Mom, can you buy soda?
After a week of getting this request every time we go shopping, I realized something needed to be done. Should I just explain to my kids how bad soda is for their health? They still have a very limited understanding of nutrition. Should I call soda a nasty junk food and announce that it will never be served in our house? Or should I just …gasp!…. buy it?
A few weeks before that
Setting: New Year’e Eve party with a big group of friends. Characters: My kids and a bottle of Fanta. The first encounter with soda. My uneasy feeling when I saw the kids coming back for countless seconds until the bottle was empty. Do not get me wrong, other kids overindulged too, but somehow it seemed that my kids drank more.
In a couple of weeks, begging for soda in the supermarket started. After saying “next time” on a few occasions, I needed to make a decision. And this is how this pack found itself on my kitchen counter.
Why I bought soda?
Do I know about the amount of sugar in soda? Yes, I certainly do.
Do I wish my kids did not like soda? You bet!
Do I fantasize sometimes about living in a country/island/cave where soda, junky pizza, high fructose corn syrup and food dyes simply do not exist? Definitely!
But what truly worries me is not the food my kids are exposed to right now.
The worst part is that my kids are stuck with this crazy food environment for many more years. Just like any other parent, I do not want them to have too much sugar and eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day. But I know that the foremost priority is to equip them with tools that will help them survive in this ocean of extremely palatable, cheap and available 24/7 food and instead learn to manage it in their diet.
What experts say
Thanks to some well known and more recent research, we now know that restricting certain foods cuts their consumption temporarily, but makes them more appealing to kids in the long term. Some researchers consider “covert” restriction (read: do not bring into the house what you do not want your kids to eat) more effective, compared to “overt” restriction, when the food is visible but given out only in controlled amounts. On the other hand, a feeding expert and dietitian I have a very high respect for, Ellyn Satter, recommends not only bringing “forbidden” food in the house but also occasionally letting your kids to have as much of it as they want for a snack.
I used to be an expert in covert restriction with my first child – we just did not bring “treats” in the house and since, as the only child, she barely had exposure to them in other places, she had no idea about them until certain age. Now that the kids are 5 and 8, it is much harder to maintain a pristine food environment at home and pretend that the outside world does not exist.
I felt I needed to adjust my feeding strategy just like I always recommend to other parents in my workshops and private sessions in order to neutralize this highly desirable food. So one day I bought a pack of 6 cans of soda. In accordance with Ellyn Satter’s approach, no soda was allowed between meals (like pretty much anything else except water), it needed to be consumed at a table (again, like all the other food and drinks) and the kids were offered to choose between a soda or a regular dessert we were having that day (I honestly think that anything with added sugar is primarily a dessert, from flavored yogurts to granola bars).
The result of the experiment
Soda drinking continued for exactly two days. The girls savored the precious drink after dinner, but were struggling to finish a whole can each. I decided to not limit them in how much soda they could drink to decrease its lure as quickly as possible. A few days later, we were invited to a friends’s house for dinner where they were offered Sprite. My younger one, who has a huge sweet tooth, almost finished her can, her big sister drank about a cup. None of them asked for more.
We still have two cans of soda sitting in the kitchen cabinet. So far there has been no interest in it or begging for soda in the supermarket. Now that the kids know exactly how it tastes and what it feels like to drink too much the mystery is over and they are visibly less interested.
What I learnt
Lesson 1. I think my kids do not have a habit of soda drinking since they have not seen much of it until recently. Whether or not they will acquire this habit, it is hard to say right now. Many things many change when kids hit teen years and peer pressure comes into picture.
Lesson 2. It is impossible to “unteach” kids to like soda with my little experiment. They will probably drink it quite a few times throughout their life. But I hope I took at least some of the power from this previously forbidden food. I also hope my kids will not feel the urge to finish a gallon of the scarce treat but will instead enjoy a reasonable portion when they feel like it and then move on.
Lesson 3. I will not buy soda every day or even every week but I will sometimes. I will continue providing the kids with wholesome choices most of the time and I will trust them to develop their own food likes and dislikes that may be different from mine. And I will definitely try the healthier home made fizzy drink recipes generously shared by other parents on the Facebook page.
Two days ago, I bought a pack of chocolate-filled crepes from a supermarket…… “Mom, I do not want to hurt your feelings, but they taste better than the whole wheat ones you make at home”. Oh well……