Posted in audience participation, follow-up, food, parenting, tips

Answering follow-up—1

I had an e-conversation in response to a few ideas I’ve put out here and, with permission, am sharing bits with you. (Also, as I’m revisiting our conversation, I’m thinking of other things, so there will be a little more here than there was privately.)

Hey Heather, I’ve been enjoying your blog…Pregnancy is kind of like my time to go overboard on sweets. Now that baby is home, the donuts everyday has chilled out. I’m working on getting back on track. However, cutting sugar from my family’s life is one of my priorities this next year. I feel I have really started/developed some bad habits for my oldest daughter. I’m going to try to do one little change a month. January – no more Starbucks (this often includes chocolate milk for my kid or a cake pop). February – no more soda when we eat out (we don’t keep soda in the house), etc… However, what I am struggling with is my daughter’s breakfast and snacks. Right now she has an eggo waffle in the morning with chocolate syrup on it. She won’t eat it unless it has the chocolate syrup. Plain yogurt, she sees my husband put honey on it, and she wants honey, too. How do I “gently” change the breakfast routine so 1) we do something healthier than a processed waffle, and 2) cut the syrup off? I know you had mentioned in a previous post that The Kid does some type of frozen fruit popsicle? How do you make that, freeze a smoothie in a popsicle tray?

First, the one change a month plan is awesome! It’s long enough for each thing to be able to become part of the routine. It’s specific—there’s no ambiguity. I also think that the “no Starbucks” plan is better than “no sweets at Starbucks” which could include plain tea or coffee for Mama but is going to eliminate everything for the child. That would get a lot more pushback than just skipping that stop altogether.

Something you could do is save money in a jar (if you typically pay in cash) or keep track of it (if you pay by card) and at the end of the month, do a fun little family thing with it. Depending on how often you go and how much you usually get, this may be a little thing or a big thing. But as the year continues on and they all compound, it would be more and more (until at some point, there is no more “we avoided Starbucks today” because it’s not on your radar any more).

Or use it to buy new healthy foods that you might not otherwise try. There are all sorts of unfamiliar fruits and vegetables available.

As far as breakfast … I hate breakfast. For me. For The Kid. It’s just a pain. This might be because we’re night people living in a morning person world.

For a while, his preferred breakfast was plain yogurt with added frozen fruit, usually blueberries. As the weather got cooler, he’d ask for the blueberries to be defrosted first. And then he just didn’t want yogurt any more at all.

He’s been eating toaster waffles for the last few months. For a few weeks, it was with maple syrup, but we switched that to blueberries. I defrost them, mash them a little (we learned quickly that unmashed blueberries roll off of waffles), and spread them on his waffles, and he’s happy.

With us on break, I took the time to make steel-cut oats. The texture of steel cut is superior to rolled. (There is no nutritional difference, assuming plain in both cases.) I added frozen fruit, and he’s happy. I will see if I can remember to start the water when I wake up (instead of when I’m actually ready to go in the kitchen), and then this will be breakfast once school starts again.

Yes, you can make steel cut in the slow cooker overnight but not just one serving. And reheated oatmeal is not delicious.

I really like frozen fruit in fresh oatmeal. The hot oatmeal thaws the fruit; the cold fruit cools the hot oatmeal. It’s ready to eat right away.

As for the honey…

Monkey see, monkey do. They could try plain yogurt with fruit together…

Popsicles: I have popsicle molds. We usually use banana and one other fruit (sometimes two), make a smoothie, and freeze it in the molds. No juice. No sweeteners. Just fruit, and a little water if needed to get it to blend. When it’s warmer out, he’s amenable to smoothies for breakfast as well, but it’s really more work than I want to do in the morning. (The oatmeal is going to push my limits.) But he loves breakfast popsicles.

Snacks: he has cherry tomatoes, apples, bananas, dried mango, plantain chips, almonds, cashews, peanuts all available and within reach. He can have any of them pretty much whenever he wants. There are other things that will be his Favorite Thing for a short time and they’ll rotate in and out. Occasionally he likes Babybel cheeses, or string cheese. Every now and then, we’ll mash an avocado, add salsa to it, and eat that with chips.

If you have questions, you can always contact me. I don’t post anyone else’s story or question or whatnot here without permission.

