I have to share a little kitchen conversation I had with my daughter after school earlier this week. She was in a grouchy mood and somewhat oppositional. Something was really bothering her, I could tell.
And out it came.
“Why do we always eat healthy?” said Care Bear, my #3 and food adventure extraordinaire.
“Well, first off, we don’t always eat healthy,” I said. “Why do you think we do?”
“Because every day I have healthy food in my lunchbox and NO treats! Everyone else has cookies or chips or something special. You could at least dress up my sandwich with a tomato slice!”
Why were treats and special lunch items so important to Care Bear?
Well, actually they weren’t.
Taking center stage was “I don’t belong,” a feeling of being different within her peer group. Care Bear was feeling left out of the norm at the lunchroom table, and as a 12 year-old, being an outsider is one of the worst things a 6th grade brain can imagine. The lunchbox blues were a manifestation of being an outsider. Something (or someone) had to shoulder the blame.
In reality, if everyone else at the lunch table was eating “healthy” then eating healthy wouldn’t be an issue.
When differences crop up among school-age children, whether they be fashion, hair, or something more complex, they stand out. And if you’re a school-age child, the last thing you want to be is different.
How do you keep “healthy” at mealtime and avoid alienating your child?
Care Bear and I came to a compromise and I think we did a good job of working it out.
“I hear what you’re saying. I really feel that you have many opportunities during the day to eat sweets, and so I haven’t been packing them in your lunch. Would you like me to pack you an unhealthy lunch?” I said.
“No!,” said Care Bear. “I don’t want that. I just want to have some treats sometimes in my lunch and I want you to spice up things a little.”
“Since you have all this Halloween candy, why don’t you choose a small piece to take with your lunch. Would that work?” said I.
“Yes, mama,” said Care Bear. “And can you put some pickles and tomato on my sandwich, and add some hummus with my carrots tomorrow, and maybe sometimes give me peanut butter with my apple?”
If I could draw a big smiley face here I would–because her requests were music to my ears!
“Of course, Care Bear. We can spice up your lunch.”
Obviously, we had more back and forth, but essentially since she was viewing healthy as an extreme, I opted to go to the other extreme, and offer to let her take an unhealthy lunch to school. I wanted her to see that I understood she wanted to fit in and I would be willing to support that. She reacted negatively (because she values healthy food), and we were able to meet in the middle, using the 90-10 Rule for Fun Food and a lot more healthy food.
While you can’t always make your child belong (and it isn’t always smart to do so), this was a little way we bent our family food values for a greater good.
Does your child complain about the health quality of his meals? How do you respond?
Written by: Jill Castle, MS, RDN
Published on: November 9, 2011
Updated on: August 14, 2019