She’s Gone Bananas by Mary Ellen
Before I get started on this story, I need to make a disclaimer. To some of you, I may sound a little extreme, even crazy in my ideas. I am going to ask you, however, to follow me on this. Try to hear me out. Those of you who know me have seen my passionate (OK sometimes even “over the top”) side come out. If you are meeting me for the first time, I am going to make a few confessions before I share my tales.
First, I secretly think Jamie Oliver is super HOT. If you don’t know who he is, please Google him or watch him on “The Food Nation”, and you will see my attraction. However, Jamie’s style, unlike some of my recent behaviors, is calm, motivational, and educational. Truth is, I have been “that” ranting, complaining mom. When I see what we as a society are offering our children in the way of snacks and food choices, I have become distressed.
I have to tell you that I, like many of my friends, am OK with my children (and myself too) having special treats. My great challenge, however, is that no longer are these snacks and treats rarely enjoyed; instead, they have become daily food groups. Sugar is hidden in our frequently used “kid” products like cereal, bread, peanut butter, jelly, and yogurt. While I know most of us don’t condone giving kids candy for breakfast, sugar is becoming less of a treat and more of a norm for our kids. If a piece of cake at a birthday party used to be OK, now they go home with giant goody bags of candy too.
Here’s my next confession. I am a sugar addict too. For me, it is a drug. Black licorice brings memories of being a young girl. How my dad loved his black licorice! For holidays, my brothers and I would save our allowances to buy my dad big bags of black Twizzlers for Father’s Day, Christmas, and his birthday. Of course, he would share his licorice stash with my three brother’s and me. I would carry my licorice whip around with me and savor each bite. I wanted more. As I write this, I can taste the bitter, sweet, chewiness of it. Even now, the emotional connection I have to this is powerful. It takes me back to fun, easy, carefree days. I don’t think I ever recall seeing my dad eat licorice, but somehow, it always reminds me of him.
Recently, during a night out with friends, some of the ladies ordered banana cream pie. One of my friends commented on how she has never seen me eat dessert and how lucky I am that I do not have a sweet tooth. I laughed and confessed how all my teeth are sweet, not just one. I told the black licorice story. My friends were surprised, relieved even. For me, one piece of licorice is delicious, calming, and feels like a hug. Unfortunately, I can’t stop at just one. The full bag of candy calls me back, even if I have it hidden on a back shelf. The next few pieces feel fun, dangerously seductive, rebellious. The next 1/4 pound is numbing, mindless, and then sad. More times than I can count, I have gone through this routine. I am left with an empty bag of Twizzlers and a full, sick stomach. Needless to say, I stay away from the stuff. I don’t buy it or keep it in my house. Instead, I work to fill my body with wholesome, nutritious foods. I know myself and that for me, the pull of sugar makes me want it more. The more vegetables I eat, the less sugar I crave.
My older daughter also is highly affected by sugar, though it is of a physical nature rather than emotional. Even one ice cream cone can turn my calm, quiet, well-mannered girl into a hyper-active, wild child. She quickly gets a sugar high and within minutes will be curled up on the floor crying. She does not metabolize sugar well, and I am cautious of what she puts in her body. I am often met with criticism from friends and family. “One won’t hurt her,” they say. I am not convinced and neither are the doctors.
A couple weeks ago, my 8 year old daughter started on a neighborhood swim team. As part of the obligation for children to participate in this activity, parents need to work at least eight of the swim meets in a variety of volunteer positions. Being new to this crowd of enthusiastic parents and being unsure about the responsibilities of each volunteer job, I asked some of the other parents what I should sign up for. A really cool, neighborhood mom is in charge of concessions. She tried to recruit me for this duty.” What do I have to sell?” I questioned. A few of the menu items listed were nachos, hotdogs, candy, and soda. Without hesitation, I replied, “Sorry, I can’t sell this junk. I can’t believe this stuff is at an event that should support health and fitness! Why is this sold?” A few of the moms, who already know me, smiled and tolerated my “soap box” shtick. They may sometimes think I am a little extreme, but they hang out with me anyway and have heard me spout out before. A few mom’s agreed with me. Some of them mentioned the fact that these items sell and make profits for the swim club. The majority of the moms, however, seemed a little uncomfortable with my out-spoken style. Whether they disagreed with me or not, they seemed to tune me out. I am now “That Mom”!