Posted in mindset, parenting, thoughtfulness

The culture in your home

I got a lot of feedback on one phrase in my post on throwing away junk food: “we have a culture of healthy food in our house.”

It has been interesting talking to people about the culture at home.

First: yes, your home has its own culture. This is why there are so many adults who say, “I never thought xyz was weird until I went to college” or “I had no idea everyone’s family didn’t do that.”

Home is the place where we have the most control. These are things we do and don’t do here. These are things we eat/drink and don’t eat/drink here. This is how we talk to people and expect to be spoken to. These are activities we do and don’t do. This is how we spend our time. This is how we spend our money. This is how we organize our stuff. This is how we take care of each other. And on and on.

These are all things that we have a large degree of control over. The more adults there are in the house, the more difficult it might be to set this if not all adults agree, or if adults have different default settings.

To mesh these things:

Sometimes it works to talk about ideals: “How would we do this if we had no obstacles?” and work from there to set standards and figure out ways around or over obstacles.

Sometimes it works to talk about goals: “This isn’t how I/we want it, but it’s something I/we want to get better at, so let’s create a culture in the home to help us get better.” (This is HUGE with eating, with screen time, with texting while conversing, etc.)

Sometimes it works to talk about kids: “This isn’t how we are but it’s how we want our kid(s) to be, so we need to change how we do it so that it’s just normal for the kid(s) (and, as a result, becomes part of us as well).”

The bigger the kids are, the more they’re going to need to be part of the conversation.

In the case of us having a culture of healthy food in our home, there was no conversation to set it up—it existed before The Kid did. We’ve had conversations about it explaining the why many times, but he’s never known anything different—it’s just how we do it—and there has never been resistance to it.

If it was something we wanted to create now, there would need to be conversations and a plan mapping out how that would go, what would change, what wouldn’t, etc.

But it applies to all aspects of living. With the three of us living together for only a year at this point—and with the adults being in independent states of flux besides—there are still aspects of family/household culture that we’re working out.

If you live alone, you can still address many aspects of all of this for daily living and interactive aspects for when you have people into your home.

Create your culture.

Posted in know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, thoughtfulness, vulnerability

Voices in our heads

I saw a meme that said:

May you never be the reason why someone who loved to sing, doesn’t any more. Or why someone who dressed so differently now wears standard clothing. Or why someone who always spoke of their dreams so wildly is now silent about them.

May you never be the reason of someone giving up on a part of them because you were demotivating, non appreciative or – even worse – sarcastic about it.

There are details we could squabble about (is sarcastic worse and/or different than demotivating?), but the point is: don’t be an asshole.

Decades later, I can still hear my mom’s criticisms of how I look when I look in the mirror sometimes. (I have the skills to shut it down most of the time.)

“What makes you think you could…?”

“You know This Other Kid is really good at This Thing You Work Really Hard At.”

“Why don’t you spend your time on something worthwhile?”

In some cases, I can see where I was standing or sitting, where they were positioned in the room, where the furniture was.

Don’t be that parent. 

I’m not saying that telling your kid that they’re great at something they suck at is the answer. But the “you suck, other people are better, why bother” attitude is soul-crushing. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (It’s been how long since my parents have said any of these things to me??)

You’re the adult. Be the adult. Nurture the kids. Help them discover what they’re interested in, even if it’s not what you’re interested in, or what you’d like them to be interested in.

It’s your job to help them be them, not to help them be who you wish you would have been.

I have been told by dozens of people that they can’t sing, that they were told by their music or choir teacher that they can’t sing, in some cases, being told to lip sync.

People who, as kids, were explicitly told by their art teacher that they’re not good at art, and they believed it and don’t do it any more.

People who were told in school that they’re never going to be a writer, to choose something else.

Don’t be that teacher.

Your job is to teach kids and to help them the best you can given where you are in the moment. Even if you can’t help them—some circumstances make that so—don’t hurt. Don’t blame them for things that are out of their control or shame them for not being more responsible than a kid their age should be expected to be.

I remember conversations with people with regards to any of my leaps: switching from flute to trombone in college; moving across the country; starting a business; getting National Board Certification; writing a book; going back to school. It’s not always easy to find people who are supportive. (It’s not always difficult, either, though the larger the stakes are, the harder it is, from my experience.)

Don’t be that friend. 

