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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Monday's Menu: Just a Spoonful of Sugar

I have two potential leads for today’s blog post: Lead A: New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has recently proposed a ban on large sodas and other sugary drinks, which could take effect as early as March of next year. “Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh this is terrible.’ New York City is not about writing your hands; it’s about doing something,” said Bloomberg in a recent interview.

Lead B: I walked into Camille’s classroom last Friday morning and set down, next to the trays of croissants and pains au chocolat, the breakfast cereal, juice, and milk I’d been asked to bring for their class breakfast. I stacked Special K, Frosted Flakes, Rice Krispies, and Fruit Loops: guilt rose in my throat.

Lead A is so perfectly distant. Let’s talk New York City, okay? Lead B is the story I’d rather not tell, especially to my friend, L____, who reads here and has made it her mission to make the food served at our children’s school healthy and nutritious. What will she say when I admit I served Fruit Loops to a class of eight-year-olds for breakfast?

L____ and I talked this past Saturday night at our neighborhood picnic, music blaring in the background, DJ’s telling kids to, “slide to the left, slide to the right.” For as long as I’ve known L____, I’ve known that she doesn’t eat either sugar or flour. Which isn’t to say that she’s impossibly severe and stern-faced, wagging fingers at those of us who do our fair share of indulging in both. However, she is committed to healthy choices for her family, and she’s also committed to food education in schools.

L____ tells me about her recent efforts to work with other parents from our children’s school to plan a menu for the middle school dance, which will be held from 4:30-6:30. How about fruit kabobs? she suggests. A quesadilla bar? And no, the kids don’t need cupcakes and cookies, she adamantly asserts.

She tells of the looks she receives from the other parents, the ones where they grimace at the apparent snakes slithering out of her scalp. They’re not convinced. “But this is a special dance, and it’s ok for their to have a small treat,” they contend. L____ doesn’t swallow the whole treat argument. She counters that these kids are getting treats every day.

But the mother in charge of the whole affair stammers, “But I just don’t want everyone to remember the dance that, ‘Johnny’s mother hosted,’ as the one that really sucked.”

That woman should have known she was barking for sympathy up the wrong tree.

If there is one thing I like about L____ (and there are many things I like and admire), it’s the sense that she is unapologetically principled. If she believes in something as right and good, she’s unafraid to defend it, no matter what conclusions you’ll draw about her.

And so, talking with L____ got me thinking about our sugar consumption around here. If you know our family, you know we eat generally healthy. I suppose “healthy” is a relative term, but because I enjoy cooking and because we believe in the value of gathering our family around a table, we’re maybe more naturally inclined toward healthier choices. Not to mention I grew up with a mother who banned soda and sugar cereals and generally cooked nutritious meals for the family: I have a history of healthy choices behind me for which I am grateful.

But what about our sugar consumption? How much were we really eating? I’d say we probably eat dessert two, maybe three times a week. I’d thought that was moderate. But I started to consider the hidden sources of sugar in our home, in things as innocuous as the bread we eat (not to mention the not-so-innocent sources, like juice and syrup). Consider that 5 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon of sugar. Now, picture your sugar bowl on the table, and dole out the allotted sugar into the food you’re consuming.

Pour yourself a cup of coffee, and add 1 tablespoon of your flavored creamer: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Pour yourself two small bowls of Rice Krispies: 2 spoonfuls of sugar

Toast two slices of your favorite cinnamon raisin bread: 3 spoonfuls of sugar.

Eat one small container of flavored yogurt: 2 ½ spoonfuls of sugar.

Hello, and that’s just breakfast?

We had a conversation last night with the kids about sugar: why is it bad for you? And if it’s really bad for you, what’s a reasonable amount to be eating? Little people have terrific sense: they draw their own smart conclusions.

Ryan and I reminded them that as their parents, our job is to make the tough decisions for their well-being, decisions they are very likely to resist, decisions that may be very unlike the choices that most other people make. Doing the right thing always feels like swimming upstream, against the current. But if you care more about doing what’s right, and less about what other people may think, that’s real courage in the making.

Heck, when you take your children to the doctor’s or dentist’s office and they leave with a lollipop in their hand, what further evidence do we need that we’ve gone pretty far off course in terms of our sense about sugar?

Here’s your challenge: look at the sugar in your diet. Are there small ways you can begin reducing your sugar consumption? Around here, we’ve decided to:

  1. Stop eating breakfast cereal. (This was an especially easy afternoon snack. The onus is now on me to figure out healthier alternatives.)
  2. Eat dessert one time a week. (L____ will not agree with me on this one, but for now, I think this is a step in the right direction of moderation.)
  3. Treat fruit as a sweet treat.
  4. Make more homemade bread. (This is an easy way to eliminate hidden sugars. I’ve just recently bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, and yesterday was the first batch I mixed. I do think it’s as easy as five minutes a day to make your own bread!)
  5. Eliminate sweet snacks like cereal bars and dried fruit.

Just a spoonful of sugar. . .