a pink and a green scoop of ice cream on a cone, being held up by a hand against a blue sky
Worried about your kids health? Calm down. Some ice cream now again won't kill them. (Photo/Pexels-Jean Balzan CC0)

Doing everything right? Take a sweeter approach to parenting

As a new mother, I desperately wanted to do everything “right.” I was determined not to take any shortcuts, especially when it came to feeding my kids.

When they were little, I’d bake them muffins and add flax seeds to the batter because flax seeds have Omega 3 fatty acids, which help to prevent heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. I used healthier alternative flours (such as whole wheat, barley, buckwheat, millet and spelt) instead of white flour because these flours are richer in nutrients. I would cut the recipe’s sugar amount in half because I didn’t want the kids to consume too much sugar.

I used to make applesauce with the skins because most store-bought sauce leaves them out. In addition to fiber, the skin contains vitamins A and C, calcium, phosphorus, folate and iron. I made my own pasta sauce and salad dressing because most store-bought brands contain sugar. Same goes for store-bought pizza, so I made dough and sauce from scratch.

I nursed my babies even though in the beginning it was painful and difficult. Babies who are nursed are supposed to have fewer ear infections, fewer colds and flus, a decreased risk of asthma and many more health benefits, too many too list here.

If our kids ate only healthy food, I thought they would get sick less often, they would get good grades, be well-balanced children and have fewer tantrums. Maybe with a steady diet of kale and quinoa they’d be able to solve complex math problems in preschool.

I felt inadequate when I couldn’t live up to the stringent food standards I had set for myself, when feeding the kids only nutritious foods turned out to be more complicated than I thought.

I ate albacore tuna throughout my first pregnancy and then was cautioned to eat it only occasionally during my second pregnancy, because it was found to have higher levels of mercury.

And when the babies were born, I didn’t make enough milk and had to substitute with formula, which made me feel I wasn’t fortifying my kids the best I could.

I raised the kids on rice, but then the FDA claimed rice has trace amounts of arsenic. The messages on meat confused me, too; I think we are supposed to eat less of it, but as our kids grow, they are hungry and crave lots of different kinds of protein-rich meat.

And the kids turned out to have colds, lots of them. One child had a respiratory virus as a baby, croup on and off for years and eczema. When they were toddlers, they had their fair share of tantrums, which did not, interestingly enough, correspond to when they ate cupcakes with sugar listed as the first ingredient and white flour as the second. And as far as school went, they learned how to read and write and mastered their multiplication tables alongside all the other children.

Thankfully, I’ve learned to balance what I read and hear with what makes practical sense to me.

I’ve learned that as much as I want to prevent the kids from the bumps and bruises of life, I can’t. And as much as I want to believe that millet flour will ease all my parental worries, I know it won’t. Fortunately, our kids still love my cooking more than takeout. They love candy but also enjoy a good chopped salad.

Most importantly, as I’ve gained more experience at this parenting thing, I’ve learned to trust my own instincts and not be so hard on myself. As the kids have gotten older, a little less control and a little more flexibility works better for them and for me. And moderation, which I’ve come to embrace, is truly the key to a well-balanced diet.

I also appreciate the importance of ice cream now that we live with teenagers. It’s the perfect convener; the springboard for conversation, it can smooth life’s hard edges. Besides, it contains lots of calcium, doesn’t it?

Julie Levine

Julie Levine is a writer who lives in San Francisco.