In short: apply the campsite rule — leave people better than you found them. If it was you who was learning to dance or starting to paint or offering a new service or playing basketball for the first time or opening a store on Etsy, would you want the people closest to you to be supportive or dismissive? Would you want the people in your class or in your niche to be helpful or to snicker?

(Same rule applies as to kids: there’s a difference between “I think it’s cool/brave/amazing that you’re starting/trying this” and “Wow—you’re really good at [this thing that you’re not at all good at].” One is at least potentially sincere; the other is known by all to be insincere.)

Take care of your own baggage so that you don’t take it out on the people around you.

When you find yourself being critical, see if you can find what part of yourself is made vulnerable by their endeavor.

For example: my mom was one of the people I know of who was told she can’t sing. My mom was one of the first to make fun of how I sounded when I practiced singing for auditions. My endeavor brought up whatever hurt she endured by being put down by her choir teacher.

Easier said than done, for sure. But if we all endeavored to be a little more emotionally generous—with people we incidentally interact with, with other drivers, with people we interact with regularly, with people we like and people we don’t—then we would all be a little better off.

And if no one around you seems to be doing that, why don’t you take the lead and demonstrate how it’s done?

(And thank you to all of the people through my life who have modeled this for me, both before I was aware of it and since and still. You help me to make myself better.)

Assume you’re going to be the voice that sticks in someone’s head. What do you want to be remembered for?

Posted in about me, hope, mindset, parenting, storytelling

Finding magic through The Kid

The Kid suggested yesterday that we leave out cookies and milk for Santa.

We have always told him that Santa is a story, but he loves pretending. (This morning: “I heard Santa on the roof last night!”)

By bedtime, he had forgotten about the milk and cookies, but we left out a plate with crumbs and a glass with milk residue and a note that Santa left, complete with a hoof print from Rudolph.

He was delighted this morning.

As I’ve mentioned, Christmas has never been amazing.

Somehow, I have a kid who loves everything Christmas. He wants all the decorations, sings all the songs, loves all the stuff.

And so, our house has lights outside and lights inside. And a 4-foot tree. And a Charlie Brown tree. And a little tree in his bedroom. (The glittery wreath is at his other house…)

He wanted inflatables, but The Climbing Daddy and I agree: inflatables are No Good.

We hung stockings with little ornaments with our initials that he picked out.

And somewhere, I saw an idea to put packages in white paper and stack and decorate them to look like snowmen. And it stuck, and I had to do it.

Last night, after The Kid went to sleep in a sleeping bag on the living room floor, The Climbing Daddy and I filled stockings.

We piled white box on white box. Drew faces and buttons. Balanced hats and wrapped scarves.

Left out a plate and glass and note.

And when it was done and it was time for us to join him for sleep in the living room … I was happy.

And when he woke up (after the sun came up—hooray night owl kid!), he was excited about everything.

And I was happy.

Merry Christmas to those who celebrate.

And to those who don’t, or those who wish they didn’t … there’s magic out there if you can let yourself see it, and if not … it’s almost over…

Posted in ebb & flow, food, hope, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health, tips

The path and the results

Yesterday, I posted more or less the transcript of my session about sugar, and I promised you that today, I would give you advice on dealing with all of that information and what you can expect as a result of your hard work.

Read labels. (Ask me if you don’t know how—I’ll teach you.)

Use a journal or an app or whatever works for you to keep track of how much sugar you’re currently taking in. All of it. Read ALL of your labels. There is sugar hiding in so many foods that aren’t sweet.  This is not to judge—it’s to know where you’re starting.

The current WHO recommendation is less than 18 grams per day of added sugars.

If you’re over that, look at where you can start shaving it down.

If you’re like me, “moderation” is bullshit and you need to just cut it until it’s under control. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

If you’re like me, you’re an emotional eater and you need to make a plan for what you’re going to do when you’re happy, when you’re sad, when you’re stressed, when you’re whatever state of being causes intense sugar cravings.

Overeating sugar is a SUPER COMMON PROBLEM. There is no shame in this. You are not alone, and anyone who judges you is wrestling with the same problem and can’t face it yet.

Your value as a human being has no connection to how much junk food you eat.

