bottle of wine cookie into her children’s lunch boxes. Said kids will be delirious with glee — and overwhelmed with gratitude for this sugar-sweetened evidence of Motherlove, natch.

When my kids were little (before the dawn of HFCS awareness and when trans-fats were just an oily smear on the horizon), I routinely passed off fruit as dessert, refused to allow pop into the house, and kept junk to the occasional (once or twice a month) treat. Breakfast was French toast or hot cereal with fruit, scrambled eggs, and, sometimes, homemade soup. Why not?

My eldest once made me Very Proud, when, at the age of three and confronted with a potluck dessert table filled with ooey-gooey sugary goodness, opted for an apple. Her choice, not mine. (Once in a while a kid will do something like that, something totally virtuous, and they’ll do it IN PUBLIC!! Don’t be all modest and self-deprecating. Don’t say “Oh my God, that NEVER happens at home!!!” Grab your moments of glory when they come to you. BASK in it woman, BASK! Because you know it’s only a matter of time until they’re caught picking their nose and eating it during storytime at the library.)

So, apples for dessert, yes, but my kids were also drawn to those magical, mystical super-sweetened glow-in-the-dark, marshmallow-studded breakfast “cereals”. Pointed at their gaudy boxes and gave me puppy-dog-eyes in the breakfast food aisle. Not that they’d ever eaten any of it, of course. This was the mother whose children didn’t eat candy of any sort before their third birthday, and certainly not for breakfast. It was just the IDEA of such ooey-gooey decadence. For BREAKFAST!

I was unmoved by puppy-dog eyes.

“That is NOT food.” And I really believe that. It is not food, no matter how many vitamins and minerals they sprinkle on the cardboard, styrofoam, sugar and chemicals after the fact. Send my kids off to school … well, okay, I was homeschooling then … Send my kids off to the livingroom with THAT in their bellies and expect them to think, never mind stay awake until lunch? I think not.

More puppy-dog-eyes. “Sorry, guys. It’s not food. That stuff is nothing but junk.” Which gave me my semi-brilliant idea. We were, after all, comfortably past the no-candy, fine-tune-their-palate years. We were into the sensible-choices-for-life training. Junk food was allowed, in moderation. The children were learning to monitor and evaluate their own intake. They were beginning to grasp the difference between junk and real food, the purposes of each.

Junk food, junk cereal… Hmmm…

“Okay, guys. Which box would you like?”

Three sets of eyeballs almost, but not quite, landed on the floor of Aisle Five. There was a lively debate before a box of Lucky Charms ended up in the cart. Three kids were beside themselves with anticipation of the gustatory bliss that awaited.

Here was the deal: one box of “junk cereal” was purchased each month, which we had (are you ready for this?) in lieu of candy!

I know. Deviously brilliant, huh?

I figure even CocoPuffs have less sugar and more fiber than, say, a Caramilk bar, and less fat than potato chips. The added vitamins and mineral in the drek, put there to convince the gullible that this is a food with actual nutrient value, give it more nutritional merit than you’d be getting in yer average package of Twizzlers. A handful of Lucky Charms eaten as finger food instead of Fuzzy Peaches. Struck me as a reasonable compromise. The point of monitoring is not to refuse yourself these nutritionally-void goodies entirely, but to ensure that they are occasional treats in an otherwise healthy diet.

Over the years they worked their way through a wide range of boxes that would never otherwise be given shelf space in my home. They got their sugar-coated ick, but they learned its appropriate place in the nutritional scheme of things. And now that they’re teens and beyond, not one of them ingests the stuff. (Yes, they eat junk, just not this junk.) The most popular breakfast around here in summer is non-fat plain yoghurt with fresh fruit stirred into it, and in winter it’s oatmeal.

And they make it themselves.

Hm? What? Sorry, can’t year you … I’m basking.

