What we feed our children says a lot about us. Some equate sugary foods with love, and ply their kids with cake and sweets to make them happy. Some see the news about sugar being a causal factor in many health conditions, and keep their children sugar-free, so they’ll grow up healthy. But are we too entrenched in either mindset, and is there a point where ‘happy’ meets ‘healthy’ on the VENN diagram of children’s nutrition?
One woman on Reddit’s notorious ‘Am I The Asshole?’ thread wants to know if she’s being unreasonable because she’s angry with a friend who allowed her son to have cake. Let’s look at the context: her son is eight years old, not a toddler who wouldn’t care either way about the cake. He is at his friend’s birthday party where, presumably, everyone is eating cake. The son has no allergies or conditions like diabetes, and the cake is homemade, so mercilessly free of artificial additives, which are arguably worse for you than the sugar.
Predictably, the Reddit responses agree that, yes, she is the asshole. ‘God forbid your son experience a moment of joy and celebration,’ says one. ‘I say let them eat cake,’ adds another.
I actually have some sympathy for this overbearing mother. As a person with an interest in nutrition, I know sugar (or, actually, glucose spikes caused by refined sugar) can be hugely detrimental to your health. And, as someone who was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, I have sat through an NHS-run evidence-based nutrition session, during which they showed a graphic of exactly how glucose spikes turn healthy cells into cancer cells. If that’s put you off your afternoon Snickers then I won’t tell you what they said about alcohol; it will ruin tonight’s wine.
So, yes, I don’t like to see my kids eating sugar-packed foods. But other key elements of a healthy lifestyle are friendship, community, fun and inclusion. I would never tell my seven-year-old son he can’t have cake at a friend’s birthday party, because I wouldn’t want him to be a social outcast. For the same reason, I don’t make a fuss about school dinners, where they have custard or ice cream as dessert every single day. Also, I think it’s unhelpful to demonise any particular food. As another Reddit user added: ‘Lifelong eating disorder haver here. Not being allowed any “junk” foods just made me crave it all the more.’
So I try to normalise eating healthily at home - my kids know that it’s important to eat a wide variety of fruit and veg, as well as wholegrains, nuts and seeds. We focus on the good things to have more of, not whatever we would ideally be eating less of. Outside of the home, my priority is their happiness. And so, if they’re at a friend’s birthday party, I’d be inclined to agree: let them eat cake.