5 nutrition worries of moms

.. and how to let go of them.

Moms are the warriors on the front lines of nutrition for the family.  OK, I realize many dads are also involved with this, but the majority of nutritional vigilance gets done by moms, starting with breastfeeding, a choice made at least in part because breast milk is the best food for a newborn baby.  When I wrote about nutrition tips for moms several years ago, I addressed many of the pressures on moms and parents to feed children perfect diets.  Unfortunately since then, the pressure has only gotten worse.  Every new study adds something to Mom’s list of food Do’s and Don’ts, whether or not the research was really actionable or practical.  And of course food marketers have taken note, devising plenty of health halo products and messages designed to sell food products to harried moms who are concerned about the health of their families but who don’t have nutrition degrees.

My main message here is “Lighten up!”  Moms have been raising kids just fine for centuries, sometimes in harrowing circumstances, without the benefit of organic fruit purees in little shelf-stable packages or snack bars fortified with a few vitamins or fiber fortified yogurt or home-cooked-from-scratch family dinners every single night.  The kids survived.  Here are 5 common Mom worries I think are unnecessary.  If you can let go of some of this stuff, you might find that food choices cause less stress in your daily life:

  1. Organic.  Yes organic is nice, but it’s not going to make or break you or your child.  If the choice is a pricey organic or less expensive regular item, and price is important, you don’t need to feel guilty about saving money.  And as a side note: organic does NOT make junk food acceptable.  In my decidedly not-humble professional opinion, organic soft drinks or chips or cookies are a complete joke.
  2. Home cooked meals.  Every night.  There’s plenty of research out there claiming that families that eat home cooked meals together are healthier, happier and probably richer and more successful and have better hair.  Well maybe not those last bits.  But it’s important to understand what the research doesn’t tell us: families who organize life around home cooked meals are different from families that do not have time for this or do not value this or who are just too disorganized or chaotic in general.  If your schedule if full of carpooling, commuting and child activities, and family dinners are rarely possible, don’t beat yourself up about it.  Trying to force a family dinner on everyone at 8:30 p.m. when life calms down isn’t likely to go well.  Not that it isn’t a good idea to have frequent family time together.  But it doesn’t have to be a daily dinner, if that’s just not possible.  So think of alternatives: weekend hikes or bike rides or brunch or lunch.  Or if you have some time for dinner but no time to cook, get take out, or use frozen food.  It’s not about you spending time cooking; it’s about the family spending time sharing food, whatever it may be.
  3. Being the Sugar Police.  It used to be fat.  Now sugar is the bogey man in our food.  And yes too much sugary junk food is a bad idea.  But worrying about whether your loaf bread or ketchup or spaghetti sauce has a few molecules of added sugar is not productive.  Don’t sweat the small stuff.  Keep sugary junk out of the house, so you don’t even have to argue about it.
  4. Facilitating Snacks, all day long.  It used to be (back in the dark ages when there was no obesity epidemic and children drank — gasp! — whole milk) people ate 3 meals per day.  Period.  None of this non-stop snacking and obsessing about whether someone is hungry.  And if so, stifle that hunger!  I’m here to say, hunger during the day is not a bad thing.  If a kid is hungry when dinner time rolls around, he or she will eat the food at dinner.  If appetite was stifled by a snack 1-1/2 hours before dinner, not so much.  They don’t eat much dinner but then are hungry 2 hours later and get another snack.  This is a really bad habit to encourage.  Yes kids will whine for snacks, especially if they’ve been conditioned.  But I suggest you resist this in all but the most compelling circumstances.  If school lunch was served at 10:30 a.m., kids probably need a 4th mini meal after school.  Thinking of these more as meals helps you focus on what foods are appropriate.  Maybe a small sandwich and milk (meal), rather than a sugary granola bar and juice (snack).  And definitely put a lid on mindless grazing on chips or popcorn or ice cream when kids are on screen time.  In fact, put a lid on mindless screen time.
  5. Keeping up with the other moms.  Peer pressure among moms can be a terrible thing.  It’s really hard to resist when someone seems to be serving her perfect kids perfect food in a perfect home while she wears fashionable skin-tight exercise outfits.  Why can’t you accomplish all that?  Well, if you can’t you can’t.  Keep in mind, there is no perfect peaceful home life; there’s always something, and maybe that mom is feeling pressure to keep up with someone or something else and is not all that happy about it.  Truthfully, I’ve had parents like that as clients in the past, but they were stressed out because their child preferred hot dogs to hummus and/or was overweight.  So you do what you feel is appropriate for your family; don’t worry about them.  And also do not judge other moms who don’t keep up with your standards.  They probably have their reasons.

The final message for moms when it comes to food and nutrition for the family is one I used last time I wrote about this topic:

Don’t let Perfect be the enemy of Good.

If your kids are happy and healthy and mostly well behaved and active and respect your word, you’re doing pretty good.  Happy Mother’s Day.

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