October 10, 2008 - Posted by | food, health and safety, my kids | , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. You are a genius! We don’t serve desert in our house, we just serve fruit along with any meal.
    For special treats we go out to ice-cream once in a month or two and share a kiddy sized cup between 2 or three of us, sometimes an occasional oatmeal-raisin cookie. But I sometimes wonder if “lack” of sugar will drive my kids to overindulge in it later. And I agree, cereal (at least sweet) is not breakfast, I couldn’t live on it for more than 30 minutes, not sure how they could. Here we serve hot oatmeal with raisins and nuts or farmer’s cheese with low sugar jam or bread and cheese for breakfast. Occasionally I’ll serve cereal, but the type with no sugar on no added vitamins and will make sure there is also bread and cheese on the table. If I keep serving just the oatmeal, my three year old loses interes in it in 2 or 3 days.
    Yes, and I don’t get people’s obsession with all things chocolate for any kind of celebration: chocolate doughnuts or chocolate chip cookies, otherwise it’s not special. As far as I can tell 3 year olds (and below) are perfectly happy with a whole-wheat roll with raisins or cranberries or even just plain bagel and cream cheese if you serve it as a treat!

    Comment by nina | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  2. A wonderful way to go, I think I may “copy” your ways as my babygirl gets older. As a 15 month old, we definitely don’t give her sugar…she still hasn’t had juice! IT’s just not necessary. She loves fruit and that makes me plenty happy.

    Also love what you said about basking – I’ll have to remember that throughout the years. it’s so easy to “make excuses” or “apologize” for some reason.

    Comment by Susan W | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  3. Oh dear Lord yes, bask away.

    Heaven knows that we’re not perfect, us mothers, so when we have an opportunity to take pride and say, “I helped do that!” then we should take it.

    Whether it’s about food choices, relationships or just cleaning up after themselves, we need to take credit.

    Great post.

    Comment by Zayna | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  4. I sent my kids to a day care center from 10 weeks because I had to go back to work. I couldn’t believe the age that they started to introduce juice! Until my daughter was old enough to know that the other kids were getting something different fomr her, I told them no. water or milk only. If she needs fruit juice, give her some actual fruit!

    Comment by ktjrdn | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  5. I had a way to be even more restrictive. We had Birthday Cereal. On each kid’s birthday they both got to pick a sugary cereal or even (what was I thinking?) Pop Tarts. Two kids worked out to four boxes a year. Not bad. They usually picked by the toy, not the cereal!

    Comment by jwg | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  6. We get sugar cereal min-boxes in our christmas stockings. That’s it. My mom never allowed me sugar cereal either, and to this day, my favourite cereal is plain cheerios. Luckily my grandma let me have Froot Loops when I would visit her in the summer. (When I also got my dose of tv, another illicit substance, and had the benefit of a dishwasher so I didn’t have to do them! Bliss!)

    And yeah, I’ve informed Pumpkinpie, too, that dessert is not food. It’s *dessert* which is different.

    Comment by kittenpie | October 10, 2008 | Reply

  7. Great idea! Now I want some Lucky Charms.

    Comment by Lady M | October 11, 2008 | Reply

  8. Oh, you are so nice! Mine get their choice of sugery junk once a YEAR – when we are on holiday:)

    This year they chose chocolate shreddies, which is just their normal breakfast cereal with cocoa sprinkled on top – and they were glad to get beack to normal when the box ran out LOL

    Comment by juggling mother | October 13, 2008 | Reply

  9. Christmas stockings! I’m doing this one for sure!

    Comment by Jill in Atlanta | October 14, 2008 | Reply

  10. Great idea! I’ve often had Count Chocula as a snack myself (never for breakfast, although I am a chocoholic). I hadn’t made the connection to give it to kids in lieu of candy. Many thanks.

    Comment by No Mother Earth | October 16, 2008 | Reply

  11. What a great idea. I’ve snacked on cereal too, and never thought of it as replacing another form of junk! Thanks for the tip…

    Comment by susan | October 16, 2008 | Reply

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