A few minutes ago, I got up from my desk and walked down the hallway, noticing that as I walked, a few stray Cheerios dropped out of my clothing and hit the floor.
This is the kind of moment most parents of young children become pretty familiar with, once solid foods hit the menu. In fact, Cheerios are so rampant in our lives that I’m never surprised to find them in the oddest places — inside one of my shoes, for example, or underneath our bed (nobody is allowed to eat Cheerios in our bedroom, so that’s not a particularly logical place for them to show up). I’m also generally unfazed by phone calls from my mother in which she mentions that, fully two months after our last visit to her house, she’s unearthed a secret coven of Cheerios gathering underneath some article of furniture in her home. Stray Cheerios don’t give me much pause these days.
I had to smile, though, as the little devils escaped from my sweater on my journey down the hall, because for once, they weren’t stowaways from my kids’ breakfast. They were mine — the product of a quickie breakfast taken on the run, including a smoothie I hastily gulped at the kitchen counter and a bag of dry cereal. And it occurred to me that in most instances, on most days, I eat like my kids.
As I pondered that thought, I recalled a moment, almost five years ago now, when I was sitting at the lunch table with some coworkers talking about pregnancy and baby weight. I was several months along with L. at the time, and everybody I knew was constantly sharing their cautionary tales about the inevitable decline of my figure (on a side note: what is it about pregnancy that makes other people feel free to offer their most intimate, dire, and sometimes ridiculous advice?). On that particular day, the major theme was eating like your kids.
“That’s how it happens,” one of the women said sagely, as the others nodded their unison agreement. “You think you’re going to do so well with taking off all that weight, but even if you manage it at first, once the kids are eating real food it all comes back on.”
“You just get busy,” another person chimed in. “And you don’t feel like dealing with your own food, or you don’t have time, so you just eat whatever the kids are eating. And you know what that means.”
They went on to detail the “kid foods” that had led to their various demises: macaroni and cheese, pizza, cookies, crackers, ice cream. There wasn’t a single voice of dissent at the table. “You buy what they like to eat, and then it’s in the house, and what are you going to do?” one of them sighed.
What was I going to do? Absolutely nothing. I was going to eat like my kids. And I still do, with few, if any, truly deleterious effects to my figure.
I was pretty much predisposed to the idea that I wasn’t going to be dishing out the kids’ meals before L. was born, but one of the “a-ha” moments that really solidified the whole plan was at one of his Well Baby checkups, right around the time that we were thinking about starting him on proteins. His pediatrician had a very firm take on jarred baby meats. “They look and taste like dog food,” she said. “Would you eat that?”
I laughed. She was right. “Look,” she said, leveling her gaze at me. “If you wouldn’t eat something, then there’s no sense in giving it to your kids.”
How simple. And yet, how brilliant.
How many times do we adults wistfully say, “None for me, thanks — I can’t eat like a kid anymore!” How many times do we watch our children chowing down on pizzas and burgers and cake and ice cream, as we refrain, citing our weight, our health, our cholesterol, our sodium? How many times do we pick at a salad while ordering the fried chicken basket for the little ones?
Yup, we’re all guilty, at one time or another, and some of us more than others. But when you make a conscious decision that you will EAT LIKE YOUR KIDS, it’s amazing how much better your kids end up eating.
If every one of us planned, each day, to eat what our kids ate, it wouldn’t take long before the whole state of child nutrition in this country would vastly improve. The problem is, most of us don’t make that choice. And we don’t think about the fact that our kids don’t have much of a say in what they consume.
We don’t think about the fact that our decision to abstain from the burger and fries at the fast-food place is an informed, adult choice to prioritize wellness; we don’t think about the fact that it will also probably result in us feeling a whole lot better, after eating the salad we ordered instead, than our kids will feel after eating the Happy Meal they asked for. We don’t think about how bored and disillusioned with eating we might feel after weeks of the same PB&J, grilled cheese, and nuggets for lunch, because we happily have a range of options available to us. We don’t have to put ourselves at the kids’ table, so we don’t. And our kids’ eating habits suffer for it.
J. and I, with rare exceptions, eat pretty much exactly what the kids eat. If, coming home from church on a Sunday, L. asks for pizza quesadillas — as he did this past weekend — I’ll make a whole batch and feed them to everyone in the family. If there are whole-wheat waffles in the house, we’re all toasting them up for breakfast. And lunches are often doled out from portions of the leftovers from our dinners. There’s no divide between “kid” food and “grown-up” food in our fridge or pantry — there’s just food. The only distinction exists with some of the items we give to P., because he’s still young enough to be on whole milk and whole-milk yogurt, but otherwise the principle remains.
You know what eating like my kids has done? It’s made us ALL better, healthier, more conscious eaters. The kids have to try a wider variety of foods, because J. and I would riot if we were restricted to their ingrained preferences. And J. and I can’t cop out on fruits and vegetables very often, because we’re not going to serve the boys very many meals that don’t include produce. We actually have to think before we put food on everyone’s plates. I say: Go ahead, folks. Eat like a kid. Because kids should be eating like people, too.