Just Sweet and Jewy?

by Decemberbaby

First my infertility cred goes down the toilet, and now this… I’ve come to the realization that I’m just not that crunchy. Either that, or I’m somehow hanging out with a very crunchy crowd.

Yes, I’m a fan of cloth diapering, and I have a compost pile in the back. I grow my own vegetables and I replace car trips with bike trips. I feed my kids “real food” (by my standards, that means “not chicken nuggets and no handi-snacks.”) And yet I’m just not crunchy enough, and I’m finally self-aware enough to understand why that bothers me.

The catalyst for all this crunchiness-related navelgazing was, oddly enough, our synagogue. We have a food committee that recently created our new food policy: that food served at synagogue should be (whenever possible) organic, local, sustainable, and healthy. Anyhow, this has drastically changed the food that gets served at our shul’s kiddush luncheon. In my opinion the food is delicious, but kid-friendly it’s not.

So I mentioned this to someone on the committee. I suggested that maybe the caterer could just make a pot of Wacky Mac (the kosher equivalent of Kraft Dinner) for the little kids. She responded flatly that it would never happen and I said, “but it’s what little kids like to eat!” It is, right? Wrong.

And here enters my defensiveness. The response that there are “lots” of children who love tofu, quinoa, and raw bok choy instantly raised my hackles. She said, “lots of kids like this kind of food,” but I heard, “lots of kids, with parents better than you, like this kind of food.”

I feel like I’m hearing that kind of thing a lot these days. “Good parents don’t let their kids drink juice [ever?]”. “Good parents don’t feed their kids white flour and refined sugar.” Really? Since when are juice and cookies the dietary equivalent of rat poison?

(In order to spare myself the inevitable lectures, yes, I understand what sugar does to insulin levels and the pancreas. And yes, I understand that whole grains are much better than refined. And yes, I know that juice, cookies, and white flour are by no means essential to human survival.)

It’s interesting to me that the comments at which I take umbrage are directly relevant to my kids. The ones about foods we don’t eat either pass me by, or I really agree with them… like not serving tuna fish because of overfishing and the entrapment of other animals. Or serving fewer eggs because eggs from truly free-range chickens are more expensive than our shul can afford. I’m fine with those. But today there was an article in our shul e-mail about why refined grains are bad and we’ll only see whole grain products at kiddush, and my first thought was, “why is it the shul’s business to police what we should or shouldn’t be putting in our bodies?”

See? I get defensive. Also a bit belligerent. I mean, I personally think that if there’s ever a time to eat sweets and rare treats like juice, it’s Shabbat. If other parents don’t want to let their kids drink juice, then don’t give them the juice. That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be on the drink table. Just learn to say no. Parent your child!

(see? the judgment goes both ways.)

I’d like to posit that this overemphasis on feeding kids only the purest food is, for many, a parenting issue, not a health issue. Parenting is tough. Really, really, really tough. You can do your best to teach your kids values and appropriate behaviour, and they still might not demonstrate those when they grow up. But we can absolutely, completely control what we feed our children and their resulting physical health says, “see? these parents did a Good Job!”

Parents, listen up. You ARE doing a Good Job. Whether you feed your kids organic quinoa or flourescent cheese-flavoured rat poison macaroni, you’re feeding your kids. (Look, if you’re starving your kids, you’re not doing a good job. Just so you know.) They’re growing. You’re teaching them some values. You’re raising them to function in your society. You’re Good Parents. Most parents are.

I’m trying, really trying, to remember that this is my baggage, not everyone else’s. I’m trying to remember not to roll my eyes when another parent crows about not serving juice at a birthday party and how none of the kids asked for it (do you remember childhood? Most birthday parties I attended offered pop (soda for you Americans) as a once-in-a-while treat!) I’m trying, but I don’t always succeed. And sometimes I’m not sure I want to.

Because honestly, does the whole “no juice, no sugar, no refined grains” thing seem a bit… preachy… to you? As if we can’t trust parents to provide certain treats in moderation?

Please comment. I want to know what you think.

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24 Comments to “Just Sweet and Jewy?”

  1. bravo Sara. I do the best I can on the food front, but really there are bigger battles in life, and my kids eat a very well balanced diet, as far as most children under the age of 6 are concerned. There is a lot of pressure out there, and no on can be that perfect all the time. Treats are treats for a reason – they’re a treat – as in something you really shouldn’t have all the time but tastes nice on a special occasion. So I’ll help you carry that bag if it gets heavy!

  2. K is a very picky eater. It often comes down to a battle of wills to get her to eat healthier options (veggies, she loves fruit). I would rather save those fights for at home and not at church or restaurants. I would definitely prefer the macaroni and cheese option.

