Ready for a brave confession?
I am anti-goldfish.
Everywhere children are present, seemingly every play date my daughter and I attend, every picnic, every diaper bag, these little munchable monsters are invading, and I sometimes feel pretty helpless to stop their plans of taste bud domination.
Over-reacting you say? Those cute smiley fish are a processed food containing 10% of an adult’s daily suggested sodium intake in one serving. They are low in sugar, offer some protein and are free of preservatives last I checked, so it’s true there are plenty of things on the market that would be worse for our kids. But just because something is acceptable doesn’t make it ideal, and there are so many alternative snacks to offer our children to help them expand, rather than limit, their scope of foods that register on the happy mouth radar. Fresh fruit, smoothies, mini sandwiches, cooked sushi, hummus, quiche bites, tortilla pinwheels…let’s make it a goal to get more creative when it comes to offering snacks!
A mom reminded me at a play date today (where my daughter kept asking for more and more goldfish) that kids want what other kids eat. Every parent knows this is pretty much a guarantee — your child will try to steal whatever the other kids are eating around him. It made me realize that one of the reasons Ella, 27 months old, is not a picky eater is because she rarely eats communally with other children outside of snack time. At home and at restaurants she eats what we eat and we order off the adult menu for her. I don’t want to deprive her (okay, I DO want to deprive her of junk-food), and I do let her have a few handfuls of goldfish when they are around, but I do it grudgingly. Don’t get me wrong — I do willingly and happily offer my daughter treats on a fairly regular basis. She went trick-or-treating this year and tasted a lollipop for the first time (the rest of the candy never made it out of their wrappers and she never missed it). She grew accustomed to little nibbles of homemade fudge or cookies on a nearly daily basis at Christmas time. We order pizza from time to time (pizza in Chicago is not to be missed after all), and I love how excited my daughter gets sharing a cup of gelato with me using those dainty little spoons.
The real point of this rant is not just that goldfish are lacking in nutrition to make it a suitable daily snack; it’s that we parents are missing an opportunity to serve nutritious foods to our children in the company of their peers. Play dates are the perfect time for them to form positive attitudes toward healthy snacks and to learn to accept variety in their diets! Serving the same cracker day after day after day suggests to a child that it’s okay to want salty junk food all the time, and that it’s not unreasonable to expect the exact same food every time they’re hungry. If we put extra effort and forethought into what we are buying and preparing for those malleable taste buds when foods are first being introduced, chances are we’ll save ourselves a lot of arguments as the toddler becomes a potentially picky eater.
My heart sinks just a little every time I enter a house and see the ubiquitous goldfish bowl. The damn fish just stare up at me with that knowing, triumphant smile. “Go ahead,” they say, “try to explain to your toddler that a happy, brightly colored fish that delivers crunchy bliss should be passed up for the hummus”. It might be a losing battle, but I’m not done fighting it yet.