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Let them Eat Cake

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Several years ago, I attended a birthday party for the toddling offspring of some work friends. A very active young couple, they were keen on healthy eating and clean living, and applied these principles to their parenting. I had always admired their resolve.

Several years ago, I attended a birthday party for the toddling offspring of some work friends. A very active young couple, they were keen on healthy eating and clean living, and applied these principles to their parenting.

I had always admired their resolve.

But when it came time to bring out the birthday cake, they instead carted out a fat disc of watermelon, complete with candles, song, and photo op. My eyes rolled so far back into my head I caught a glimpse of my own icing-deprived brain.

I understand that childhood obesity is a serious problem and that many kids eat too much and move too little. I believe that many hyper children could be helped by changing their diets. I respect parents who fight against a relentless tide of processed foods and sugared drinks with bright, kid-centric packaging that clogs every supermarket shelf.

It seems as if I only see two kinds of parents: the ones who don't know or aren't worried about children's healthy eating (yes, lady in the corner store filling the baby's bottle full of cola, I'm looking at you), and the ones who make it an all-consuming project to eliminate every possible preservative, colouring, and blood-sugar-raising element from their kids' lives.

Does it make sense to micromanage a kid's health and eating to the point where every trip to a restaurant or slumber party is fraught with guilt and confusion? Does it not follow that the minute young watermelon-boy becomes a teenager, his rebellion will take the form of pop, chips, and smuggled chocolate bars? I know a woman with an insatiable sweet tooth who, not surprisingly, was the product of a strict no-sugar household.

The balance, I believe, is in educating kids about the choices available, setting good examples, and then letting them make some of their own decisions. A kid who understands that there's room in a healthy life for the occasional well-chosen treat is better off than a kid who's taught to fear and avoid those things. (Of course, that's easy enough to say. If my kid had her way, she'd probably eat chocolate donuts with a blue slushie chaser for breakfast.) This is especially true for our little girls, who pick up bad habits from their mothers, their peers, and the media. Too many young women grow up feeling shameful and conflicted about everything they eat, believing that there are only good foods and bad foods and good and bad people who eat them.

Life is sometimes just about spontaneity and pleasure otherwise, what's the point? And while those things don't always have to be found in food, sometimes that's exactly where they are. If I had to grow up in a world where I got watermelon instead of a slice of cake on my birthday, I'm not sure I'd even want to bother growing up at all.

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