What do mothers and teens
fight about? Clothes, curfew, chores,
dating, drinking, driving, friends, homework, hygiene, language, parties, screen
time ... and always, always food.
Eat more. Eat less. Eat healthier. Eat slower. Eat breakfast. Eat with the family. Don’t eat standing in front of the open
refrigerator. Eat a piece of fruit if
you’re hungry. Don’t eat in your
Does any of this—does all of this—sound familiar?
Food has been a
battleground in our house for as long as I can remember. I want Lizzie to think about what she puts in
her mouth but not obsess about it (as in eating disorder). I want her to eat well, to respect her body
by feeding it with fresh, nutritious food. Is that so much to ask?
If you live with a teen,
you know this. And you probably know,
firsthand, what various pollsters have discovered when asking American teens about
the foods they love to eat. Their
favorite foods—this involves
stretching the definition of food—are pizza, French fries, chips, soda and ice cream. (Yes, that’s right: fat,
fat, fat, sugar, and fat and sugar.)
The battle over food is not
as simple as mom vs. teen—not that that’s
simple, but at least it’s clear-cut. Moms like me (and you) who want their teens to eat well are doing battle
against the entire fast-food culture aided and abetted by the $4.2 billion
spent advertising junk food. But it’s
not just the evil 21st century Mad
Men (and women) who are turning our kids from melon to Mountain Dew. It’s the unintentional collusion of well-intentioned folks: the Girl Scouts selling their cookies, Campfire with its
candy sales, the high school track team pizza parties, the cupcake fundraisers,
the vending machines.
What’s a poor
salad-spinning, chicken breast-baking, broccoli-wokking mother to do?
I don’t know what you do,
but I nag. I make good food and I
nag. I keep the cupboards relatively
free of junk and I nag. I drive by the
drive-throughs and I nag. Actually, I
don’t nag. I use these golden arches
sightings as “teaching moments.” Possibly worse than nagging.
It’s my sacred responsibility (isn’t it?) to raise the healthiest child I can. So what if she hates me for it.
There’s this cliché about
“picking your fights.” I’ve thrown in
the towel on a lot of things, but I’ve drawn the line on food. This is one fight I’m sticking with. It’s my sacred responsibility (isn’t it?) to raise
the healthiest child I can. So what if
she hates me for it? (And sneaks Cheetos in her room anyway.)
And now, a word from the teenage daughter:
If I were stranded on a desert island with only two food
items, I'd hope they would be a jalepeño cheese bagel (and cream cheese) and
Punch Gatorade. That’s if there were a
toaster (and electricity) on this desert island, as an untoasted bagel is not
worth eating. If I could get anything to
stock my own kitchen with, it would be: macaroni and cheese, frozen cheese
pizza, cheese quesadillas, Cheez-its, Cheetos, cheese puffs. Do you see a
You can imagine that this all takes place in an alternate
universe where calories don’t count—and where my mother does not exist. But in the universe I happen to live in, our
fridge is stocked with vegetables, fruit, yogurt and milk. And our freezer has ice packs, not ice cream.
Life is tough for a cheese-loving girl like me. Especially at dinner time, which we all eat together, and have to agree
on together. Among the fights we have
over food are battles over fish (any and all varieties), zucchini, sweet
potatoes, mushrooms, salads or the fancy French or Indian meals my mom concocts
from time to time. I’d rather be
upstairs in my room with my drive-through Taco Bell.
And that's sometimes what I can do now that I have my own
car. For breakfast I can go get coffee
and a cream cheese Danish. For lunch:
burritos, burgers or pizza washed down with Red Bull. For dinner (when I can escape the sit-down
dinner at home), it’s burritos, burgers or pizza and, instead of Red Bull, I
mix it up with a RockStar. OK. I’m not really all that bad all the
time. Sometimes I have a fruit protein
smoothie for breakfast. For lunch or
dinner I might have sushi or a turkey sandwich and a glass of juice. I can’t tell you how nice it is to have
this freedom from my mother who is constantly pestering me about healthy-this
and low-fat that.
She may be a pain in the you-know-where, but I have to admit
that I have picked up a few good habits from her. Like drinking water throughout the day. Like eating breakfast. Like reading labels (even though I happily
ignore them!). And there are actually a
few healthy things she pushed on me that, once I tried them, I liked. I like tofu. I like green beans. I like herbal
tea. I hope she doesn’t get her hopes
up, though. I’m still a cheese girl.