Two things happened yesterday in my kitchen that are worth blogging about today, I think. One is the easier/less complex of the two: after giving you all a glimpse into the weekend schedule at the RRG household, in an attempt to show you all that it’s not SO time-consuming to cook this way, I found myself spending basically my entire Monday evening in the kitchen. Aaand there’s a perfectly good, valid point completely shot to heck. (I suppose I could have decided not to mention Monday evening, but that would make me dishonest to you, readers, and part of my deal is that I tell you how things really are.)
Then there’s issue #2: L., again. This time it’s not about the Looming Diagnosis, or whatever this is we’re undertaking with him; it’s far more mundane than that. He did have a doctor’s appointment, but it was his well checkup, which was scheduled quite some time ago. However…the doctor said, for the second year in a row, that we need to be a bit “mindful” of L.’s weight. She did not, for the record, say that he is overweight. She did say that exercising some due caution would be a good idea.
As with last year’s very similar pronouncement, my reaction — as J., who was actually present for the appointment, told me about it — was a sigh. A mental rewind to everything he’s eaten recently. A careful examination of the dinner (potato-crusted local cod, butternut squash, and salad) I planned to put on his plate. And a twinge of…I don’t know what. Guilt? Frustration? Confusion? Resignation? Maybe all of the above. And along with all of that, a new thought: He’s got enough to deal with right now. We don’t need to be tackling this, too.
The thing is, I asked J. what it was that the doctor actually SAID. And she actually said to J. that we should try to feed him fruits and vegetables, cut down on junk food, and do our best to limit the processed food products he eats.
OK. Here’s where my frustration level rises. Because clearly, even though our doctor knows our family, she doesn’t KNOW our family, or the above paragraph would say something very different. Heretofore, all discussions about his diet have gone like this:
Dr.: “How’s he do with eating?”
Me: “Fine. Great. ”
Dr.: “Does he eat a variety of foods?”
Me: “Yes. He likes to try new things.”
Dr.: “Does he eat some whole grains?”
Dr.: “Does he eat meats and proteins?”
Me: “Oh, yes.”
Dr.: “How about fruits and veggies?”
Me: “Yes. We have some typical kid battles, but yes. And I try to work them into lots of things — muffins, breads, casseroles, sauces — so he’ll get them anyway.”
Dr.: “Oh, good, so he’s probably getting the nutrients he needs. Sounds fine.”
That’s as far as we’ve ever gone down the road of talking about what L. eats. So of course she doesn’t know about our ongoing journey to keep processed foods out of our house, to make as many things homemade as we possibly can, to read all labels, and to eat local, healthy foods. I’m not offended by that, but I’m a little disgruntled that a) she jumped to conclusions; and b) J. didn’t really get into deflecting that. He said he sort of told her “We really don’t eat junk or let the kids eat junk,” but of course she shrugged that off — I’m sure she hears that all the time from people who then go home and pop a cartoon-branded frozen nugget entree into the microwave for their kids’ dinner.
But now the fact remains that L. is a really, really solid kid (not fat — he doesn’t look fat in any way — no rolls, no pudge to speak of, and his toddler belly is actually disappearing by the day). He’s quite tall, and he’s quite heavy, and despite the fact that he eats largely homemade, relatively healthy foods, he’s still developing along the path of tending towards the heavy/borderline end of “normal.” It’s an extra frustration, I think, because when you do cook all the time and spend lots of time and energy and thought and care on your kids’ meals, you naturally assume that they won’t have a weight problem. Somehow, magically, I assumed that even though J. and I were both relatively solid, even heavy, kids — and as adults, we’re no twigs, though neither of us is technically overweight — if I just fed my kids as well as I could, they wouldn’t have to fight that battle. Apparently I was wrong.
