The other day as we sat down to have snack I mentioned to my kids that our new friend would be coming over the next day. I told them that we would need prepare food thoughtfully for him because he has a peanut allergy.
My five-year-old put his hands over his head and groaned, “Can’t we just ever enjoy our snack without talking about nutrients and allergies?”
I was taken aback. First, by the adult-like sentiment he was expressing, second, by his seeming lack of empathy for his friend and, third, by his utter exacerbation.
I paused, took a breath and then reflected, “You’re feeling overwhelmed by the way we talk about food?”
And what he said next really resonated:
“Yes! Sometimes I just want to eat my snack in peace. Sometimes I just want to enjoy my food and think about how good it tastes. Not about what it does for my body or what it does to someone else’s body. Why can’t snack just be snack sometimes?”
I thought for a moment. Well, actually, it left me thinking for weeks.
Why can’t snack just be snack?
On one hand, I am proud of the fact that my children, at the ages of 3 and 5, know more about food than I did when I was 20. They know about protein and vitamins and food coloring and fruits and vegetables. They know about how their body feels when they have too much sugar and how they feel when they don’t drink enough water. They know the difference between organic and non-organic and the difference between artificial and natural colorings. They know about farms and buying local. They know about gluten- and dairy-free diets and can tell you what foods are gluten free. Sheesh. And I don’t think it’s just my kids. Walk into any preschool and these conversations are present. When I was five, I knew that the cheese slices were in the drawer in the fridge, that the popsicles were in the freezer and not much more.
More and more families are raising their children to be involved and thoughtful and educated about the food that they put in their bodies. And that is amazing.
And more and more families are impacted by food allergies, and our kids are having discussions about those allergies. And that awareness is amazing.
But maybe, just maybe, the joy of food is getting lost.
So where is the balance?
I am not willing to give up having my kids be aware and educated about what food does for their bodies.
I am not willing to give up raising my kids to be empathic and respectful of what some foods do to other people’s bodies.
But I do need to realize that it’s a lot for a kid.
Sometimes, snack needs to just be snack.
So from now on I will be more thoughtful about
1) letting my kids just enjoy food without the pressure of “learning about it” or even talking about it;
2) taking the pressure off of every meal having to be meaningful. We can enjoy popcorn and pizza night without any commentary on nutritional value;
3) making sure that I am enjoying food more myself; and
4) within reason, letting them have more flexibility, choice and control about food. Sometimes it can just be fun and delicious!
The pendulum is always swinging, and it’s usually somewhere in the middle where we find the most peace, balance and good health. Some of us need to move more towards the side of food awareness and some of us need to move more towards the understanding that, sometimes, snack is just snack.
How do you find balance?