So back to the jobs for the swim meets. I figured I would make a pretty good timer for the races.
Fast forward a week, and it is the first swim meet. I am assigned, believe it or not, to work at the Concession Stand! Though I am surprised, given my open distaste for the products sold, I decide to try to make the best of it. I fail miserably. The food table I am to work sells coffee, bottles of orange juice, pork sandwiches, and pasta salad. Given that I eat a vegetarian diet, I try to have a sense of humor. This is “Murphy’s Law”. The table directly across from mine sells donuts, sweet rolls, and a variety of candy. There are also bananas and apples (only a few of these sold, by the way). A couple friends tease me when they see me hanging out and selling junk food.
One of my very best friends is Laura. She is kind-hearted, patient, generous, and very open-minded. She is honest with me and yet supportive of my ways. We have been close friends for many years and are often together because our daughters are also great friends. They have joined the swim team together. Laura has been assigned to work the sweet table during the meet, and it is only three feet from mine. How bad could this job be? At least I get to hang out with one of my favorite ladies, even if I have to sell this food for 4 hours.
Laura can tell you. It was horrible. I made the experience intolerable. I was irritable, stressed out, and complained anytime anyone would engage in the topic of the items for sale. I was not very fun. I apologized many times to Laura for being such a “downer” during our Concession duty. Like a true friend, she honestly told me I was a drag. I spoke with the Manager of Concessions and questioned the offerings. I volunteered to make smoothies, fresh muffins, and energy bars for future meets. Though she is a kind, patient woman, I was met with the opposition of profits and customer demand (aka candy sells). As I watched all those young children make their candy purchases, I became more anxious by the minute. It sounds kind of nuts now, but this job drained my energy and joy for a time. I had a hard time letting it go.
Tomorrow morning, my first task is to resign from Concession work. This is a good decision. I will do any other job in future swim meets. I will not, however, sell junk food to children who have just raced in the pool for 30 seconds and charge them fifty cents for a “ring pop”. To myself, I will be true. I am certain profits will go up in future meets if I am not in food sales.
Turn the clock back again a few weeks. My five year old finishes her soccer game at 9AM. After the girls get a “high-five” from the coach, they are handed their after-game snack by one of the moms. It is a bag of “mini-frosted pop tarts”, a package of cinnamon twists that are sort of like donuts but sugary, sticky vines, and a “fruit drink” in a box. The drink’s ingredients are sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial coloring, artificial flavors, and water. On the front of the box, there is a picture of something that resembles a fruit bowl, yet on the list of ingredients, there is not a single drop of fruit. My 5 year old is so excited to show me her treat, that she forgets her soccer ball and cannot hear me as I congratulate her on a great game. “Can I have this?! Can I have this?!” she screeches, pulling my coat sleeve.
While she runs to collect her ball and water bottle at the other end of the field, I hold the culprit. My hands over-flow with what looks like a late-night trip to the 7 Eleven. The alluring, child-seducing, high-fat, sugar laden “snack” in my hands stresses me. I stand waiting for my daughter among the parent crowd. “People!” I say loud enough for those around me to hear. I hold up the snacks. “Why are we offering this to our children?! What are we teaching them by giving them these after they have participated in a healthy activity? ” I read off a few of the ingredients. I am that Crazy Lady now, the one you may have tried not to make eye-contact with on the street. It is me and these packages of waste, chemically processed in some factory. Its Makers do not care at all about childhood obesity, diabetes, ADD, tooth decay, and poor health. The mom who brought the snack is still across the field. I don’t want to embarrass or offend her, yet I am angry. Disappointed. Vocal. I can’t be the only parent who feels this way, right?
A few of my friends are there and listen. Even a few of The Kitchen Remix clients and followers are there and nod an approval to me. Most of these people, though, are strangers who are shocked by my speech. My daughter comes back and asks for her ‘goods’. “Choose one,” I tell her quietly. I toss two of the packages in the garbage as we leave the crowd. As we walk through the grass to the playground, one of the dads comes walking up quickly behind me. “Hey, Mary Ellen,” he calls over. I take a deep breath, ready for a confrontation. “Oh, This will be good,” I think. I am surprised that he shakes my hand and tells me how his wife has been making him green smoothies each morning. She talks about The Kitchen Remix and wants a Vitamix for her birthday. He has lost weight, has more energy, and is happier. He is “addicted” to his morning smoothie, he reports. I am not exactly proud of my out burst, yet I do not regret my words.
