Cheerio Craziness and Froot Loop Follies

Photo Credit: Zanastardust on Flickr

Some kids eat plain Cheerios for breakfast.  Some kids are allowed to eat Froot Loops.  The Cheerios kids look at the chemically-colored-sugar-bomb set and wish their moms were more lenient.  The Froot Loop crowd is so hopped up on high fructose corn syrup that they can’t think straight, but after they have grown up maybe they ride the pendulum to the opposite extreme and only feed THEIR kids breakfast disks made from organic dandelion greens and mung bean sprouts.

You know the accepted wisdom: if you keep your kid from sugar cereals, when he goes to college he’ll make healthy choices.  Except we all know the kid who got to the dining hall and went completely nuts at the all-you-can-eat sugar cereal dispenser.  Maybe you were that kid.

I’m sure you can think of children from strict families who turned out great, and kids from strict families who totally bombed.  Likewise you probably know kids from lenient families that became swell adults and children from lenient families that are trainwrecks.  When it comes to parenting, I think it’s dangerous to be too prescriptive.  Outward conformity doesn’t necessarily indicate a heart that’s in the right place.

As a parent who grew up in a Cheerio household, took a detour into Froot Loop territory, then came back to the Cheerio crowd, I wonder what I ought to be doing with respect to my own kids.  I’ve only been parenting a little over four years, but I’ve been pondering this issue much longer.  These are the things I’ve come up with, but I’d love to hear what you do, especially if you do something totally different:

  • I try not to make my answers “Because I said so.” Sometimes when kids are young they need to know that no means no and obey means right now with no back talk, but I also think it’s important for even very small children to begin to learn the reasons we live how we live and say what we say.  If my main defense is “because I said so” then I’m not giving my child a lot to stand on when he finds out that other parents don’t say anything of the sort.
  • Get to the root. Just as “because I said so” isn’t a great response to why you eat Cheerios, “because it’s healthy” isn’t much more helpful.  What does being healthy mean?  Why do you think it’s important to be healthy?  Why are Cheerios a good means to healthiness?  What happens when you eat sugar cereal?  Why is that not a good alternative?  What about Froot Loop eaters who appear healthy, and why do some Cheerio eaters seem unhealthy?  I am not as consistent at this as I’d like to be, but I am trying to make sure that I address the root of the issues that come up with my kids.  It’s hard, and I can’t imagine how much harder it is as your kids get older.
  • Be mindful of what example I’m setting. Are some laws negotiable?  Are there flexible codes of conduct?  Are some things true in one context but not another?  I’ve been thinking about how what my kids see me do and how they see me act are more important than what they hear me say.  How about following the speed limit?  So your kid grows up his whole life seeing Mom and Dad violate traffic laws and rarely get caught or suffer any ill effects, what does that teach him about other laws that people seem to view as optional?  Oh, but I only go 5 miles over the limit, I tell myself.  But what’s the difference really?
  • Accept that I am not a puppet master. Even if I could teach my kids all the right lessons and give them all the right tools, in the end they will still be individuals.  Sometimes they make good choices and sometimes they make bad choices and I don’t control their hearts.  Although it’s hard for me to live this out since I have a tendency to want to be in control, ultimately I think you have to do the best you can, pray for your kids, and trust that God is sovereign.

Obviously this concept has a wider and deeper applicability than choice of breakfast cereals. One of my main struggles in parenting little children is identifying what it is most important to focus on, and how to deal with the root cause rather than the surface issue.  Going through our habits of character list and verses has helped me think of ways to apply Scripture to daily situations, but I’m far from consistent.

How do you (or how did your parents, if you don’t have your own kids) prepare your children to make good choices?  Where do you fall on the strict vs. not-so-strict continuum and why?

7 thoughts on “Cheerio Craziness and Froot Loop Follies

  1. My mom fed us organic cheerios that never softened in milk no matter how long you let them soak… and I can’t remember how many times she’d say, “because it’s good for you”. I never understood why she made us eat that way, and did expand my horizons when I was on my own. However I’m finding myself as a mom slowly morphing into my mom in regards to food.

