I have a list of shoulds about a mile long. I should read more with my kids. I should limit their screen time. I should be practicing math facts more often, cleaning the toilets more often, waxing my eyebrows more often. Should should should.
Topping the list of shoulds these days: Eat more healthfully. Our pantry should have fewer chips and more granola. Our fridge should have less cheese and more apples. Our dinners should have less pizza and more quinoa.
Well, you know what I think? Fuck the shoulds and the quinoa too.
Dinner tonight — like most weeknights — was a hodgepodge of leftovers and odds and ends from the pantry. My husband and kids had cheeseburgers; I ate a black bean burger. We munched on baby carrots. I sliced an about-to-turn-brown avocado and some tomatoes. And then, to top it all off, I ate a half a bag of barbecue kettle chips.
I know our dinner violated just about every should on the list, and there are people shaking their fingers at me or smugly patting themselves on the back for their more virtuous meals and Eating Habits. But you know what? I don’t really care.
Most of what our family eats is (sort of) healthy, and our family is relatively active. My husband and I both exercise daily (or almost daily), and our kids spend their time swimming, playing sports, and riding their bikes around the neighborhood. We are, for the most part, healthy.
We also really like Junk food.
Try as we might, that isn’t likely to change anytime soon — regardless of how many people tell me that coconut water is the fountain of youth, kale will give me superpowers, and açaí berries are little beads of magic. That’s because Junk Food does something those superfoods don’t: It makes me really freaking happy.
Honestly, I don’t know if I can hang with someone whose idea of a treat is a brownie made with prunes and who doesn’t binge on Oreos every now and then. We’re just not speaking the same language. A few years ago, I was at a friend’s house and noticed that she had a bowl of Halloween candy on her kitchen counter. We weren’t talking scraps like SweeTarts and rock-hard Laffy Taffy either; the bowl was filled with Nestlé Crunch bars and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Kit Kats, and Butterfingers. You know, the good stuff.
Since it was late November, I was astounded. What kind of person can keep a bowlful of candy uneaten for a month? Who was this unicorn woman who could look at a bowl of Peanut Butter Cups and Kit Kats all day long without binging on chocolate? I couldn’t understand. She was probably one of those women who wore her pre-pregnancy jeans home from the hospital too.
Needless to say, I am not one of these women.
Look, I try to eat healthy — really I do. I make sure that my kids’ plates include something that was purchased from the produce section of the grocery store (whether they actually eat the offered fruit or vegetable is a different question entirely), and since I’m vegetarian, by definition, my Diet includes a fair amount of vegetables — along with a whole lot of cereal and potato chips.
My diet these days can best be described as simple carbs and hope. Every once in a while, my husband and I will talk about doing better with our list of shoulds. He’ll comment that he’s worried the kids’ eating habits are slipping into the unhealthy range, and I will panic — not necessarily because I’m worried about my kids whining and complaining about a more healthful diet, but because most of the whines and complaints will come from me.
We all know moderation is key — balance and all that. So sometimes I plan out healthy meals, and sometimes we go through the McDonald’s drive-thru and I sneak-eat cookie dough in the bathroom. Parenting is hard, y’all. And I’m tired.
Junk food might not be a superfood, but it sure as hell has superpowers. Because a spoonful of cookie dough tastes a lot like a hug and pep talk wrapped into a spoonful of sugary goodness. A fluffernutter sandwich tastes like childhood innocence. A frozen Kit Kat bar tastes like a pat on the back. French fries dipped in ice cream Taste like rebellious independence. And on the really tough days, a bowl of Doritos tastes a lot like fuck this shit.
Quite frankly, a world without junk food, chocolate, and candy is a world that I don’t want to live in. After surviving an eating disorder that sucked every ounce of joy out of food for several years, I fully appreciate the importance of enjoying food. Yes, even a little (or sometimes a lot of) junk food.
Of course, I want my kids to learn healthy eating habits, and I try to model a healthy-ish lifestyle. But I also want them to know the joy of chocolate melted on their tongues and fingers stained orange from Cheetos. And quite frankly, there are more important things in my parenting priority list than maintaining a diet free from trans fats, Red 40, and GMO anything. Sometimes you gotta pick your battles, cut yourself some slack, and ignore the shoulds. When you’ve got limited fucks left to give, a junk food-free diet is one of the first things to go. Not to mention the fact that I don’t want to hide in the bathroom every time I want to eat a Chewy Chips Ahoy! cookie (or five). I’d rather rip open the bag with my kids and enjoy them together.
I admit, my family and I could stand to eat a bit more healthfully. I’m trying; we’re all trying. But life is short, parenting is hard, and you better fucking believe I pass out a Pop-Tarts and Eggo waffles when we’re racing out the door in the morning to save everyone’s sanity.
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