What About the Kids?
Sharing healthy balance amidst food-like substances.
Last week I shared a strategic compromise: if eating only completely real foods is impractical, try some almost-real foods.
You might be thinking: “Come on, get real.”
Tthe kids won’t go for plain potato chips and pretzels. No matter how much The Healthy Jew harps on the qualitative differences between pure food-like substances and almost-real foods, they will still demand ice cream, Fanta, candy corn, and a thousand other variations of sugar with unpronounceable flavorings, colorings, and who knows what else.
Maybe some adults can live off real foods and some almost-real foods. But if your children are anything like mine, or those of anyone else that I know, it’s just not happening. And believe it or not, many adults too aren’t willing to forgo non-real foods just because some Healthy Jews scream from the rooftops that you are as real as what you eat.
Indeed, this is a big problem. But it has nothing to do with eating.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve made the case for eating real foods, some almost-real foods, and perhaps a little bit of food-like substances if necessary for overall healthy balance. In doing that, I shared with you, dear reader, my opinions about Eating Well.
Who asked me to suggest what you should do? You. By signing up to The Healthy Jew, or by clicking to read these articles, you asked me for my opinions about healthy living. (Good for you!) But what the rest of the world eats, my kids included, is none of my business. Even what you do with this information isn’t my business.
I’m responsible for my own health. I’m responsible to be an attractive example of healthy living. I’m responsible to serve healthy food to my children and tell them to eat it, just like I tell them to do their homework. Then my job is over.
If other people’s lack of caring for their health disturbs me, a phenomenon I’ve been known to experience, sometimes quite intensely, that’s a sure sign something is off-balance with me. In other words, I’m unhealthy when I need the world to conform to my view of healthy living.
What’s the solution? Letting go, of course. Just like with any other imbalance of body, mind, and spirit.
Whenever I sit in unsolicited judgment of other people’s unhealthful choices, no matter how sure I am of my own righteousness and their iniquities, I’m placing myself at the center of existence, lining everyone else up around me like paper puppets. My need to do this might be driven by fear, insecurity, desire to control, grandiosity, all the above, or something else entirely. Whatever it is, I’ll find health by letting go of everyone else’s health and returning to my own.
Way easier said than done. As The Healthy Jew’s aspiring writer, health coach, course presenter, and board of directors, I frequently find myself worrying over other people’s health choices, banging my head on the wall and expecting them to listen and learn (from me, of course).
Yet although I’m still a work in progress, I find much peace of mind and growth by admitting that what other people eat isn’t about eating, at least not for me. And ‘me’ is the only person that I am. Instead, it’s all about my own relating.
If I’m living my own life honestly, happily, and healthfully, I’m imparting wellness into the world, and other people might want some of it for themselves. But if I’m busy making everyone else healthy, and getting irritated when they don’t hearken to my call, then I’m stuck spinning around myself, just adding more imbalance to the pie. Not much help.
Making this shift with my children can be particularly challenging because I’m supposed to teach them healthy eating and habits, just like everything else in their precious lives. Apparently, it’s also my job to enforce my suggestions. It can be hard to draw the line where parenting ends and controlling begins, to build a healthy family without losing my own health (and maybe theirs) in the process.
Should I never allow into the house pure food-like substances, as that would be actively promoting unreal eating?
On the other hand, should I never limit the mountains of candy thrown at them in school, synagogue, and birthday parties?
How strongly should I insist they finish every healthy morsel that I give them?
Is it a good idea to make eating all their real food a condition for getting food-like-substance desert, or is that just legitimizing unreal eating, even making it real eating’s endgame?
What about giving food-like-substance treats on special occasions, such as Shabbos and holidays? Is that a healthy limit, or am I actively messaging that spirituality’s sweetness is reflected in refined sugar?
These are all good questions. I don’t know if they have a clear-cut answer. But through lots of trial and error, and ongoing contemplation of what’s going on inside me in these situations, I’ve come to learn a guiding principle that I often find helpful.
God hired me to raise my children healthfully – both physically and mentally. Eating disorders, together with their underlying anxiety and depression, run rampant in adolescents nowadays, and are no less dangerous than diabetes and obesity. Therefore, I’m often faced with a choice: will I prioritize my children’s physical health even if it harms their emerging personalities’ experiences and relationship with food? I’ve made enough mistakes – hopefully reversible ones – to learn that I prefer this or that risk factor for disease over driving my kids nuts.
So practically speaking, it's more important for me not to make a big fuss than for my kids to only eat real food. This doesn’t mean that I’m off the hook for educating them to Eat Well. Instead, it recognizes that I don’t live inside their plates. All I can - and need - to do is nurture their growth and health in every area of their lives. Again, it’s about Relating Well, not Eating Well.
So I try not to wince when my daughter excitedly shows me the chocolate mints she picked up at a friend’s house. I even buy her some pure food-like substances myself, with my own money, and with a smile, because I’m investing in her healthy relationship with food. If Shabbos is a time for candy, then Shabbos is a time for candy. If she doesn’t want to eat real food at supper, I’ll say that she has to, but at some point, I need to let go.
It’s a delicate dance. As a novice to engaging with food-like substances, I often come off awkward. (Like when my daughter and I came home from shopping with a package of candies so food-like-substancy that my wife was horrified.) Sometimes I trip and fall. It’s a good thing that the healthy balance I seek was never about perfection.
One Suggestion: Eat real foods, and some almost-real foods. If you’re bothered that everyone else is eating food-like substances and engaging in all sorts of unhealthy behaviors, ask yourself: “What is off-balance with me that’s making me care about other people’s choices?”