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A Healthy Dose of Junk Food

Here in the age of super-parenting, of overthinking every micro move we make with our kids, and trying to make sure that they grow up sensitive and strong and politically correct and curious and playful and well-mannered and super-educated and basically perfect in every way, it’s no wonder that the whole food thing has spun wildly out of control, too.

Soy milk, organic carrot sticks, free range raisins, free trade ice cream, whatever. Many of us parents have driven hard and fast in the opposite direction from the meals we grew up eating when we were the snot-nosed brats who inherited the earth.

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Thirty-five years ago, I remember my mom and my mom-mom and my pop-pop all staring at me around the Sunday dinner table as they waxed poetically about the extreme nutritional value of roast beef fat.

“Eat the fat,” my mom urged me, eagerly. “It’s the best part!”

“It’s good for you,” mom-mom exclaimed.

I stared at pop-pop as he glared at me over the mountaintop of his ninth can of afternoon beer.

“It’ll put hair on your chest,” he said, flatly, just before he belched.

So, I ate the fat. And, surprise, I got fat, because I ate like that every night, and every morning. After school I pounded Twinkies until I was 14, when I started pounding Marlboro Lights instead.

Still, back then, at least in my neighborhood, people weren’t nearly as concerned with what you put into a child’s body as with how much you could stuff in there. The more you ate, the longer you would probably live, they figured. I don’t know what they based that on, really; probably they based it on the same rough science that had told them that butter and syrup were vegetables.

Times change, though, and now look at us—parents all over the Western world spending a lot of time and energy making sure that nothing nasty or even remotely "bad for you" ever crosses that precious baby’s lips.

We mean well, and I know that.

I am doing just a little bit better than the people who cooked me my meals with love and lard not all that long ago.

Still, I don’t care how much of a foodie parent you have become: When you start taking away the fish sticks and the mashed potatoes and the bowls of instant mac and cheese, in my opinion, you’re ripping your kids off a little.

Kids don’t like kale.

Nobody likes kale.

I eat kale, you eat kale, but kale sucks. Kale tastes like moss scraped off a dead deer’s sun-dried bones.

Some of my best memories growing up were the ones when my little brother and I were gathered in tight around our tiny kid table in the living room, watching The Brady Bunch (yes, watching TV during dinner is horrifically bad! But I still do it and LOVE it!), and then out of nowhere my mom would set down two aluminum TV dinner trays of Salisbury steak and potatoes au gratin and green peas that had, until the last hour, probably been frozen since D-Day.

That was magic right there, man. It really was. You know why?

It’s because it tasted so freaking wonderful (except the peas) that, if I could have, I would have chosen to spend the rest of my life cloaked in that rising veil of hot, wonderful Salisbury steam that slowly wrapped around my 7-year-old face.

When I think about it, my wife and I have done a pretty good job when it comes to feeding our two kids. I know this mainly because they are still both alive and free from scurvy. Plus, neither one of them is fat, which is never a good thing for kids to be, right? Truth is, by the time I was their age, I was already starting my Dom DeLuise phase, so that right there tells me that I am doing just a little bit better than the people who cooked me my meals with love and lard not all that long ago.

My wife and I make our kids good dinners with good food, healthy stuff here, kind of healthy stuff there.

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But, we throw in another kind of healthy, too.

It’s the kind I like to call "healthy dose."

Because maybe it’s just me and the way I was raised, but I still think that very young and impressionable hearts and minds deserve a healthy dose of straight-up sin a couple nights a week.

Deep down in my guts, I still think that there is something to be said for the feeling that I get, standing there, leaning against the kitchen sink, sipping my little glass of 6 p.m. wine, watching the most beautiful smiles in the world coming at me through a hot lasagna mist.

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