Thursday, February 4, 2010

How Do You Feed a Family?

As I sit here typing this post, the aroma of a freshly-made chicken philly from Lenny's is wafting into my office. My coworker who is eating it is a tall, thin, young guy - and fortunately so, because I'm sure those phillies can pack a real calorie punch.

(Cough. Cough. Ahem.)

Anyway. Up until very recently, I didn't know much about nutrition. My mom pretty much fed me most of my meals growing up (breakfast, a packed school lunch, and a family dinner) - and I think she did a good job with balancing foods (there was always fruit, protein, vegetables, dairy, etc.) - and, I mean, she did a good job, period, of feeding a family of four with mostly homemade stuff - I hope to one day offer the same quantity of time spent in the grocery store and kitchen to my own family. But all that aside, even with homecooked dinner every night and packed lunch everyday, there was a lot of unhealthy in my diet. My sweet mother happens to be an awesome cook and awesome baker (so there was always a homemade baked sweet treat sitting around); and in classic mom form, anything we asked for, she bought/made. So if we wanted the newest Hostess snack treat, she'd buy it; if we wanted her to bake a cheesecake, she'd bake it; if we wanted to eat fettuccine alfredo (with real cream, Parmesan cheese, and white-flour noodles) once a week for dinner, she'd make it.

And quantity of food. Oh man. Again, I know this was out of love - and I think as a mother, since we were able to buy whatever food we wanted/needed, she wanted to give us however much we wanted/needed to eat - but man, I ate a lot! Like, huge helpings of things like cheesy pasta, potatoes, pizza, unrefined carbs, full-fat cheese, red meat, donuts, etc. I think for most of high school, I had a sweet bagel (like cinnamon sugar or dutch apple) every morning for breakfast. And my mom was actually famous at my lunch table for the sandwiches she would make me: an asiago cheese bagel with copious amounts of ham and swiss and mayo. We had delivery pizza for dinner a lot on Friday or Saturday nights. And if we had friends spend the night, one of our parents would make a donut run on Saturday morning.

And then I got to college, and it was ridiculous how much I ate! Freshman and Sophomore year, we ate most meals in the "Lair" - the more casual of the two on-campus dining options. Some commonly consumed foods included: french fries, double stacks, chicken phillies, chicken tenders, sub sandwiches, grilled cheeses, pizza, turkey burgers - you name it. And after gaining about 25 pounds those 2 years, I decided to make a change. So I started exercising and learned about nutrition - the classic weight loss strategy - and it worked fine, and here I am now.

But all this food growing up, as you can imagine, took a toll. I was always overweight. But I was also happy. I was happy that I had so much delicious stuff to eat - and in a weird way, I think this style of eating as a kid led me to enjoy food the way I do now - it gave me the ability to really appreciate a good meal. And oddly, having no food restrictions gave me a feeling of Independence. I remember being at a friend's house for dinner in 5th grade. We were having chicken - but lots of small pieces (not just a breast per person or something more measurable). I was allowed to eat whatever I wanted, but when my friend went up to get another plate, her mom said, "you don't need another one." I remember feeling so strange when I heard that - and almost pitying the lack of Independence my friend had over her own body and needs.

But what do you do as a parent - it's a conundrum: you let them eat what they want, and they potentially become overweight; you call them out on how much they can eat, and they potentially develop an unhealthy relationship with food; you feed them only healthy things, they might not like them; you feed them only healthy things, they completely binge when they're at friend's houses or old enough to buy food away from you, also creating an unhealthy relationship with food; you let them eat whatever at home, and when they go to live on their own, they think having a double stack and fries is a good meal option.

But here's where it gets sort of weird: while I suppose I wish I hadn't been overweight when I was younger, I am soooo happy I didn't have the pressure of calories and healthy eating constantly haunting me. And I know that sounds horrible, and that as a responsible person, taking responsibility for what you eat is necessary. But it also kind of sucks. Anytime I eat something unhealthy now, it sticks with me. I think about it, pine over it, feel bad about myself for eating it. Now, if I ate one week of meals I ate my sophomore year of college, I don't know if I'd be able to sleep at night. I'd be on the scale every day, I'd be thinking how much fatter I looked in the mirror everyday, I'd feel the need to work out for hours a day. But before I knew about nutrition, I had no issues.

So what do you do with your kids? Do you teach them about nutrition early on? Do you let them eat whatever they want? Or do you let them be kids, and trust that as smart adults, they will learn about healthy eating? I'm not sure that my childhood would have felt the same - as warm - if my mom didn't bake a lot, or if we didn't have donuts on Saturday mornings, or if my mom hadn't packed my lunch everyday. I would have been thinner, but I don't think happier. It all felt so blessed, so idyllic at the time - and even looking back, it feels that way.

So what were your eating habits when you were younger? How do they (if at all) shape you as an adult eater?

(And as a side note, can I say how funny it is that two people have sent me links to the article about Heinz's new ketchup packet design?? Thanks, guys!)

1 comment:

Patricia said...

I just saw that Michael Pollan has a new book called Food Rules. Sounds like more of the same. I think starting your children on a daily dose of Pollanisms is the way to go. Eat plants. Churn your own butter. No sugar allowed. I'm sure all of these would lead to a very naive and idyllic childhood, right???