“It’s just one day, and my kids are going to have candy if they want it!” The commenter went on to tell me how irrational I was for suggesting a cute pencil and eraser set for children instead of candy for a holiday. The message she sent me was that she refused to spoil the holiday for her children by denying them candy. It reminded me of comments I had heard before from others. Once a lady said to me, “How can I enjoy a movie if I can’t have popcorn?!” And a man once said to me, “You cannot take away my beer! It’s football season, and there is no way you’re gonna ruin my fun!”
I used to feel that way. I used to believe the unhealthy lies that marketers and food manufacturers want us to believe. We see people smiling on television as they drink beverages together; commercials show parents bonding with kids over breakfast cereal; and we see in images that Friday nights are made better with friends all reaching for a slice of pizza dripping with cheese. Advertisements for special holiday foods are abundant, and even when there is no holiday, food advertisements and commercials nearly always have some element of happiness in them. Marketers want you to know they put the happy in the Happy Meal, and they can help you put the fabulous feast on your table fast for only $19.99 at the drive-thru.
We had been a keto family for nearly two years when we went on a brief weekend vacation to the mountains. Although I had gone into a store to purchase bottled water, I got sidetracked by a display just inside the door—doughnuts! The children’s favorite brand was stacked in a colorful configuration. My husband and I used to take our children to that doughnut shop to buy doughnuts hot and fresh. Those were such fun times when the kids were little! I started to reach for a box, and then I caught myself. We didn’t eat those any more.As I continued towards the bottled water, there was an enormous display of cookies—every flavor that one could imagine! The manufacturer had seasonal flavors of cookies and fillings in various combinations. We could have a taste test! It would be so fun to try the different varieties and pick our favorites! As I began to consider what flavors each of the children and my husband might like to try, I had to stop myself again. We don’t eat sugar. Why would I even be attracted to that display? Those cookies would make me sick and really weren’t good for the children either.
I finally got the flat of water and headed towards the checkout, but as I rounded the corner, I was greeted by the convenience of a table holding all of the ingredients for s’mores. The chocolate bars, marshmallows, and graham crackers called to me. In my mind’s eye, images emerged of a fire on the side of the mountain with the kids dancing around and gathering sticks to roast the marshmallows. David and I would wait to sandwich the gooey, roasted marshmallows between the layers of chocolate and cookies, so that the kids could enjoy them. I could see their little faces light up when I showed them what I’d bought.
Not unlike a someone waking from a dream, I shook my head and went to the register to purchase the water. What was wrong with me? Three times I had been tempted by sugary foods that my family no longer even ate! Three times I had imagined how happy my family would be because of those foods.
While I waited in line, I considered why those high-carb and highly-processed foods had caught my attention. Having been keto and having enjoyed fantastic results, I didn’t want those things. I truly knew better than to buy them. I had finally reached the point where seeing cakes and cookies, made me think of them as poison, yet I was struggling to avoid them because of the nostalgia that those foods were “fun”. Each time visions of the children’s smiling faces had appeared, yet I knew intellectually that we didn’t need those sugary foods to have a good time. That’s when it hit me that I would have to be intentional. I had to find ways to replace food as fun and find new ways to bond with my family.
New ways to have fun
My family was waiting in the car, so I knew I had to act fast. I glanced around the checkout aisle on either side of me. There was gum and candy – NO! There were also batteries and chips, and then I spied a deck of playing cards. I snatched up two decks just as the clerk was asking, “Will that be all?” I smiled and said, “I’d like to get these too, please.”
When I got to the car, my husband seemed surprised that I had bought just a flat of water and had only one small bag in my hands. “That took a while. Is that all you got?” he asked as I put the water in the back of the car. I answered, “Well, I got something fun. I got cards!” Each of the children took a pack of the cards. That evening we laughed together as we played Rummy and War and Crazy 8s. My son spent much of the weekend learning a card trick and delighted in showing it to his grandfather when we saw him two days later. We all enjoyed watching as my son went through the “magic” and his grandfather wondered how he did it.
We also started a new tradition with our bonfire. We roasted smoked sausages instead of marshmallows, and they tested a whole lot better! Even without the sugary s’mores, we still laughed and told scary stories while we watched the stars come out and marveled at the universe, which was still magical.The fun wasn’t in the packages of food that made me nostalgic. It never was. Holidays are fun because we take the time to be together. Movies, if they are bad, cannot be made better by a tub of popcorn that gives us a tubby tummy, and football without beer is still a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon (or a Friday night or a Monday night) as long as you’ve got a good team and good friends to help you cheer them on. The best part is knowing that I’m giving them, and me, better health with better foods so that we have more time to make more fun.
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