The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO


March 27, 2014

Sarah Coyne: Teaching, not preaching, needed for choosing healthy foods

JOPLIN, Mo. — One of the benefits of not traveling during spring break was that the kids got to run errands with me all week, including a few trips to the grocery store. There, they begged for Pop Tarts, popcorn chicken and most other foods prefixed by "pop."

Sometimes I feel like the grocery store is actually out to fleece us of our health as well as our money. I can't explain to my kids, at least not articulately enough that they understand and care, that corporations market their goods to us not because they're good for us, but because they want to make a profit. Or maybe I could explain, I thought last week as we tried to hurry past the cracker aisle. And the sugared yogurts. And the marshmallow-laden cereals.

I tried to speak quietly and simply: "Because there's nothing in those crackers actually worth putting in our bodies." I said. "And because our bodies are so special that we need to pay attention to what we feed ourselves."

At home, we discuss healthy foods quite regularly. We talk about why colorful fruits and veggies are important, but I always seem to shy away from mentioning why processed foods and chemically created ingredients are harmful.

Is it because I don't want my kids to get overwhelmed? Or because I don't want them to equate my warnings with preachiness? Or because I don't know all the answers?

"But why do people make those things taste so good if they're not good for our bodies?" My daughter was genuinely confounded; if it tastes delicious but is bad for us, why are companies allowed to sell it in the first place? There lies another conversation entirely Ñ one that goes into free will, politics and capitalism.

But my kids are still little. They believe the commercials and the pretty packaging. They fuss when we bypass fast-food chains in favor of fresh, real food at home.

They feel uncomfortable when their peers tease them about the "disgusting" raw vegetables in their lunch boxes. They feel cheated when their after-school snacks don't include food dye and high-fructose corn syrup.

It gets to be pretty overwhelming, this compulsion to make my children understand the importance of real food rather than processed, chemicalized and harmful ingredients masquerading as food. I so badly want them to understand the value of their healthy bodies.

But as we unloaded our purchases later, one of my girls chirped up with something heartening: "How much longer until the blueberry patch is open, mom?" Then, in the way of distractible kids, she added, "When we go to the farmer's market, can I buy some carrots just for myself?"

Of all the facts and truths I want them to grow up knowing about, how to choose foods that will feed their bodies well is high on the list. Then it hit me: They can learn it without me scaling any soapboxes. Our kids can learn about the goodness of real food just by being around it.

By eating good things every day and letting them see where it comes from, they're learning all they need to know for now. All I need to do is let my kids grow up eating real, healthy food.

Sarah Coyne lives in Joplin. She writes about life and motherhood at her personal blog,

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