He eats better than at least 75% of his preschool classmates. But he’s one of the biggest. And I already try really, really hard to give him as many fruits and veggies as I can, but I have to be honest: when you have a kid for whom sensory issues are kind of a thing, and that means that he can’t eat most regular old cut-up fruit (too slimy) or raw veggies (too hard and crunchy), it becomes very simplistic to say “Well, just put carrots in his lunchbox.” I can put carrots in his lunchbox, and I do, but I’ve got to DO something to them first. Which is maybe where the problem comes in. If his classmates are eating raw baby carrots, but his are cooked with olive oil or steamed and topped with a little honey, he’s getting more calories per carrot than they are. Unless they’re dipping theirs in ranch dressing. But still — you get my point.
I don’t know, frankly, if this is an albatross I want to take on right now, what with our anxiety in embarking on all these evaluations and PT and OT appointments and whatnot. I mean, surely there are things I can do differently for him — J. pointed out, rightly, that as of late there have been more treats than usual, simply because there have been more “occasions” than usual. My sister, D., pointed out that even if I make them with yogurt and limited sugar, muffins are muffins, and L. eats a lot of them. I noticed that L. has had slightly more lemonade and juices than I usually allow, due to lots of hot weather this summer. So we can certainly limit the calories he drinks; we can bake fewer muffins; we can allow fewer treats. No one does everything perfectly, after all, and I’m happy to examine the ways we can improve.
But I’m still frustrated. Part of me is frustrated because I think now that we’re so involved, as country, in the childhood obesity threat, we’re losing gray areas when we talk about matters of weight, eating, and health. L. has always tended a bit heavy, and although certainly it’s become more pronounced as he’s grown older and eaten more like a “person” than a “baby,” it’s not as if he’s suddenly spiraled out of control — he’s right around where he has always been, in terms of the ratio of his weight to his height. He’s also extremely healthy, bright, and as active as a kid with a motor skills issue can be, to my way of thinking. I don’t say this to be defensive, I truly don’t. I just wonder. I feel like pediatricians are so conditioned to be concerned about the obesity epidemic — and to assume that heaviness always correlates to sedentary lifestyle and eating crap food — that they start creating worries when kids edge up towards the line and start making the mental leap that This Must Be a Kid Who Eats Junk. But it’s not always true, just as it’s not always true that adults who are on the heavier end of being proportionate eat worse and exercise less than their thinner counterparts. And I resent, just a bit, the idea that they have to lump L. in with a whole generation of undernourished, overfed kids because that’s the national epidemic right now, and exceptions to the rule don’t seem to apply.
And I’m feeling defensive, because I’m the one who feeds him; and I’m feeling torn, because I’m responsible for providing him with a positive food culture and the ability to make good choices, not focusing on weight management with a four-year-old; and I’m feeling edgier about it, because I feel like we don’t need one more thing to “manage” with him anyhow; and I’m feeling like I should really just set it aside in some ways, because I really, honestly believe in my heart of hearts that L.’s weight and shape and body type are fine. I think they’re genetically inherited, and if we continue to simply feed him real food in a sensible way, as our parents did with us, he’ll likely end up just as J. and I have: healthy, comfortable in our skins, and able to maintain our weights within a few pounds without a major, concerted effort. I don’t stress anymore (what an uphill climb that was!) about being 5 pounds over what the “recommendation” is; I don’t celebrate when I’m 5 pounds under it, either. I’d like to be able to feel the same way about L. It’s just harder, when you’re a parent, and somebody is telling you that you have to do something about it. I want to do the right thing by him. I just wish I knew, really, what the right thing might be; because I have thought that we’ve done pretty well, all things considered, but I see lots of kids who are a lot smaller than L. who are living on processed foods and HFCS, and I’m sure their pediatricians don’t say anything about their diets. They probably don’t even ask anything more probing than ours tends to ask. Because those kids are not “big.” So there must not be a problem.
I wonder what all of you think. There are lots of people who check into this blog occasionally who have a lot of insight and a great deal more experience/knowledge/cold hard facts than I do. Is the very, very real obesity epidemic among our kids making us all overly sensitive about matters of kids and weight in general? Are we neglecting the important factors — nutrition, health, etc. — in favor of measurements like BMI and percentile charts? Is bigger always unhealthier? And is smaller always better? Are we creating a skewed values system around the health of our kids based on their weight…or are parents like me (cringe) part of the problem?