If you check the “Drinking the Kool-Aid” page on this blog with any regularity, you know that I use it as a place to simply post interesting things to read with regard to kids and food.  Today I’ve posted something from one of my favorite blogs, Spoonfed, about the addictive properties of junk food.  It’s definitely worth taking a look if you can.

The reason I mention it is that in reading the piece, and commenting about it over on someone else’s blog, I was prompted to remember two sort of ironic (though possibly ironic in an Alanis Morrisette kind of way) moments that occurred within the past week, both revolving around lollipops.  I’m sure it will come as no surprise to most of you when I say that lollipops are not a common item in our household.  Do I think they’re pure evil on  a stick?  Nope.  But do I think they should be anything other than a very, very, VERY occasional treat?  Nope.  L., not surprisingly, likes lollipops (what kid wouldn’t?  They’re pure sugar), but I think he likes them more just because they are such a special and rare event in his life.  Homemade hot chocolate shows up probably once a week in the wintertime, so he can be cavalier about treats like that one; but LOLLIPOPS?  They’re, like, a once-a-year indulgence.  To a four-year-old, that’s a SERIOUS treat.

Anyway, the first, semi-chuckle-worthy lolly event occurred at last week’s Farmer’s Market.  It was about 9:00 on a Saturday morning.  My kids had just finished eating their cereal.  We were browsing the stalls of produce, and L. had recovered from a mini-meltdown that occurred when he had to hand over “his” butternut squash (he seriously loves them — it’s a borderline obsession) to our pal K., the lovely proprietor of the Zephyr Farm tent.  (God bless her — she knew to instantly weigh it and hand it back to him.)  As we meandered down to the next stall, L. pointed to a family that was gathered around a crate of apples.  “Look, Mom!” he proclaimed.  “Those kids got treats!”

Yep, you guessed it — the three kids, who were probably about 2, 5, and 7, were sucking on enormous lollipops at 9 o’clock in the morning. And while they worked on the sugar bombs, their parents were debating the merits of the produce and being self-congratulatory about their healthy eating habits.  I give L. lots of credit for not even ASKING about a lollipop of his own — I’m positive that he knew what the answer to that one would be, and besides, I really think, from his tone of voice, that he was more shocked and puzzled than interested.  Even at 4, he knows that lollipops and the Farmer’s Market are not to be mixed.

The second, and probably more troubling, lolly issue occurred at the doctor’s office.  If you haven’t read my admitted rant of yesterday, I’ll sum it up: L. is a bit heavy.  And right after pronouncing him a bit heavy, and telling J. that we should limit junk food and snacks and processed foods (I still can’t type that without rolling my eyes), the doctor handed L…. A LOLLIPOP.

Gosh, do we confuse our kids, and not just our kids, but all well-meaning parents, educators, food service people, and everybody involved in any way in feeding our kids.  We want to have a positive food culture, but we continue to use lollipops as bribes and rewards…even in doctor’s offices, where they should know better.  Even when the same doctor is telling the parents to limit the junk.  We let our kids have candy at ungodly early hours, at the same time that we are taking them shopping for good, healthy food — sending what message?  That lollipops are on equal footing with the produce?  That lollipops are OK as long as you balance them out with an apple?  I’m not sure what the message is supposed to be, or if we even think about what we might be conveying when we do the things we do.

Maybe that’s more to the point: We aren’t always conscious of how we are shaping our kids’ relationships with food and eating when we do and say the things we do and say with regard to feeding them.  I am as guilty as the next person.  Not only did I have the spectacular dinner war with P. last week (though, as a side note, he’s eaten a great, healthy dinner every night since, and not in exchange for any kind of sweet), but this morning I did something relatively innocent that I think now may have been just another food culture trap.  L. was supposed to have a PT appointment this evening after preschool.  J. and I realized yesterday that, logistics being what they were, it was going to mean that we wouldn’t be able to eat as a family.  No big deal — we’d just move the “fend” night from Friday to tonight, and I’ll make the chicken wraps on Friday.  Fine.  But J. suggested, appealingly, that L. might enjoy having a little dinner date out someplace with Mommy.

I decided we’d do it.  So this morning, as L. got dressed, I chatted with him about what to expect from his day.  I told him about PT and when he could expect to see me show up at school.  I told him Daddy and P. would be coming home and not joining us for PT.  And then I asked if he’d like to go out for dinner after the appointment.  His eyes, predictably, lit up; he asked what we would have to eat.

Well.  I had to think.  It was going to be relatively late for him to eat dinner after the appointment, so we had to pick someplace close and quick-serving (though certainly NOT something with a drive-thru!).  Sifting through the options in my mind, I thought of a nearby restaurant that serves homemade thin-crust, brick oven pizzas with real toppings — you can even get whole wheat crust and a nice salad for the table.  A slice of their margherita with fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, along with some greens, would be a good compromise dinner, I figured — not nearly as nutritionally empty as most pizzas, and a safe bet for a potentially cranky and starving preschooler.   So I said: “How about pizza?”

L. actually jumped up and down.  “Pizza?  I can’t wait!”

Now, though, as I sit examining the issue, I wonder if I’ve just been sucked into the old trap of confusing my kid’s sense of food culture.  Does taking him out for dinner after PT — which we admittedly thought to do because PT will be stressful for him, and dinner out would be a nice antidote — make him think that he deserves a food-based reward for doing what’s medically necessary?  And by choosing a pizza place, however redeemable, have I reinforced the idea that a “sometimes” food is a just reward?  I mean, clearly, I’m overthinking it, but I’m overthinking it to make a point here.  We could all do better than we do.  I could tell the doctor that we don’t want the kids to have lollipops when they’re there as a way of taking a stand and pointing out the incongruity of the whole affair.  I could insist that L. come home to eat a proper, home-cooked meal after PT, rather than taking him out, or choose a restaurant where we could eat, say, broiled salmon.  The parents at the Farmer’s Market could tell their kids that there are no sweets early in the morning, but they could pick out some fruit or veggies or bread from the bakery tent to snack on if they’d like.  The point is, whether we actually change what we do or not, we have to at least start thinking about it, rather than assuming that our actions go unnoticed by our kids or have no effect on their relationship to food.

But enough angst.  I haven’t given you any recipes this week, so I’m signing off now with an apologetic smile and the recipe for spinach pies, which the boys have been eating happily for the past two days.  Enjoy.  And come back tomorrow.  I may get off the soapbox, unless something else riles me.