Limited Options Help Us (and our kids) Live Healthier Lives
Guest writer- Marian Flaxman
When my daughter was 3, we went shopping at our local Ikea. For a kid with gluten intolerance and life threatening food allergies, lunch can be hard to come by in a cafeteria style cafe like Ikea’s, but she got hungry so we decided to check it out. After much searching, we discovered that the only definitely safe food option was steamed vegetables. Broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, and peas filled her plate, and she gobbled them up happily. As she gobbled, an older man stopped by our table to gawk. “Oh my gosh,” he exclaimed with confusion, “how do you get her to eat vegetables?”
I wasn’t quite sure how to answer the question, so I just said “I don’t know. She likes them, and she *can* eat them, so she does.” She had limited options, so she always appreciated the options that she did have, and we always presented healthy, whole foods as something delicious that the whole family enjoyed. There was no “eat your veggies or you won’t get any ice cream”. Her life was simply about enjoying the food that was put in front of her.
If my first child had been born without food allergies, I might have fallen into the trap of the “kids meal”, but lucky for me, her condition forced me to learn to cook, and to feed her real food. Now, with my second child, there are no allergies AND no kids meals. My 16 month old eats what everyone else is eating. She loves rice and beans, coconut, pineapple, avocado, and many other, stranger things. Tonight for dinner, she shared my salad- crunchy romaine lettuce with jalepeno-lime dressing, red onions, avocado, tomatoes, and roasted chicken. She enjoyed it, and when I asked her if she wanted more “crunchies” (aka romaine lettuce), she gleefully nodded “yes”.
Our culture is obsessed with the idea of limitless options, perhaps especially when it comes to food. Build your own sandwich, choose your pizza toppings, have it your way; we are stuffed with the message that endless variety is good. At the same time, we see more and more kids struggling with their weight, and fighting with their parents about food. I once watched a friend of mine cook a separate “kids meals” of macaroni and cheese for her child, only to watch 95% of it end up in the garbage. Is that mom luckier than me because her kid doesn’t have food allergies? I think most people would say yes, but I certainly don’t feel that way. Am I luckier than her because my kid will eat vegetables without crying? I guess that just depends how you look at it.
The man at Ikea was not an isolated observer. In my eight years of feeding my children real food, I’ve gotten many comments. Generally, people are just surprised and want to know my secret, but the secret is, there is no secret. My children eat what they eat because they are able to eat it. Why is my toddler eating vegetables? Because she can. Why do my children eat the same thing as the rest of the family instead of grilled cheese and chicken nuggets for every meal? Because they can. There is beauty in the simplicity.
When people go gluten free, there is often a big focus on what they *can’t* have anymore. No more limitless options. No more build your own pizza. No more grabbing a pastry whenever, wherever, and however you want. But the thing is- who wants that? It’s not healthy for our bodies, and that sort of endless ability to consume without question is totally not healthy for our minds. There are children in other cultures who eat rice and beans every day, and not because they are gluten free. Those children will be happy to be eating anything at all. In that same spirit, I hope that my daughters are grateful to be showered with an abundance of fresh, healthy, gluten free food. Do they have unlimited options? No. Will they ever know what a Cinnabon tastes like? Thank goodness, no. But for us, I have found that with some limits come simplicity, clarity, and ultimately, more joy. When you have fewer options, you appreciate your options more, and what could be bad about that?