    In an effort to stop that I’ve started just having fun and letting all caution go to the wind on certian occasions. We eat very healthy for the most part… but some days we eat froot loops in the living room and get crumbs all over and it’s ok. My mom never did that with us and I think it would have made things alot more tollerable.

    And I agree that this has to do with so many more areas than diet… but this is the one area my mom was so extreem in and the one area I find myself suffering in.

  2. I was the child whose mother’s early health food enforcement led me to a junk food rebellion of sorts in college and, yea, to this very day. Growing up, we ate home-made granola, yogurt and bread, “dessert” was applesauce with raisins and cinnamon, and we gave all but two pieces of our Halloween candy to the garbage men each year to enjoy on their route. My first memory of being different was when I went to a friend’s house to play and her mom asked me if I wanted Cheetos or Fritos to eat with my sandwich for lunch. What strange foods were these, I wondered? My friend laughed at me. That stung.
    By high school, I was hoarding my babysitting money to buy candy bars in the school vending machines, and by college, all nutritional bets were absolutely off.
    My mom, in retrospect, claims that she tried to be very health-conscious with us because her own mother was a junk food junkie. Chocolate was served at every meal. My mom had 6 cavities by the age of 7 and many more later in her permanent teeth. She “rebelled” by turning to whole grains and yoga.
    I have no wish to push healthy eating to an extreme with my own children, nor do I want to laden them with sweets. We eat high-fructose corn syrup probably daily, but not in excess. If the M&M’s are on sale, I buy them. Ditto with Frosted Flakes and those god-awful Disney shaped Fruit Snacks. And, by golly, my children DO know what Fritos and Cheetos are (even though I loathe Cheetos with a passion for the orangey residue they leave on my white sofa that I claim not to care about.)

    Parenting is a fine line to walk. We pick our battles carefully, and food is not one of them!

  3. I have always explained to my son exactly why we eat the things that we eat at home and other foods, McDonald’s Fruit Loops etc. are “treats”. I’ve always talked to him about eating a “rainbow” of fruits/veggies, and healthy choices. I think the key is to eat the good stuff too.

    My son is 7 and I honestly have no trouble with him eating healthy. Last week Captain Crunch was on sale and I bought a box (I don’t allow that for breakfast but rather a crunchy snack) and although my son was gung-ho at first, I threw half the box away. Another example is at school. He goes to public school and I always pack his lunch. One day (halfway through kindergarten) he said that some kids asked why he never buys lunch. I said that he is welcome to buy lunch and we went over the menu together. He decided to buy pizza. He never bought lunch again and said that his home lunches were better.

    I think the key is to not be too strict about food but to present it realistically. McDonald’s is junk food plain and simple, it doesn’t mean you’ll never get it, it just means you won’t all the time.

    Of course I have no clue how this will be in the future but my son has been eating really well for 7 years and I have a 16 month old who eats really well also. Time will tell but at least I know even at 7 he knows what foods he should eat!!

  4. This is interesting. I feel like I’m on my way to striking a balance in good choices and character – parenting is such a process, isn’t it? I think it involves a lot of “choices” and gentle correction. Little ones need to practice choosing what they will do, then living with their decision. So I’ve learned to give them options (always choices that I am actually okay with them choosing) and let them go with it. It can take longer, but it is really worth it.

    I also think that modeling good behavior and talking through conversations and/or events, before and after, is important. And admitting when I’ve made a mistake – that’s a big one.

    Another thing that I have been doing recently, because I want to model flexibility and live that way, is to tell them that, if they don’t like something that I’ve asked them to do, or whatever, they can tell me how they feel about it. Sometimes I say things, then reconsider and realize I was too harsh. I want to be open to change and to make them understand that rather than being sneaky or doing things with a bad attitude, we can work through them. I think it provides a good opportunity for problem solving as well as a chance to talk through “why” I am asking them to do it. Most of the time, the request stands the same; other times, I reconsider and adjust. It has been interesting and I like where it is leading.

