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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Food For Fuel

I have a confession to make, friends. Please try not to judge.

Okay...I know this may be hard to hear, but it's time I come clean.

I don't feed my children cake and chocolate on a regular basis.

I know!! I know, it's crushing news. You thought you knew me! What is this world coming to when the Happy Baker doesn't even follow her own credo of "There's never enough chocolate"?? It's a scandal.

Here's the truth, though. I don't have much of a sweet tooth. I rarely crave chocolate, and *gasp* I don't even care for cake that much. But boy, do I love making it. The creative process of conjuring up rich, decadent flavors and turning them into beautiful little treats--it's like therapy. It makes me calm and happy.

Our household is fairly health conscious. I may not always follow my own rules, and my plumpishness definitely rats me out on that. But when it comes to my children, I've got an ironclad drive to teach them proper nutrition. I want them to have better skills than I did, and not end up with my tendencies to lean on junk when I'm tired and lazy.

One of our favorite places to go when the weather is yucky is Monkey Joe's. If you're not familiar, Monkey Joe's is a play center filled with various giant bouncy castles, slides, and obstacle courses. It's a pretty great place to let kids run amok and burn themselves out.

So I gathered up my children one afternoon and we headed out to the Joe.

After an hour of red-faced, damp-shirted play, I went to the concession stand to buy them some juice. I paid, and the lady plopped down on the counter two bottles of neon-colored sugar water in plastic squeeze bottles. "I'm sorry," I said, "I wanted apple juice. In the juice boxes." I felt an episode of charades coming on.

She stared blankly. "We don't carry those anymore."

What?? I know it had been a while since we visited, but they seem to have changed a bit. I peered past the cashier into their cooler, looking for the fruit cups that were present last time we went. Gone. I felt the self-righteous Mommy-frustration bubbling up and shoved it back down. Unfortunately, a little snark managed to escape and fall out, plop! Right there on the counter.

"So.... you guys have completely stripped the place of anything remotely resembling real food, then? Isn't this just sugar water?"

She stared blankly, waiting for me to sign the receipt.

I gazed at the menu. Salted, buttered popcorn. Soft pretzels with nacho cheese (bright yellow processed cheese product). A candy buffet as long as the eye can see. Ice cream bars. Pizza so greasy you have to sop the oil up with a handful of napkins. And best of all? Customers are not allowed to bring in any outside food or beverages, and are not allowed to leave and return.

I'm bringing my children to a place where they can exercise, socialize, burn calories, expend energy, play, and a slew of other healthy activities. And then when they get hungry and thirsty, I'm forced to refuel them with sugary, fat-laden garbage. No. I refuse. I'm going to be the parent who marches in with my mini cooler, packed with bottles of water and juice, carrot sticks, and chopped fruit. And if they raise a stink, they can kick me out and lose me as a customer.

I am no food nazi by any means. My children have snacks, eat fast food, and enjoy cake and candy. But they do so in planned settings and special occasions. It is not something I allow just because it's there.

My bigger concern is WHY Monkey Joe's isn't working harder to provide healthier alternatives to our next generation? It wouldn't cost much to provide shelf-stable snacks that are lighter on the waistline. Horizon makes organic milk tetrapacks that don't even require refrigeration. 100% juice boxes and water are entirely shelf stable.
A bowl of carrot sticks and peanut butter can easily last an entire week and costs pennies on a bulk scale. Whole wheat PB&J sandwiches can be made to order, with the bread kept in the freezer. Even Uncrustables, which aren't my favorite but are better than greasy pizza, come in whole wheat and can be frozen indefinitely. There are a lot of options, and I bet a lot of parents would be far more comfortable spending more time at their favorite play center if they knew they could count on a healthy dinner being available when the kids come back clutching their tummies.

So parents, women, healthy advocates - if you were revamping the Monkey Joe's menu, what would you add? Would you be more likely to take your children there if there were better food options? Toss in your opinion, I'd love to hear it!