    I’m fine with K having ice cream and cookies – just not every day. I would be very upset if I felt like someone wasn’t offering “treats” because they didn’t think I could handle deciding how much or how often is right for my child.

  3. I am one of “those people”. I emphasize eating food in it’s purest form. Yup. That’s me! But I don’t use cloth diapers…LOL. We all do what we can!!!

    So have to say that I agree with the shul on this one. I actually think that it is amazing that they are trying to serve healthier food at the kiddish, especially when most food at most shuls these days is just awful. Why not try to do better? If we know juice is basically sugar water and refined flours have no nutritional value, why not serve healthier options? And I do think that kids will get used to and eat what you serve them, especially if there are no other options available. And why do sugary desserts have to be a Shabbat treat? Why can’t delicious fruit or a homemade dessert be a treat? I truly believe that our idea of what is food needs to change on a societal level…(why do hot dogs or Twinkies or coke even exist?!?!) so why not start at shul??

    For me, healthy eating has nothing to do with being “good”. I don’t serve my kids healthy food because of a need to control them or to be perceived as a “good” parent. I serve them whole foods because I truly believe that it will make them feel their best – both in the short term and the long term. That is the reason I eat healthy food too. It makes me feel my best, and when I feel good I can do other good things in my life – be a happy and productive mom, be a supportive wife, daughter, etc., work on fulfilling volunteer projects, and so forth!

    • I agree absolutely… kids definitely get used to what you serve them, to some degree (I currently have experience with a kid who would rather be hungry than eat a fruit, hence the modifier.) And of course a homemade dessert can be a treat – but I make mine with white flour and sugar. ‘Cause those are my recipes and I love the way they taste.

      (can I be a bit facetious and ask why you have to add the adjective “delicious” before the word “fruit”, as if you anticipate you’ll have to convince me? It kind of implies that fruit might not be as delicious as the stuff it’s replacing… :-P)

      And I have to say, I don’t get a paternalistic or preachy vibe off you at all. And I really love when you blog about food.

      Agree to disagree?

      Also, you’re still gonna come over for dinner, right? 😉

      • I was wondering if our dinner invite was going to be revoked after my comment 🙂 Yes we will still come!

        I used the word “delicious” just to remind people that fruit tastes AMAZING! I find people forget this. After I cut out refined sugar from my diet, my tastebuds changed. Fruit started to taste sweeter and I no longer craved sugary sweets as I did in the past.

  4. I have struggled with similar stuff although I’ve never been even remotely accused of crunchiness 🙂 Personally I like your sense of balance! But I often find this confusing. Thanks for this great post.

  5. I once made a box of organic no-food-coloring tasty mac and cheese as a special treat for Bug and served it with great ceremony and… he refused to eat it. And I thought DAMN! That was my backup dinner for when new baby comes! WHAT NOW???

    They couldn’t find something little kids are willing to eat? Really? Not even, I don’t know, peas on buttered whole wheat pasta? It sounds a little like they were too busy being holier-than-thou to be considerate of others.

    Our shul serves real, healthy food, and organizes holiday orders of sustainably-farmed kosher meat (which I would buy were it not, I do not exaggerate, $20 a POUND!!) but there are also brownies at kiddush. And juice. And veggies and bagels and so on. The expectation is, if you don’t want your kid to eat six brownies, don’t let your kid eat six brownies. I think it’s reasonable to provide healthy(ish) options and let parents choose.

    In this situation, I think that I would object to the paternalistic, condescending overtones. Like: we know better than you what’s good to eat and what’s not and therefore we must save you from yourselves, the poor dears, and if your kid doesn’t feel like quinoa today she will go hungry. Or go home.

    (P.S. Last week the rabbi’s kids and two other feral children were using the brownies as hockey pucks. Speaking of feeling judgmental.)

    • I’m truly laughing about the organic mac and cheese… it’s so true!

      You’re right on the money, it’s those overtones I’m objecting to. On the whole I actually like the shift towards healthier and more responsible food, but I’d prefer it without the side of (maybe entirely inferred?) sanctimony.