    I’ve also been walking them through verbally dealing with their interactions with each other vs. screaming, howling, or grabbing. It has been going very well, and it is so much better than the alternative. I want them to learn how to deal with problems productively vs. mom jumping in or duking it out.

    Re: breakfast cereals. I know the topic at hand is much broader than cheerios vs. fruit loops, BUT. I just can’t resist. In our house, we don’t eat either. Because, honestly, they are the exact same thing — and the only “nutritional value” present has been added back in, i.e. “enriched”. I worked at a bread factory during college and that “enrichment”? It’s a big white lump that they through in with the dough as it is being mixed.

    I don’t buy processed foods or keep them in my house. I want my children raised eating real, whole foods. Delicious foods. I want them to know what good food is, and be able to recognize the junk for what it is. “Junk” is more than just candy or pop or processed sugared cereals. I am going to whip my competition silly. Huah! And, in case anyone thinks I’m nuts, this includes nourishing desserts. We just had homemade ice cream with chocolate chips after lunch today. And it was faaaaabulous.

    My mother also fed us from scratch in my early years; I am so thankful for that backbone, the know-how that it can be done, and that it left a lasting mark on my psyche and palate. Sustaining, nourishing food is important. We are what we eat. And, most importantly, as parents we are training our children’s palates and eating habits.

    Ahem… *stepping off my soapbox*

    Thanks, Catherine. Your kids’ Easter outfits are the cutest! I hope we’ll get to see some pictures of them romping around in them.

    1. I’d be interested to hear more about how you talk your kids through reacting to each other without screaming/grabbing/etc – I need to work on that with some of my kids.

      Regarding breakfast cereals, I actually don’t feed my kids Cheerios either. I was going for a metaphor but evidently it didn’t work out because people stopped on the breakfast cereal point! 🙂 I get cereal when it’s nearly free as an occasional treat, but we mostly have oatmeal or eggs and fruit around here, with occasional whole wheat pancakes.

      When I was growing up, though, Cheerios eaters were from strict families and Froot Loop eaters were the lenient families. Not that eating healthy is always part of being a strict family or vice versa, it’s just the metaphor that came to mind.

      1. The talk-through: I started working on this after observing another mom doing it.

        My boys are four and two. Whatever the situation is, whether it is just beginning or has blown-up, I stop them, ask what is happening, then instruct them what they SHOULD be doing/saying to each other. I literally have them repeat after me, so they are working it out “themselves” under my direction. It has been really interesting; and successful, I would say. I feel really good about it, like we are actually getting somewhere.

        We have gotten far enough that I can intercede and say, “What SHOULD you be saying?”, then ask them to say it to each other. They know what to say, say it, and the situation usually resolves.

        Parenting feels like it should be “built-in”, but really . . . it is such a learning curve.

  5. I think what other commenters have said about allowing some special times for throwing caution to the wind really helps to combat the feelings of weirdness or restrictiveness of being disciplined in eating habits or movie watching or things like that. But that strategy breaks down I guess when you into things like curfews. I remember my friends telling me that my mom was strict because she wouldn’t let me do things that they were allowed to do but I seemed to get over it pretty easily. And looking back, I don’t think she was that strict.

    The “because I said so” thing made me laugh because we are in the “why?” stage with Dylan and after the 10th “why?” I’ve been just pulling out the “because I said so.” I know he’s just trying to understand his world. He often asks the same thing over and over and I give him the same answer over and over again. Sometimes we tell him something and he says “no” and we have to tell him “don’t dispute” (see ABC Bible Verses book for “D”) but I hope that I’m not giving him the impression that he doesn’t have any choices or individuality and that I’m being careful to only say that in things that are non-negotiable.

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