Paving a way for healthy choices

Dear mothers, fathers, restaurant management, waitresses, doctors, nurses, chefs, cooks, friends, and total strangers:

I’m mad. Anger doesn’t do anyone any good, so I’m trying to be productive and use it to fuel change. So here goes.

Background

I’m 31 years old and have daughter who will be 2 on July 4th. My husband and I make every possible effort to instill a love for food and healthy living in her. It’s not always easy (she’s almost 2 after all, and typically strong-willed), but some days it’s doggone hard. I’ll get to that in a moment.

I do everything I can to set her up for lifelong healthy eating habits.

  • She helps me in the kitchen by dropping fruit in the blender for yogurt smoothies, she stirs batters, and sprinkles cheese.
  • She helps me in our small vegetable  patch (really she plays in the dirt, while watching me garden). She didn’t like tomatoes until she picked one off of a tomato plant last summer. It’s amazing what a garden can do to make a kid love fruits and veggies.
  • When she wants to snack we don’t give her cookies and candy. I give her chickpeas, cheese, orange segments, apple slices, yogurt, bananas, cheerios, etc. People think I’m depriving her – I say “of what? She’s not even two years old! She has her whole life to gorge on cookies.” For now, I’ll pass on the sugar rushes thank you very much.
  • I’m cooking a meal for every country in the world to expose her to different flavors and cultures. Looking at food as an Adventure seems to be a really good thing so far.

I guess you could say I’m not the average mom and I realize all this approach isn’t for everyone but, still… I’m mad.

How can people choose healthy food for their kids when there is no choice?

Let me explain: Whenever I go out to eat (which is rarer and rarer these days), kids menus almost all look the same. Fried chicken or hamburger or hotdog. French fries or mac and cheese. Dessert? A sundae -or, if you’re lucky, some grapes. What kind of choices are those? One restaurant offered mini sausages – the kind people put in pigs in a blanket. Guess what? They weren’t even remotely healthy. These particular ones were loaded with heart-breaking amounts of fat and salt. How could they suggest we put that in a tiny kid’s body?

Over and over again I get stares when I ask (very politely) if the chicken could be grilled instead of deep-fried. When I ask to switch the fries out for some mixed veggies, I’ve been charged up to $3 more. I’m happy to pay the extra, if it means my kids health, and I hate to be a bother (substitutions are super annoying, I know) but what I don’t understand is why no one gives these options in the first place. I am told they cannot put them on the menu because “kids don’t order grilled chicken and veggies.” Sure, fine – I get that. Just tonight, at a table across from us, everyone’s food was fried or mashed – adults and kids. I know that I’m not making the “popular choice”… and I’d understand their reluctance if grilled chicken and veggies weren’t on the adult menu, but I’m talking about places where they are on the adult menu. So what’s the big deal about writing it in on the kids menu, too?

I’m mad because I cannot think of one restaurant in the area that has a great, balanced kids menu (I hope I’m proven wrong). Heck, last I checked even our local natural food store kids menu has NOT ONE vegetable listed under “sides” – they do list grapes (but as a side??). Their desserts? Cookies and chocolate pudding – no fruit or yogurt there. They are supposed to be the standard in healthy eating, but they are just the same as all the rest. At least they have whole wheat turkey sandwiches.

I’m concerned for our country and the state of things when I have to go so far out of my way to request healthy food for my child. Just thinking about a less assertive mother in my situation saddens me – or worse yet, a poor mother who can’t pay the extra $3 to get her child vegetables.

Perhaps people will tell me to just stay home. Fine, that’s pretty much what I’m doing anyway (we’ve cut back eating out to about once a month), but I don’t think it’s fair that we only offer our kids total junk at restaurants. They are worth more than a diet of 100% fried, greasy, fatty food.

We love our kids, don’t we? Why aren’t we showing our love by giving them real, healthy choices?

I don’t expect everyone to eat healthy all the time. But I do want the option, if so desired. If this letter convinces even one restaurant to modify their kids menu, I’ll be thrilled. As Ghandi said, we are the change we wish to see in this world.

Will you step up and do what’s right?

Are you already offering a balanced kids menu at your establishment? Then tell us about that menu in the comments. I want to go to your restaurant.

Sincerely,

Sasha Martin

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