  6. most of the food that gets served at a typical weekly kiddush at our shul is disgusting. from jars and a caterer who does not have a clue how to bake delicious things. once a month, I lead a team of volunteers who make lunch for everyone, and if we restricted ourselves to this, not only could we not afford the programme, but it would be far more difficult to make successful meals. we hand make 400 plus challah rolls a month. its a lot of white flour, but its also hand made. and still, despite being not whole wheat, an opportunity to take challah a LOT of times!

    at home, we eat only (90% of the time) whole grain pastas, grains etc. we love black, red and brown rice and i make the most insanely yummy whole wheat multi grain bread on the planet. the kids, who are older but still like their white stuff thanked my husband for pushing the whole grain agenda and me for deciding we were all going to eat that way because we don’t have time to cook twice.

    i will cop to preferring white rice sushi (although honestly, its textural because once the vinegar is in there, its sort of a wash taste wise) and truth be told, its the proteins i like most. i have used dried dates for baking and cooking and am not averse to using non white sugar sugars just because they are more expensive and thus i am less likely to abuse them…

    anyways, good for your shul for trying but it must be a very wealthy shul to be imposing these restrictions on food. i think if it creates hardship, it needs to be revisited.

    • We’re not a particularly wealthy shul at all… the shul is already vegetarian (dairy kitchen only) and one of the reasons why the food is so different now is because we can’t afford to feed everyone sustainably fished tuna or truly free-range organic eggs, even though they do exist. It’s mostly fruits, veggies, legumes, and shul-baked desserts.

  7. “(whenever possible) 0rganic, local, sustainable, and healthy.” I think you can have organic, fresh juice that is not just sugar-water, and organic cookies. And organic mac and cheese. So I’m not really sure how those are not okay by your shul’s standards. I fully believe in all things in moderation– however, to play tongue in cheek devil’s advocate to your “real food” comment early on, I also think you can have organic and healthy chicken nuggets. Kids like juice and cookies and ice cream, and they also like chicken nuggets (and soy nuggets, too)! If you have guidelines for what your kids get to eat, do you alienate other mothers by telling them how proud you are for not serving your kids chicken nuggets? Or by saying how you grow your own vegetables instead of serving them the ones from the grocery store or the farmer’s market? I agree completely with what you said about most parents doing a good job. It’s easier to judge others when their standards are more stringent than our own. Our standards are okay… but if someone is even stricter than us, then THEY are the fanatics! We all have our barometers of judging, though– mine are smoking around kids and letting them ride bikes without helmets…. but that’s the pediatrician in me.

    • I agree completely, and no offense to chicken nuggets – I should have specified fast-food-type ones, because my kids do love a good (white panko-coated, fried) schnitzel. Maybe I should have also pointed out that they’re not forbidden – I just don’t serve them as part of our regular rotation at home. And the vegetable growing… we eat plenty of veggies from the store, and not even organic ones. We just grow them so the kids understand where food really comes from.

      But sheesh, I’m getting defensive again! Sorry bout that. You’re right, anybody stricter than me is a fanatic and anyone laxer than me is a lazy parent :-P. Judgment sucks across the board.

  8. I fall so far below your very good standards – and feel terrible about it – I think I exist to help other moms to feel good about themselves. Honestly, I’m generally just overwhelmed by the parenting thing in general so take the easy way out too often. And it’s all on me – if my husband had his way they’d all be eating nothing but hot dogs (we’re not Jewish) and bread all day, every day.

    • Please don’t feel terrible about it. Did you miss the bottom paragraph with my “standards”? Feeding the kids – check. Not beating them when they whine – check. Teaching them something – check. You’re a fine mom. The parenting thing *is* overwhelming – but I hope if it’s too much so that there’s someone you can count on for backup and practical support.

      Beyond that, don’t worry. My messy house exists to make someone else feel better about their messy ways 🙂

  9. Two thoughts
    1) the shul could produce kid friendly food with their guidelines/rules if it was at the front of their minds as an important need to fill.
    I make whole wheat pasta with homemade cheese sause can my kids love it ( even more than box maccaroni). (Though if I made it with organic everything it would be more expensive. a lot). There could be a designated kid food at each meal.

    2) While I am glad we are examining our choices around foofd to make sure that they are ethical I just wonder why the focus has to be only on food? What about the other purchases the shul makes? Is the floor clearer organic? sustainable? ( we do breathe it in). What about the paper for the photocopier? Were the workers who made it treated ethically? Do we pay the shul’s employees fairly?The wood and screws for the succah- do we care about where they come from and how they were made? Do the new food rules ensure that all members can afford a simchah without shame?
    etc.

  10. Maybe the only thing that irritates me more than the industrialized food complex is people who are preachy about it (and I usually agree with the substance of what they’re preaching about). I am deathly allergic to preachy. Which is why I kind of keep my own crunchy factor under wraps. Honestly I was so annoyed about the whole “You can’t join the AP club if you circumcize” vibe that I wanted nothing to do with any kind of official crunchiness. In general I can’t stomach that notches-on-the-belt thing that it seems like so many parents do, you know, we are screen-free, only play with wooden toys, and my kids have never so much as seen a bowl of mac ‘n cheese. Not into it. You know, I love wooden toys too, but I’m not made of money. My kid has done amazingly creative things with his McQueen car that he begged me for for months. And he gets to order mac ‘n cheese at a restaurant.