I’m not gonna lie—quitting sugar is hard. Partially because we have been trained to believe we deserve it (see decades of being rewarded by parents, teachers, etc. with candy, ice cream, etc.). Partially because it’s ubiquitous, so it’s difficult to avoid contact/temptation. Partially because sometimes people in our lives react badly to us trying to live better and make it harder for us. (I’ll write more about this thought another day.)

But it’s worth the work.

When you quit sugar and it loses its hold on you, you experience liberation that you didn’t even know you needed.

You stop thinking about food all the time.

You stop shaming yourself for eating crap all the time.

You save time and money by not seeking out and buying junk all the time.

You don’t spend so much time feeling guilty.

Your moods are better.

Your energy level is higher.

And eventually, you can have a sweet here or there without it becoming all-consuming.

I’m not saying it will be easy. I’m saying it will be worth it.

And I challenge you to instill eating habits in your children that will help them not to have the same struggles that you have.

Posted in cancer, food, know better do better, mental health, mindset, motivation, parenting, physical health

Sugar (CUSD replay)

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present two sessions at my school district’s Wellness Expo—one on Motivation and Mindset, and one on Sugar. I’ll post here what’s essentially the transcript for each, editing for reading as needed. I was allotted an hour for each session, and while I didn’t talk that long (I leave time for questions, and I’m not going to include my introductions here), these posts will be long. Enjoy!

I introduced myself, told a little about me (including my former incarnation as a sweets junkie), encouraged folks to take what resonates and leave the rest—especially if they’re feeling overwhelmed by the information—and let them know that the space for the next hour is judgment-free: we all have strengths and weaknesses and because of factors outside of ourselves, this healthy living thing is hard.

So a bit about language…

I do my best not to refer to foods as “good” or “bad.” Those words are loaded, and I think they distract us from the task at hand. Foods either move you towards you goal or they don’t. If you have no goals involving health in any way, physical or mental, then you don’t need to spend time thinking about your eating habits, because they’re irrelevant. Aside perhaps from what’s tasty.

But you’re here because you have health goals, or maybe your goal is to have health goals. Regardless, you’re on the path, so let’s talk about which direction to point yourself.

What is sugar?

Looking at the ingredients list on your prepackaged food, sugar can show up in any of the following ways.

names for sugar

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate. Fiber and starch are the other two.

Carbohydrates are important. They give us usable energy, both to be active and also for underlying body functions. A big chunk of this is brain power. Brains use roughly 20 percent of our energy, by far the most of any organ.

We don’t specifically need sugar for these functions—any carbohydrate will do—but sugar does meet this need.

What about fruit?

In short: whole fruit is good. Partial fruit (juice, dehydrated, etc.) is a treat.

My nutrition professor told us: “Fruit is nature’s way of getting us to eat fiber.” Fruit in moderation is good!

Fruit is also sweet, if your taste buds aren’t calibrated to junk food, and makes a good snack or dessert.

As far as the not-whole-fruit goes, here are the problems.

Juice: Juicing removes the fiber, so we don’t get one of fruit’s primary benefits when we juice. That also means it doesn’t contribute much to feeling full (not any more than an equivalent glass of water). But we do get all of the sugar.

You could make a smoothie instead, using the whole fruit, and you’d have a drink that is still sweet but also retains more of the goodness of the whole fruit. (There is debate in the scientific community as to whether the insoluble fiber is made less useful/entirely useless in the blending process or not. Regardless, the soluble fiber is still there and just as useful.)

Dehydrated fruit: First, these tasty little gems have no water in them. That’s the point of dehydrating them, right? But there is a lot of water in fruit, and the water contributes to its bulk in your stomach when you eat it.

So an apple and a dehydrated apple (or grapes and an equivalent number of raisins) have the same calories and the same sugar content. But the proportion of sugar in the dried stuff is much higher, since the water is gone.

The other problem is in marketing, not inherent to the drying of fruit. Most dried fruit is sweetened. I have found only a few instances of dried fruit being only dried fruit.

Glucose vs fructose

Glucose is ready to use by your body; it’s metabolized in the small intestine.

Fructose can only be metabolized in the liver. Some of it is turned into glucose, but if there’s too much, it will be converted into free fatty acids, cholesterol, or triglycerides.

The liver can get overwhelmed by too much fructose, and, because it’s not in the stomach or intestines, consuming fructose doesn’t properly trigger hunger or satiety hormones.

