Food & Drinks, Life

Battling America’s love affair with Goldfish

Sometimes I think America has forgotten real food and has replaced it with little packets of conveniences.

Non-perishable, non-messy, affordable and kids love them – that’s a rare combination, so it’s no wonder that I see kids eating cheesy Goldfish crackers everywhere I go. They are the back-up snack in my kindergartener’s classroom, in case the children forget their own at home. They are the in-class snack at my toddler’s little farmer’s class (which ironically teaches about farm foods). I see kids eating them in the park, at my mosque and practically everywhere I go.

And every time I see a packet of Pepperidge Farm Goldfish Baked Snack Crackers or other factory-manufactured treat, I can’t help but shake my head at how America has forgotten what real food is and has replaced it with little packets of conveniences.

Of course cooking three nutritious meals a day is challenging, especially for working parents. But healthy eating doesn’t always have to be time-consuming. Kitchen gadgets like Crock-Pots, which allow for unattended cooking, and pressure cookers, which speed up the cooking process, have been designed with the busy working parent in mind. Dozens of websites, recipe books and cooking shows today focus on speed cooking, with 20-minute recipes and healthy dorm food suggestions. Fresh fruits, nuts and dairy products always make for ideal, fuss-free snacks.

For me, giving my kids wholesome food is one way of showing my love for them. Just as we want our kids to attend a good school so that they receive a quality education, or we put our kids in sports classes because we want them to excel in some skill, I want my kids to eat well so that they are healthy and disease free. Sure, just as a good education doesn’t guarantee them a place at Harvard, or putting them in soccer classes since the age of 5 doesn’t mean they’ll become the next David Beckham, giving my kids a diet filled with fruits and vegetables doesn’t guarantee them long, healthy lives. But as their mother, I hope to improve their chance of doing so.

It’s not just the long-term effects of our eating habits that are at stake here, but how we feel on a daily basis based on our food choices. It’s about that feel-good factor following a nutritious meal. It’s almost like that feeling of satisfaction when you walk out of the salon with a new haircut or finish up a big spring cleaning session.  It’s as if I’ve done something special for myself and my family by cooking us stir-fried vegetables and wild-caught salmon instead of opening up a packet of Kraft’s mac and cheese or McCain’s chicken nuggets and fries.

[bctt tweet=”It’s not just about health. I want that feel-good factor, too.”]

Over the past 50 years, the American diet has drastically changed, with snacking and convenience becoming the new order of the day. But I’ve found that many immigrant families are still able to enjoy a diet high in real foods – for those of us from the Indian subcontinent, that means homemade chapattis and a wide array of vegetables and lentils. It is important that we pass on these good habits to our future generation instead of substituting in food-like substances to their diet. Otherwise the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of real food will soon be lost. Whether it’s traditional Pakistani aaloo gobi or classic roasted parsnips and brussel sprouts, what matters most is that our kids are eating foods free of additives.

Instead of flavor enhancers, I want my kids to relish the true taste of succulent strawberries, tender spinach and flavorful eggplants. I want them to have an appreciation for the hard-working farmers who harvested the vegetables on their plate. And I want them to choose their foods for its natural taste and benefits, rather than for its colorful packaging, loud advertising or because it comes with a free toy.

My kids have always been very picky eaters, so adopting this lifestyle is no easy task. But building lifelong good eating habits, as advised by our pediatrician, has always been my goal. And when my kids are snacking wisely between meals, they also get the full benefits of a nutritious meal.

Like with most things in life, I’ve found a little bit of planning goes a long way. Packing apples or cashew nuts when we go out means we don’t have to make gas station pit stops and resort to Lays or Chips Ahoy! when the kids are hungry. And taking time on Sunday nights to plan our week’s meals and grocery list saves us from ordering pizza on a busy weeknight. 

[bctt tweet=”A little bit of planning saves you from having to feed your child Chips Ahoy.”]

Last summer we also decided to plant our own vegetable garden. We began by getting gardening books from the library and attended gardening classes. The kids picked out the fruit and vegetables seeds they wanted to grow. They helped me plant, water and nourish the plants. Watching their excitement as they monitored the progress of the plants and ultimately got to pick their own-grown fresh fruits strengthened my resolve not to give in to the temptation of Goldfish.

With all the excessive sodium, sugar and fats, I don’t think my kids miss out by not getting these snacks and microwave meals. Instead, my kids wake up to the smell of their dad’s fresh homemade bread in the mornings. They love helping me bake muffins from scratch and trying out new recipes. They chuckle at the chickens when we collect our farm fresh eggs, and ooh and aah at the green- and blue-colored Ameraucana eggs. And they look forward to spending summer mornings at the farmer’s market, sucking on honey sticks and picking out fresh produce to indulge in that week.