    So food. Yeah. My basic thing is I try to stay as unprocessed/sustainably/humanely produced as possible (ugh, I’m grossing myself out with my own crunchiness as I type), and, this might be a Mark Bittman or Michael Pollan concept, I can’t remember, anything I make at home in my own kitchen I consider healthy. I’m not saying my just-perfected (not to mention effortlessly parve) chocolate cookies are health food, but I don’t think they’re bad for my kid’s body. This becomes a pet peeve for me because I really don’t mind my kid eating cookies. I actually think a daily sweet treat is fine. I mean, I like one, so why would I expect my child to be holier than me? It could be a small handful of good-quality chocolate chips or whatever, but I let him eat a little treat pretty much every day. But not all treats are made equal. I’m not a fan of hydrogenated oils, preservatives, colorings, etc. etc. And to a lot of people, my homemade cookie and an oreo are equivalents, which is where I run into problems.

    Like, um, take my shul for instance. You would not believe what my kid’s Shabbat daytime diet has come to. For breakfast, Shabbat is our breakfast treat day. So usually one of those jam cereal bars. At the children’s service he gets white challah, sweet as cake, ples juice and cookies. Then an electric-colored lollipop at Adon Olam. At kiddush, unless there’s a special thing, he’s not into canned pickled herring or gefilte so usually more challah and cake. Which means, forget about Shabbat lunch. It’s pretty bad. I wouldn’t care all that much if he were a better eater, but he eats in minute quantities. Now, though he will eat tofu and greens sometimes, I honeslty can’t imagine him happily eating what your shul is offering every Shabbat. There are so many other ideas. I mean, whole wheat noodles are not pricey. Chummus, pita, cut-up veggies, fruit salad. Cubed cheese. Those are all things my kid would be happy to eat. Yeah, not as much crunchy cred as saying your kid loves tempeh, but… I think there is a healthy medium to all this, basically. I think it’s sad when kids are not allowed to bring cupcakes to school for their birthdays, but I cringe when they get those HFCS-laden neon-colored ice sticks at preschool. Treats are fine, chemicals not so much. Though a few chemicals here and there will not kill anyone, I should add. It does get to be a problem at shuls though because of kashrut stuff. I’d be happy to coordinate parent volunteers to bring in homemade stuff for the kids’ service but the policy is shul-kitchen only. And I understand why, but it’s tough healthwise.

    Sorry I wrote a book. I guess we can just be in our own sanely crunchy club, right?

    • “deathly allergic to preachy”… I think I might have a doctor friend of mine write that on a prescription pad and sign it for me!

      I completely agree with you that a homemade cookie is NOT equivalent to an Oreo, and that homemade food in general is much healthier than factory-made (or restaurant-made.) Thanks for articulating that.

      Our shul does *sometimes* serve chummus with pita, but not always. Last time I was there we had sundried tomato tapenade with garlicky pita chips… didn’t go over so well with the under-five set. There is a snack for the kids who attend the children’s program (which mine often don’t), and that is consistently kid-friendly… it’s also usually an hour or more before the kiddush lunch is served.

  11. “Just Sweet and Jewy?” I think crunchy is one of those adjectives that encompass a whole range of nuance. Rather like “Jewish.”
    I enjoyed the article very much, and while I don’t envy the judging that seems to be going on (from the “pure” food providers), I do envy the attempt to provide healthy, good grown-up food. Still, sounds to me like power gone mad. Happens with committees sometimes… I hope there is more of that magic word “moderation” in your shul kiddush future, and something for kids to eat.

  12. Thanks to Decemberbaby and all y’all for an interesting discussion. I think it’s really, really tough for parents. And as a childless woman, I take great joy in occasionally suprising my ‘surrogate’ kids with wacky treats that their parents would generally not buy or condone. Thankfully my friends ‘get’ this so it’s a win-win-win!!!

    I say, keep on trucking. You’re conscious, you’re trying hard, you’re giving parenting your all and you’re not perfect, nor are your kids. That’s okay. You’re doing a hard job and you’re doing great!!!

    peace
    shlomit

  13. Ugh I hate the preachy! I think “making an effort” in the crunchy category is worth alot. Taking your kids to shul when there is nothing to eat- not so fun for anyone.
    Sacha (who’s almost 4) loves going to shul (with my dad!). He likes the Rabbi, he like the Chazzan, he likes the other kids, but he loves his challah, danish and juice at the kiddush!

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