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Is it Really ‘Just’ a Popsicle? Or is it Just Junk Food?

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Is it Really 'Just' a Popsicle? - www.ohlardy.com

A couple years back, someone on Facebook asked for ideas for healthy alternatives to an annual ‘popsicle' party at her child's school.

The comment storm that ensued was quite crazy.  People getting upset that ‘it's just a popsicle…back off'.  Readers suggesting that bloggers like us who are advocates for real food and healthy eating are infringing on the rights of others to eat junk.  Commenters started criticizing each other.  It was a really intense Facebook reaction to a simple question and plea for alternative ideas.

It got me thinking…is a popsicle ‘just' a popsicle?  Is a lollipop ‘just' a lollipop?  Is (insert processed garbage food here) ‘just' a treat?

I really struggle with this line of thinking.  On the one hand, I somewhat understand the ‘it's just a…' argument.  One popsicle is not going to do much harm to someone.  However, I think this type of attitude goes much deeper than that.

1.  I somewhat get the it's ‘just' a _____ argument.

As clean and real as I try to feed my family, my daughter definitely gets her fair share of junk food.  (Heck, my husband and I get our share of junk food and food with inferior ingredients.)  And, I am okay with that.  We are healthy, don't have any food allergies or illnesses.  We eat well enough 80-90% of the time that I think for us it really is ‘just' a popsicle.  Occasionally my daughter does get the lollipop at the bank, the bag of gummy snacks at a playdate or the gmo laden meal off of the kids menu.  In the grand scheme of her diet, it is ‘just' a once in awhile thing, a ‘treat' if you will.  And that is fine and is what works for our family.

2.  These ‘treats' are a CONSTANT parade of garbage for most children.

The ‘just a treat' can easily become 10 treats on any given day.  They are the overly processed breakfast cereal, the candy or chips from a vending machine at school, the cookies and juice at church, the gatorade and cookies after sports practice (here's an awesome post on soccer snacks), the lollipop at the bank, the gummy snacks in the car while running errands.  They are the birthday treats, the Halloween candy, the Valentine's party, the Christmas cookie onslaught.  The fast food, the kids' menu food, the dessert at restaurants.

Everywhere we go, someone is trying to give my daughter a ‘treat'…the bank, the dry cleaners, the sports classes, even department stores while holiday shopping.  She just started after school speech therapy for vocal cord nodules and after her first lesson, she walked out with a roll of smarties!  Why does she need a roll of smarties for completing a class?

3.  These ‘treats' are full of inferior, fake ingredients.

To me, this is really the main problem with these ‘treats.'  They are full of chemicals, artifical colors and flavors, genetically modified ingredients and other garbage.  I have nothing against cookies, popsicles and ice cream.  but I would like to be able to eat (and feed my family) food that IS real.  I will never forget when I showed my daughter a tub of ‘garbage' ice cream and she couldn't pronounce the ingredients.  She looked at me, confused, and said ‘that's not ice cream.'  Out of the mouths of babes!  (Learning to read ingredient labels is a must for Real Food!)

We eat our share of junk!

4.  We eat junk occasionally.

Now, to be clear, we are not purists when it comes to real food.  We do the best we can in our own homes.  But, we do eat at restaurants.  We do accept snacks and meals when they are provided at friends' houses, at parties, at holiday events without batting an eye.  Occasionally we even take the lollipop or the cookie that is offered at the store.  We get lollipops and popcorn and ice cream bars at Disney World.  You will even see me eating french fries or cheese sticks at a bar on occasion!  (Gasp!)  I feel we have a clean diet most of the time and for our family we have not made the commitment to avoid this type of food entirely.

5.  These overly processed, chemical laden concoctions are causing a health crisis in our country.

I have a friend who always says that we grew up on this food and we are just fine.  Really!? ‘We' may be fine as in I am healthy and she is healthy (now)…but is our society ‘just fine'?  Hardly?  With 70% of adults obese or overweight, with our children having a 1 out of 3 chance of developing diabetes, with ADD/ADHD, autism and food allergies (why are childhood food allergies growing so fast???) running rampant, with our children being the first generation not expected to have longer life expectancies than their parents…I hardly think we are ‘just fine.'  I strongly believe that much of these problems have to do with the food that we eat…the ingredients (many of which are new chemicals and genetically modified, which did not exist 20 years ago) that are in our food…the onslaught of fake food in our diet.  

