Think back to when you were a kid, and adults talked about foods that were a “special treat.” That meant things like ice cream on a hot day, right, or maybe holiday cookies or a cake for someone’s birthday? A box of Cracker Jacks at a baseball game, dessert a night or two a week, extra candy at a sleepover – that kind of thing.
And now compare that to the meaning of the word “treat” as your own children may interpret it, just by counting the number of times in day or week that they are offered a supposedly “special” food.
Case in point: I recently helped out in my 3-year-old’s Sunday school class. Only an hour long session, with a good deal of that time devoted to free play. It’s in the morning, wedged between breakfast and lunch, or maybe a midday Sunday family meal at a restaurant. And yet, the 20 or so kids there had to be given a “special treat,” consisting of a bag of Teddy Grams (120 calories) and a box of juice (100) calories. That “treat” also contained a total of 33 grams of sugar, mostly in the form of high fructose corn syrup (ugh), and even trans fats, which even the staunchest “let them eat junk food” advocates will acknowledge is completely unhealthful.
But this was not to be the only “treat” of the day. Walking through the after-service coffee hour, several well-meaning adults pointed out to my kids that there are “Oreo cookie treats on the table, right over there!!” Pre-school, play dates and after-school activities for my older son are the same way. Even our neighborhood bank teller can’t resist the opportunity to hand me lollipops with my deposit receipts, “as a treat for the boys,” when I have my kids in tow while running errands.
I write about this issue in my book “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything” (Bull Publishing). If everything is “a treat,” then nothing is. It’s more realistic to just recognize that most children go through the day consuming a string of unhealthful, generally bad-tasting junk foods, all given to them as though they are something special. Homemade raisin-oatmeal cookies straight from the oven, these are not.
But again, my biggest question is WHY? Why do we do our kids such a disservice by giving them stale, packaged “cookies” and colored sugar water, and calling it a “treat?” Is it enough that it is just cheap to purchase a bulk package of juice boxes at Costco, because “they are just kids, anyway.” Or is it that we have gotten we gotten so slack in our own standards of cooking and eating that we ourselves don’t appreciate the difference between homemade or professionally prepared baked goods, and processed products? Who are we kidding?!