My daughter and I were hosting a pool party — and by pool party, I definitely mean it was just the two of us, and one of my girlfriends who brought along her five kids. I'd created a spread of healthy snacks, including raw veggies, bananas and kale dip for whole wheat crackers. A "Mom of the Year" award was in my future.
Then, my friend waltzed in with her gaggle of children, ripped open a mega-sized bag of chicken nuggets and nuked them in the microwave. The kids cycled through for a heaping helping of machine-separated chicken parts, and I watched in horror as my kale dip went untouched. My horror melted away, though, when I saw the kids having a blast in the pool, without spending an inordinate amount of time worrying about their vitamins and minerals. Then I tried a chicken nugget for myself, and said to my friend, "Damn, woman, these nuggets rock!" I threw the kale dip in the trash and returned to the land of the living.
The Day of the Nuggets is important, because it's the day I came to terms with the fact that my daughter loves junk food, because junk food is delicious. I'm finished feeling ashamed about it, too. Every freakin' day, my daughter will choose chicken nuggets over homemade gazpacho. Because, duh. It's not because of a parenting failure.
Unfortunately, I spent too many years of my adolescence and young adulthood with an abiding shame about my food choices. My mom didn't allow junk food in our house. If I wanted a treat as a child, I'd sneak to the fridge and literally eat butter. By college, I wavered between binge-eating the delicious junk food that was suddenly available, and dousing spinach with yellow mustard because it had fewer calories than real salad dressing. The result of banning junk food as a kid was my adulthood's wildly unhealthy and childlike relationship with food.
As my girl grows into her own woman, I will encourage healthy eating habits by offering healthy options and by modeling my own (now) healthy relationship with food. I won't encourage good habits by banning the foods she finds most delicious. My hope is that she'll enjoy her delicious chicken nuggets as an adult, while tempering her fervor with equally-delicious fruits, veggies and whole grains. Moderation, parents. It's what we're here to teach — junk food included.
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