I get the idea that it's ‘just' a popsicle…if it stopped at that.  I encourage you to observe how many ‘treats' you or your child get offered each day.  Look at the ingredients of your favorite snacks, breakfast cereals, and lunch items.  I think you will find that it really isn't ‘just' a ______ anymore at all.

What about you?  How do you feel about the amount of processed junk food your children are given?  Do you think it is ‘just' a popsicle?  Comment below!!

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  1. YES! I completely agree! I’m a children’s nutritionist and I struggle to help my clients (and family) understand this point. They are not aware of how much fake, low nutritional value food their child is consuming daily and weekly because they don’t write down everything that goes into their mouth. And unfortunately, this bad habit leads to their kids becoming picky eaters. After filling up on these “treats” that artificially stimulate their brain cells to get “high”, they aren’t hungry for real food. And there goes their nutrition for the day, their immune system, and optimal growth and development. Any opportunity we have to swap out an artificial treat for a real nutrient dense one is a golden opportunity!

    1. Thanks for commenting Annika! This really frustrates me and I find it hard to always find the right line and the right limits. The uproar over Lisa’s Facebook post and my daughter getting a roll of Smarties after speech class really through me over the edge! I’d be a picky eater too if ate garbage all day! I think it is so important that we try to teach children how to eat, how to appreciate food and how to learn to tell non-nutritious food from nutritious foods. If they don’t learn it while growing up when will they learn it?

  2. Fantastic post, this is something I struggle with as well. I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling deprived and go nuts as soon as they get around ‘junk’ food, and they’re too young to understand ‘why’ we need to choose better food. We do talk about the whys, and what poor food choices does, but they’re kids and pop always wins over water. But I’ll just keep on preaching, and hope it sticks I guess, and feed them the best way I can when they are at home.

    1. Yes, making sure they have nourishing food at home is a great way to go! Also, the points you bring up are one of the reasons why I let my daughter have occasional junk. We do talk about, though, how she feels after she has too much (she definitely notices a difference) and why we don’t want to eat like that all the time. It’s hard, though, especially around friends and family who ‘don’t get it’…yet. Good luck!!!!

  3. Remember, too, for some families it really is “just” a treat, but for those of us with sensitivities to artificial ingredients even one popsicle can result in days of discomfort. If I get anything with dye, I will be a nervous wreck for a day and a half (don’t ask how bad it was before I discovered this trigger and was eating fake food “treats” every day). Junk food treats make my daughter feel icky too and I know a bright little boy that cannot even read a sentence on a first grade level after certain treats because he cannot focus. I find it sad that people are unwilling to change their treat choices when it can have such a profound effect on both immediate and long term health.

    1. Couldn’t agree more. That is why I say, for my family, who are currently healthy and allergy-free/sensitivity-free, we eat clean most of the time and these are ‘treats’. I still struggle however with how many times we are offered these foods, when to say no, when to say okay…where to draw the line. For people with health problems, illnesses, allergies, sensitivities, these foods are toxic and it has to be incredibly frustrating to be presented with these foods all the time! It really is sad that these foods are so prevalent everywhere we go.

  4. Thought-provoking article! My daughter (although she is only 4 1/2 and things may change next year with Kindergarten) is pretty educated on what to eat and what not to eat and why and she really cares about eating healthy food. I find that she is very happy with her healthy food, but that is probably because I keep healthy cookies, candy, etc. on hand so that there is always a healthy alternative and “trade” her for the yucky stuff. I find that when she does have the occasional icky treat she is really not impressed because her taste buds are trained to like real food.

    1. Isn’t it amazing how their taste buds can be trained? Our daughter had a coke at a holiday event recently (someone gave it to her as…you guess it…’a treat’) and she drank about half of the small glass and then asked for some water to ‘wash the sweet taste out of her mouth.’ lol -tm

  5. This was great to read and is something we struggle with all the time. I especially love the link to the soccer treats, which is a huge irritation to me so I can’t wait to read that article and hopefully get some advice.

  6. Some of my favorite snacks are frozen fruit…. grapes, bananas, and other things. I just saw something with frozen watermelon and frozen lemon juice blended together… I agree that we can train our buds and our stomach…. I am in the process now.

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