This is why high fructose corn syrup and agave nectar aren’t good choices for sweetening. HFCS when tested has been shown to have far more fructose than advertised (80% vs. 55%). Agave has nearly as much.

Plain table sugar is roughly 50-50.

Free fatty acids, one of the metabolic results of too much fructose, accumulate in the liver as fat.

Which brings us to…

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Most of us know that excessive alcohol consumption can lead to fatty liver disease. But excessive sweets consumption can have the same effect.

Please let that soak in for a minute. Eating a diet high in sugar can lead to the same liver problems as being an alcoholic.

If all of our fruit consumption was via fruit, our bodies could handle it just fine; it totals roughly 15 grams per day. We’re designed for that.

But we eat between 70 and 100 grams per day, mostly in sweetened foods and sodas.

That is a path to liver disease.

(All of that sugar isn’t so nice to your pancreas, either, where you’re making insulin to deal with the onslaught.)

Type 3 diabetes

Another potential side effect of a diet high in sugar is Alzheimer’s Disease, which has, in recent years, been dubbed Type 3 diabetes.

Our brains need carbs to run. Also, our brains produce insulin.

Overdoing sugar leads to insulin resistance which reduces the body’s ability to use sugar. Most of us are familiar with this—Type 2 diabetes.

But we’ve recently come to learn that brain cells can also become insulin resistant, which makes them not function, which accumulates into Alzheimer’s.

What about mental health?

A diet high in sugar is linked (correlated) to anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia.

Now, that is correlation, not causation, but…

Excess sugar causes inflammation, and recent research is seeing that inflammation is a cause (the cause?) of depression.

So if sugar causes inflammation and inflammation causes mental health issues, then it seems likely that sugar causes mental health issues.

Anecdotally, I feel much more balanced mentally when I’m off sweets. Less grumpy. Less sad. Less angry. I have had many other people tell me similar stories.

Speaking of inflammation…

What else is caused by inflammation?

Heart disease.

Most if not all cancers.


If you have any of these conditions, it would serve you well to keep your sugar intake low.

Immune functioning

This is the main one that keeps me away from junk food left in the teachers’ lounge (a label perhaps left over from a time when teachers had time to lounge?).

A shot of sugar—and I don’t know what the exact amount is—makes your white blood cells lethargic. They’re the foot soldiers in your immune system.

The effect is temporary—it only lasts a few hours—but if you’re eating sweets consistently through the day, then your immune system is chronically depressed.

Reduced brain plasticity

This one is significantly alarming, given the diets so many of our children have.

A diet high in added sugars reduces brain plasticity.

Brain plasticity is what allows us to learn. It’s how we make new pathways in our brains.

How does this affect us through the life cycle?

Babies (who don’t need added sugars at all) and toddlers (who, seeing things in the world, might start to ask, even if you never offer) are learning about the world around them, basic physical skills, language. Brain plasticity is critical.

School-aged children are still learning about the world around them, are still learning language, are still (hopefully) learning physical skills, and are also learning academics.

For adults of all ages, continuing to learn new things reduces the risk of dementia.

And we already touched on increased risk of Alzheimer’s.

A bit for the ladies…

Consuming sugar leads to water retention. It contributes to mood swings. Anecdotally, it increases symptoms of PMS.

Those sugar levels also reduce calcium absorption which affects bones and teeth, but cramps are often triggered by low calcium.

Other side effects that we’re often already aware of

Diets high in added sugars also can cause weight gain, dental issues, hypoglycemia/type 2 diabetes, headaches, and ulcers.

It’s addictive!

Eating sweet things releases dopamine—the feel-good brain chemical.

In low quantities of sweets, the dopamine response wears off.

In high quantities, it doesn’t, which means you need more sweet to get the same high.

Sweets are dressed in drug language and behavior:

  • we eat it in secret (this is a running joke among parents of small children)
  • we make deals with ourselves about what, where, when, under what conditions
  • we steal (see: your children’s Halloween stash)
  • “I can’t live without it” or “I can’t stop eating sweets”
  • we say we need a sugar fix

None of this is to judge the behaviors—just to point out that they exist.

Tomorrow’s post: my advice on how to manage this beast, and what happens when you do.

