for the love of junk food

I remember the first time my oldest son ate a chicken nugget. We still lived in Brooklyn and he was not quite walking yet, so around the one-year-old mark. I used to push him in a stroller down the streets of Bay Ridge and that particular afternoon I was hungry so we went to McDonald’s.

I sat him down in the high chair and gave him a nugget. I felt the eyes of judgment from everyone around me. The shame of feeding my baby something genetically modified and greasy and unhealthy washed over me. I could barely look up for fear of eye contact with someone else. I was like a dog who’d made a mess on the rug and didn’t want to look at my owner.

Serious. I really felt this way.

E, for his part, ate it with no drama. He didn’t appear to love it or hate it. It was food. I justified it to myself by reminding myself it was a rare occurrence and surely other parents fed their babies fast food daily and so in comparison I wasn’t that bad…

I kept this snooty attitude up for many more years. We’d go to a playdate and I’d secretly roll my eyes when I’d see other moms pulling out cold McDonalds to feed their children. Why do we do this? I’m not usually a judgy person, so I am embarrassed to admit it. It seems like moms fall into two camps: the ‘real’ deal moms who embrace feeding their kids junk and don’t think much about it, and the sanctimonious crunchy moms (like me) who shame other moms and then on the sly feed their kids’ junk with a healthy side dish of remorse.

I’ve obviously relaxed since then.

I’m on the other side of it too. I remember talking with a passenger back when I was a flight attendant and his proclamation that his 5-year-old had never ever had McDonald’s prior to that day; that day of course due to weather delays there was nothing else at the airport to feed her so he tried to give her McNuggets and she absolutely refused to eat them, choked on them, and he was so proud of her.

What a pretentious asshole I thought. And, honestly, I hope he doesn’t ask me if my son has ever had a McNugget…I don’t want to admit to it….

Just last year, at the ‘bucks, a young pretty Mom came through the line. She was holding one of those fruit pouches we sell and asked in a rush, “Do you have any more of these?”

I searched and searched the labyrinth of boxes and cabinets for her, and told her no.

“What am I supposed to do?” she pleaded.

“Kids like Cake Pops” I offered.

She turned red. I could see the stress starting to build up inside of her. “I. Can’t. Feed. My. Kids. Chemicals.”

I really didn’t know what to say to that – I mean, chemicals sound scary and all, but I’m pretty sure the processed fruit gunk in the plastic pouches contained “chemicals”, and besides, what did she think, just because the pouch says “Organic” it meant a kindly old grandma was hand crushing the strawberry and apple puree in small batches?

Ok, I’ve gone off the deep end here, so if you are still reading, HI! The real reason and inspiration for this post is I had a moment of weakness at my favorite place, Costco, last week, and bought my kids garbage cereal. Like, junky, colorful, sugary crap. I don’t know what came over me. My kids eat plain old Cheerios like they are jelly beans, yet I’m opening the door for them to realize there is a whole other world of cereal yet to discover.

In my defense, my husband is gone for 10 days (away at upgrade training $wohoo$) so I figure the 90-odd servings of processed fructose can distract and buzz them up well enough on this long stretch of solo parenting.

Anyway, they are now requesting the “good Cheerios” for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and while I’ve managed to only let them have it for dessert, these moments of indulgence brought on a slew of emotions.

First, guilt. That terrible, specific to first-world-mommy-guilt. As I pour them a bowl of fruity colored “Froot Loops” and watch their eyes light up I start to question my every parenting choice and wonder if I’m leading them on a path to obesity.

And then I catch myself in that spiral and chastise myself. Kids have eaten cereal with cartoon characters on the boxes for decades and it’s totally normal and not going to harm them. Besides, I tell myself, it’s not like it’s an everyday occurrence.

And then I catch myself justifying it and feel guilty on top of that… and then start thinking about mommy wars and the rising waist sizes of society and how I wish I was disciplined enough to have my entire family on a paleo style diet and it all builds up. All this thought, worry, and emotion over a box of cereal. That my children love. And rarely have.

Like most things, a little in moderation is fine. I’ve even poured myself a delicious rainbow colored bowl for dessert the past few nights, and my kids and I sit around the kitchen table together happy and slurping and you know what? There’s something to be said for small indulgences like these, especially when you consider a simple bowl of kid’s cereal can make your kids so happy.

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