Just before leaving the house at god-awful-o-clock this morning, I filled my travel mug with timer-brewed coffee (bless that timer) and looked around quickly for something to eat while on the drive to Providence.
We were out of trail mix, and nothing was going to be open in town at that hour for me to pop in and grab a bag quickly. Homemade granola would be too messy, and there was no spare time for me to slather peanut butter on a couple of slices of bread, Dinner With Dad-style.
Enter the Pop Tart.
We always have a plentiful supply, because it is Mason’s breakfast staple. When there is no coffee cake, pancakes or cinnamon rolls to be had, he falls back to the Brown Sugar and Cinnamon variety of the breakfast pastry.
This morning, there were two unopened boxes in the cupboard, so I knew one package would not be missed. Out the door I went, coffee mug, Pop Tart, and car keys in hand.
Fast forward two hours. I am southbound on the Acela, and wondering why I am starving before the clock has even struck 7 a.m.
Now I understand why Pop Tarts are not on Harvard Medical School’s list of essential foods. They are more snack than breakfast. That led me to wonder how Mason functions at school with Pop Tarts as his daily breakfast. His metabolism is clearly faster than mine based on age alone, never mind how active he is. He must be hungry by the time he gets on the bus, never mind mid-morning in his classroom.
Brandy and I have been talking a lot lately about the food choices we make for our boys, and empowering them to make healthy choices for themselves when they get older. It’s a tough balance to strike. With Mason in particular, just getting him to eat is the challenge. For lunch, all he wants are Ritz crackers with peanut butter. For dinner? He’d choose chicken nuggets or hot dogs on alternating nights if left to his devices.
We’re actually doing OK on the dinner front. We persevere through a certain amount of grousing on some nights, but for the most part we’ve been successful with alternating chicken, steak, pork, hamburgers and sausage, with only occasional reliance on pizza, grilled cheese and frozen, prepackaged foods. Only one of the boys likes pasta or rice, so side dishes alternate between fresh peppers, carrots and celery; cooked broccoli, green beans or peapods; or fruit. Sometimes we’ll add crescent rolls or freshly baked bread to the mix.
Breakfasts and lunches are entirely different challenges, though, especially during the school year. Mornings are chaotic, and efficiency and conflict minimization probably dictate our choices most often. For lunches, we’re steering more toward packing the kids’ lunches rather than relying on them to fend for themselves in the cafeteria. With Mason in particular, though, that’s daunting. How do we get enough protein in him when he won’t eat sandwiches with deli meat and loathes the thought of tuna or egg salad?
It’s a constant wrestling match, and some days you can’t win. For example, Sam came home on the first day of school with a full lunch box. He decided to eat the chicken patty on the cafeteria menu instead. We sent that lunch box back to school with him the next day, reminding him to eat the packed lunch when provided and not to be tempted by the cafeteria offerings.
It’s enough to make us want to tear out our hair and empty out the school lunch accounts. That doesn’t feel right to us, but it would be effective.
And therein lies the parental nutrition conundrum: What’s right, versus what’s effective. That’s the balance we need to strike.