Posted in books, hope, mental health, mindset, parenting, vulnerability

Book quote: family and belonging

I listened to Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown. (OK, I listened to part of it. But audiobooks and I have a complicated relationship, and I didn’t finish it before it was due back at the library.)

Given my unpleasant relationship with my family of origin, this quote spoke to me. There is something comforting about the end…but I’ll talk about it after you read it.

Also, given that I’m transcribing from an audiobook, I can’t guarantee that the punctuation is as you’d see it in the book.

“Even in the context of suffering … Not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts. That’s because it has the power to break out heart, our spirit, and our sense of self-worth… And when those things break, there are only three outcomes …

“One, you live in constant pain and seek relief by numbing it and/or inflicting pain on others.

“Two, you deny your pain and your denial ensures you pass it on to those around you and down to your children.

“Or number three, you find the courage to own the pain and develop a level of empathy and compassion for yourself and for others that allows you to spot hurt in the world in a very unique way.”

That bit at the end—spotting hurt in the world in a very unique way—is like a consolation prize. “You didn’t have what you needed when you needed it, and sometimes you still don’t. People who haven’t experienced it don’t understand it and often, you’re blamed for what was inflicted on you. But you get to have the capacity to help others the way you wished you had been helped.”

Better than passing it on. And hopefully, helping someone else not to pass it on.

Posted in parenting, storytelling

A tale of two daddies

I am divorced and remarried. I have a seven-year-old from my first marriage. We share custody and co-parent well. (People who have watched the journey for the last five years have periodically popped in and commented on us doing a bang-up job at prioritizing The Boy’s needs.)

(Shout out also to both daddies for sharing the role/name/honor/responsibility/title of dad gracefully.)

It’s amusing when The Boy delights in having two dads. (Sometimes perhaps mistaken for being the child of a gay couple. So far, not mistaken for being the child of a polyamorous triad.)

But it’s also sometimes confusing when either he or I, in talking to each other, refer to “dad.” Because he calls both of them dad. I was hoping that would organically resolve, that he would just gravitate towards a slightly different name for one of them.

It hadn’t happened yet.

His friend was unhappy with the ambiguity and took it upon herself to resolve it.

So now, we have The Tall Daddy (his bio dad, who is well over six feet tall), and The Climbing Daddy (my husband, who is responsible for us all getting into rock climbing, including the friend).



Posted in food, mindset, parenting

The smallest changes

My post about my son’s sweets-free birthday party yielded a lot of questions. I’ll field them in this and future posts. If you haven’t yet, or if you need a refresher, please see my disclaimer post before proceeding.

Before I was a parent, I was sure that “he only eats mac and cheese and chicken nuggets” was avoidable.

Now that I am a parent, I can say that the pickiness may or may not be avoidable (I didn’t avoid it, but I’m not sure that means it’s impossible), but the target food is not a given.

This is what we did.

First, as a little shout-out, baby-led weaning is amazing and I highly recommend it for so so many reasons. Maybe I’ll write a post about it one day.

Anyway, once the boy started eating solid food, he ate lots and lots of produce: apple, avocado, banana, sweet potato, watermelon. For a while, he would request onions (pronounced “om-yoms”) (for the record, they were fried onions, not raw). He’d eat beans. (He loved plain chickpeas for a long time.) Hummus. Occasionally cheese. Plain, full-fat yogurt. We offered very few processed carbs—no cookies, crackers, bread. Occasional noodles. Rarely cereal. He was almost 18 months before he had anything sweetened.

As he became able to eat more things, more veggies and fruits were part of the rotation, and we added nuts.

When he wanted a snack, he’d ask for a clementine or grapes or cherry tomatoes.

When he started preschool, they had two snack times during the day, and snacks were provided. They often had fruit or sometimes string cheese. They also had graham crackers, animal crackers, granola bars, Go-Gurt.

We had no food changes at home.

Within the first three months of school, he stopped asking for fruit at home. Instead, he asked for crackers or cookies (which were not available). When we went shopping, he asked for pink yogurt.

So we started packing snacks. He would take fruit or applesauce. He rarely complained. He ate his snacks. And his eating at home returned to normal.

That one small change—having processed carb snacks a few days a week at school—derailed his eating habits.

Because processed carbs are delicious.