At the park, one of the moms from the team comes over and asks what I think would be a better choice for our shared assignment as the “snack moms” for the next game. We come up with a happy, healthy compromise. I hug her, thank her, and go back to pushing my daughter on the swing. I am not alone in this battle.
“Why do you have to be so healthy?” my 8 year old asked me not long ago, as I blended a morning smoothie of fresh fruits and vegetables. I tell my girls my reasons all the time: to be strong, to feel good, to run fast, to play hard. I don’t catch colds or stay in bed with the flu. I want to be able to keep up with my grandchildren when I am old. They question why I don’t buy the “school lunch” for them and why I pack lunches everyday. I explain my reasons. I never apologize. Sometimes, this is a really hard “sell” when my children watch friends eat Cheetos, and I hand mine a pear.
I have friends and family with cancer, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Recently, a close friend had a stroke and his doctors said it was directly related to his lifestyle choices. Regularly, I have friends who talk about wanting to lose weight or have more energy, but they are not sure how to get started. It isn’t that they are lazy or unmotivated. It is not poor genetics or lack of discipline holding them back from changing. It is often that we have trained ourselves in these habits, and we hold them so deeply that we are unsure how to function without them. Whether it is sugar, high-fat snacks, fast foods, or inactivity that we are fighting against, it is hard to change. It takes great work.
If you are a parent, think about how difficult it will be someday for your child when he or she is grown-up and tries to undo the damage of years of sweet treats and processed foods. Though you may be offering these snacks now as rewards, for convenience, or for celebrations, think of their addictive powers. When your adult-child is trying to kick these habits later in life, when he or she is over-weight or over-tired or diseased, think of how challenging this will be for your beautiful child. Now think of how amazing it would be if you fed that child (or the child within YOU) fresh, healthy, home-cooked meals. What would be the result of your children seeing you eat fresh, plant-based wholesome foods? If occasional sweets were homemade and free of trans-fats, processed sugar, and artificial ingredients, would your family prosper? Would your children benefit from watching your example as you go to the gym, exercise studio, or move your body with delight? Would your children find more joy in helping you prepare fresh food and stop begging for more sweets?
It does not have to be an all or nothing deal. If you eat healthy and make good choices most of the time, you are doing well. If you indulge or allow your children occasionally to eat junk food, compensate at the next meal by including fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Here are a few ideas:
1. Start your day with a smoothie. If you have children, make them one also. If this is your habit, you will be starting the day with healthy, fresh fruits and vegetables. Even if later in the day, there are other, less healthy foods being served, you know that the smoothie covers a great deal of the nutrition dilemma. Don’t give up. If your kids give you a “yuck” on the first try, keep at it and find a different recipe. Be creative. Check out our smoothie recipes on The Kitchen Remix website and connect with us on Facebook. Share your successes!
2. Make sure that your children don’t come to the sweet table hungry. Bring snacks of fresh fruits, vegetables, healthy crackers, or nuts and seeds to kid’s activities, the pool, or the sporting events. Be prepared.
3. If you do have concerns, don’t be afraid to share your ideas with your friends and family. You may find that others share your feelings. Don’t be afraid to be the “Crazy Person”; just try not to let it stress you out.
Maybe you are one of those lucky folks who don’t have issues with sugar. Maybe instead, you crave salt, alcohol, drugs, or junk food. Maybe you over-eat or don’t exercise or diet to extremes. If you have no vices, well good for you! If you have challenges on your path to healthy living, remember it is normal and human. Learn to look at your obstacles and embrace them. Realize you are strong enough to let your bad habits go. In releasing your stressors, you will be open to all the joy and possibilities that await you.
Now, next time you see me at the pool or the soccer game, I will notice if you are running the other way, especially if you are bearing a box of Dunkin’ Donuts for the snack after the game! You may just get a chance to meet this Crazy Mom!!