Usually I post about food and nutrition science, but this week’s post is a bit more philosophical. It concludes with some simple tips for back to school nutrition and wellness, so feel free to skip ahead…
As a mother of 3 sons who are teenagers and beyond, I am at the point in my life where I ask “Did I do enough? Teach the right things? Grow a good person?”
I’m going to pat myself on the back and say, “yes”. I probably did too much at times, taught the wrong things, and wasn’t always a perfect role model, but you know what? Who is perfect? Nobody.
As parents you go through quite the lifecycle. You have babies that you feed well, cuddle and nurture. You make sure they are accomplishing their birth age development skills, you take them to the pediatrician when they’re sick. When they become school-age (now at age 3 for preschool), you make sure they can separate and become social creatures. You help with homework and pack healthy lunches and snacks all through elementary school. You buy a cool backpack for the awkward middle school years, hoping they’ll find a place to fit in. Then high school begins and you have to start letting go. What’s done is done, and they have to start making choices that you pray are the right ones. You become a safety net. You take the late night calls, you breathe a sigh of relief when the garage door opens and your teen get home safely, you worry less about their soda consumption or obsession with smoothies, and more about their safety and overall well-being.
Back to School, Drop the Shame
Which brings me to the Back to School theme and the Bad Moms movie. I went to see the movie Bad Moms with a few girl friends last week. I did laugh out loud. The movie was over the top (on purpose) to show us how crazy and warped parenting rules have become.
I’m calling all moms of school aged children to cut themselves a break. There is so much food shaming out there that even the most level headed mother will start to question herself. Personally, I feel the Organic food industry invented the notion of feeling shameful for choosing a treat for your child. I’m not talking about organic apples, carrots, or bananas, but the huge industry of packed Organic snacks that have a health halo around them. Since moms continue to be the primary shopper in the household, there’s no question that this industry is marketing to them.
Now that school is back in session, or soon to be, give yourself a break. Be a “Bad Mom” (i.e., imperfect but balanced, allowing time for yourself, and providing a reasonably healthy diet for your kids, along with lots of love and enough downtime for everyone). Consider this:
Don’t overdo it.
It’s okay to bring your B game to the first day of school. Remember that there’s plenty of time the first few weeks of school to pick up snacks or school supplies. For whatever reason, we moms tend to go into “nesting” mode the days leading up to school. As if you can’t buy notebooks or a pair of jeans on September 10th or something.
Let it go
If you don’t get a photo of “the first day”, let it go. This obsession with fancy Pinterest-worthy photo moments of kids holding a plaque of their grade on a cute little chalk board, drawn with perfect calligraphy, is a bit much. And way too much pressure for moms who don’t have the time or skill for such things. Trust me, when you child moves to college they aren’t going to care about their outfit on the first day of 6th grade. Matter of fact, they may wish to erase that memory.
While the research that breakfast improves school performance is now being questioned, fueling the body in the morning is a good idea, especially for younger children. Keep it quick and simple: A small bowl of cereal with milk, fruit, a glass of milk or yogurt smoothie, and English muffin or frozen waffle with peanut butter.
It’s okay to pack potato chips.
My children love a lunch box that includes a small 1-ounce bag of chips. Love. It. Check here for more.
Add fruits and veggies
Fruit and veggies balance out the chips. Pack either packaged or fresh – and be sure they are the ones your kids will eat. As we dietitians like to say, “It’s not nutrition if you don’t eat it”. Pack at least one likable fruit or veggie every day in the lunch bag or box.
I recommend variety, but I can tell you that during the school year my children were pretty happy with routine. Food can bring some comfort. Maybe their standard lunch was the one thing they could count on every day. They often would pack the same things daily: peanut butter and jelly, a ham sandwich, applesauce or grapes, yogurt, chips, milk. We used the variety rule during the summer. If you can get your child to embrace mixing it up, awesome. But if you can’t, don’t worry. Not all kids are born to crave turkey wraps with sprouts and avocado. I love those, but my kids don’t (Exposure is good though. It’s good that your child can identify the vegetable or fruit, but don’t force them to eat it). And truthfully, I didn’t eat avocados or sprouts until my twenties when I took a trip to Nevada and California. So there’s plenty of time for your child to try new foods and embrace them on his own terms.
Have a plan
Do have an after school snack plan. If your child stays at school, offer to bring something healthy in. If they are old enough to come home alone, have a plate of sliced cheese with fruit ready in the fridge, easy-to-reheat leftovers, or a sandwich ready to eat. Encourage teens to have something substantial and healthy over junk food after school.
Fuel an athlete
Once your child is in middle or high school, they might begin to understand reason that what they eat does impact their performance. Pour them a big glass of chocolate milk when they get home along with a sandwich. Then have a balanced dinner too.
Do try to have dinner together, even with teens. It gets to be a real challenge to get teens to the table, but do your best, even if this means dinner is at 7:30 or 8:00pm. When you children are young, there’s more time to cook and plan meals. With teenagers, you’ll find yourself doing a lot more pick ups and drop offs, leaving you less time for planning, shopping and cooking. Keep it simple: Soup and sandwich night, Taco Tuesday, Pasta Friday, etc. Keep kid-friendly canned green beans or corn on hand, fresh fruit or a bagged salad that you can easily add to the table. What is important is that you sit at the table, chat, and eat. Expect your children to help clear the table, and wash dishes or load dishwasher too as part of the nightly ritual.
Take some Me Time.
If your children are always exposed to an exhausted woman who is constantly setting rules about what to eat, or keeping up a perfect household, they will tune out and may even become stressed or anxiety ridden themselves. Schedule regular exercise, find a hobby and realize your children can and will grown up in spite of you. They may not even need you as much as you once thought, so make some popcorn, pour yourself an iced tea, and put your feet up.