He’s seven now and will still eat fruit voraciously. Grapes, strawberries, blueberries are often his favorites. He takes an apple or some clementines for school snack every day. We make popsicles with a banana base and some other added fruit(s), and he’ll eat them for breakfast, for snacks, for dessert. (He understands why in this context, popsicles are OK to eat for breakfast.)

Veggies he does pretty well with, though not as well as when he was younger. He likes peas, carrots, tomatoes, chard, broccoli sometimes, onions in certain contexts, cabbage sometimes, green beans but only in Ethiopian food (kids are weird). He has a salad most nights with dinner with balsamic dressing.

We’ll see where it goes, but we know that too much processed food yields desire for more processed food, and we keep it to a minimum. It’s not banned. It’s not even labeled as negative. It’s just not food we keep in the house, typically, so it’s not what we eat on a regular basis. We have conversations about why.

Also, he helps prepare food (which makes him more inclined to at least try it). He’s involved in meal planning and food shopping. We have a garden that he helps tend. All of these things contribute to his appreciation of fruits and veggies.

And on we go.

Posted in food, gifts, mindset, parenting

A sweets-free birthday party

My son turned 7 last week, was able to take a birthday snack to school, and had a party with some of his friends over the weekend.

For school, he took what he was calling “fruit cupcakes.” Grapes, strawberries, and apple slices in paper cups. I believe he called them cupcakes because we were going to put the fruit in muffin tins, but I realized that passing out fruit in cupcake wrappers would be much harder than just putting it in small paper cups.

I asked him, his dad (who was there for birthday snack), and his teacher how the other kids liked his birthday snack. All of them said the same thing: most of the kids liked it.

“Almost all of the kids loved having the fruit. Some even asked for more! I think one student said ‘no thank you’ and two others picked out something they didn’t care for.”

This is the fourth year he’s been given the opportunity to choose what he wanted to serve to eat at his party.

I wrote down what he asked for the first year (his third birthday): peanut butter on pita bread, apple chips, cherry tomatoes, raspberries, coconut chips. So that’s what we served.

I know the next two years, we had customized cookies but otherwise no sweets.

This year, he asked for watermelon cake*. There were also grapes, apple chips**, pretzel sticks, and, because we had a giant Costco bag only partially eaten, popcorn. We made popsicles (bananas and blueberries) but forgot to serve them. We had water to drink.

First: serving water was easy. We had activities in the yard planned, starting with an obstacle course, and it turned out to be in the high 80s that afternoon. Water was necessary.

The kids ate without saying anything one way or the other about what was served. Ate, talked, joked, like kids do at kid birthday parties.

I asked parents later if their kids had said anything—positive or negative—because I was writing a blog post about it and wanted it to be as accurate as possible. One said that her daughter loved the watermelon cake. Everyone else said they didn’t say anything.

One of the activities he really wanted was a piñata. Easy enough.

For holidays where he gets a lot of candy (Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter), he keeps a piece or two and trades the rest in for a toy. I didn’t think it would be right to have him trade in his birthday candy, so instead, we stuffed the piñata with LEGO. We bought a couple of boxes of just pieces, and when the piñata broke, kids could grab pieces and start to build. They took home with them whatever they built. It was a big hit!

His birthday party had no added sugar.

He was happy. Other kids were happy.

For his birthday proper, he chose to have pizza and cupcakes, so we had pizza and cupcakes that evening.

For his parties, I’ve had a couple of parents say thank you, and tell me that their kids don’t go to many parties because it’s all junk food and they don’t want their kids eating that much of it. (This is not the majority, for sure, but it’s more than one.)

I’ve had other people (who were not actually involved in any of these events, just knew about them) tell me that I’m depriving my son of his childhood.

Seriously? Childhood is comprised only of out-of-control junk food eating? Methinks maybe some people were projecting. Or defensive. Or both.

It’s possible to celebrate and be happy and have fun without loading up on junk. And, as a result, teach our kids that they can celebrate and be happy and have fun without loading up on junk. Or maybe learn it from them.

Why not?


*I used glasses with different mouth sizes to cut the circles. For the little pieces around the edges, I have a set of tiny cookie cutters.

**With a mandolin and a dehydrator, apple chips are easy to make, and they’re so tasty! We just slice them thin (don’t bother coring or seeding–most of the seeds fall out anyway) and dry for 8 hours. No additions necessary.