Cheetos vs. Carrots: (Not) Fighting to Feed Kids Healthy Food

Chow on 03.03.11
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My kids are sick of healthy lunches. They don't want organic soybean butter and Farmer's Market fig jam sandwiches, they want Lunchables: crackers, processed cheese, salty disks that pass for lunch meat and a whole lot of chemicals wrapped up in a plastic box. My son just confessed he&'s been dumping his organic carrot snacks in the trash (and I thought the ranch dip was decadent). My daughter's been trading her edamame for Twinkies. Forget the organic veggie chips I carefully stowed in wax paper bags: heaven for these children would be to open up their lunch boxes and spy a bright-orange bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos.

If you haven't been following the Cheetos controversy, last year's NPR expose found the snack has addictive properties that I'm theorizing might be caused by an excess of red dye number five. Every time Angelina Jolie takes her brood out for a walk, the paparazzi snaps them snacking on the deep-fried, day-glo crunchies. And the cheetah-emblazoned bag has elevated elementary-school pariahs to the status of homecoming kings--as long as they have trading privileges.

Now I'm no stranger to junk food. After enduring years of brown-bag lunches with an oversized, barely washed carrot from my father's vegetable garden peeking out of the top as evidence of my snack, I spent many years of rebellion indulging in a plethora of processed foods. But the organic apple doesn't fall far from the tree: I always felt better when I was eating healthy foods, like those I'd grown up with.

In the hopes that I'd similarly indoctrinate my own children, I introduced healthy eating habits early. As toddlers, my kids ate everything from seaweed to asparagus. I followed the five rules to a tee:

1. Have regular family meals.

2. Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.

3. Be a role model by eating healthy yourself.

4. Avoid battles over food.

5. Involve kids in the process.

We eat a family meal at least five nights a week. A big bowl of organic fruit sits on the counter. Most weekends, I take them to the Farmer's Market. At the supermarket, we hold discussions in the processed food aisle about how my job as a parent is to protect them from harm--including chemicals.

But guess what? At 10 and seven, two out of my three children exist on a diet of pasta, pizza, chicken nuggets and the occasional hamburger. Occasionally, in the 15 minutes between theater class, skateboarding lessons and thrice-weekly baseball practice we even hit the McDonald's drive-thru.

They gotta eat, right?

The point is, I do my best. The pasta is organic whole wheat, the pizza is homemade, the chicken nuggets are actually soy and hamburgers at home are free range and organic. All meals are augmented by a daily serving of green vegetables, and in-between snacks involve a whole lot of organic string cheese. My son has an aversion to fruit (hence, the string cheese), but both my daughters nibble on what's in season.

Sometimes, I even let them have Cheetos. (But never in their lunch boxes.)

And, in keeping with rule number four, I try not to argue with them about food. I encourage, yes. I cajole, absolutely. And I definitely set a good example. As a result, I hope one day my kids and I will sit down to a meal of freshly prepared foods that they don't recognize -- and they'll take a bite, without question. I may have to wait until they're 25, but I do believe it can happen.

Hey, a mom can dream, can't she?