I am incredibly busy this week, getting ready for graduation and out-of-town visitors, and filling out tons of paperwork to get this child into college in the fall. (Is there anything more fun than wrangling with the intricacies of financial aid? I didn’t think so.) Here’s a guest post I wrote for the Paleo Parents in January; I never got around to posting it here and thought the subject matter would be appropriate, considering the circumstances. I’ll be back tomorrow with a recipe.
I am an old parent. Yes, I am. My eldest will be 30 in June, and my youngest is going off to college in the Fall, when I will enter the fabled land of The Empty Nest.
It apparently does exist, after all.
That’s not what I’m here to talk about, though. No, I’m here to tell you about the kid that’s going off to college soon; I call him “The Young One” on my blog. Three months premature, weighing a whopping 2 lbs. 4 oz., he was known among the staff at the hospital as “the miracle baby.” Born January 27, we took him home on March 17, just a little over six weeks later; there were babies in the NICU that had been born closer to term and weighed more who spent much, much longer there. And aside from surgeries to correct a hernia and strabismus in one eye, he never had the health problems many other preemies faced.
But there were developmental and behavioral issues – issues not fully resolved until he was in middle school. Knowing what I know now about diet, I think back to those days and am angry – angry with a society that tells us “foods” laden with chemical additives, dyes, industrial seed oils and HFCS are perfectly safe for growing little bodies and minds. Angry with myself for not knowing the difference; I can make all the excuses I want that the wealth of information available today simply wasn’t there nearly 20 years ago, but it does little to assuage the guilt.
Even if I’d known then what I know now it would have been a struggle. You see, The Young One is what is politely known as “a picky eater.” Naturally lean and wiry, it was a struggle to get him to eat anything beyond a few (very few) foods as a small child. For years, every meal was a battle, and every new food tried a triumph. Of course, as he’s matured that’s become easier, but there are still foods he simply will not eat – don’t even bother to put that zucchini or those collard greens on his plate, because they’ll just…sit there. The dog might eat them, but The Young One will not.
Surprisingly, he’s always been pretty good about meat; even as a small child I used to tell people that my son lived off of meat, cheese and chocolate chip cookies (even if he did eat them in frustratingly small amounts). If it flies or walks on four legs, that boy will eat it (alas, he’s not so fond of things that swim). So when we “went Paleo” it wasn’t really difficult to bring him along for the ride. In fact, it was downright easy once he got over the disappointment that there would be no more junk in the house. And he has thrived.
But there have been repercussions that I, for one, didn’t foresee. You’d think after five children I’d remember what social, herd-like animals teenagers are and realize he would receive some negative feedback about his new diet from his friends and classmates. No chips? No cookies? No soda? No ice cream, cupcakes, candies or even cereal, for crying out loud? Did he really like those carrot sticks, all that celery stuffed with nut butter? Grapes? Apples? Bananas? Raw milk cheese? Sandwiches on LETTUCE?? As far as his friends were concerned, that wasn’t lunch – it was some sort of dietary purgatory.
His very best friend was especially hard on The Young One, since the friend’s mother is still a member of The Low Fat Tribe (she is, in fact, their Queen). Her kitchen is filled with every low fat/fat free “food” and treat in existence, because fat – especially all that nasty saturated fat – is just going to clog up your arteries and kill you faster than you can say “Hollandaise sauce,” don’t you know. I don’t try to enforce our diet outside of home and school lunches (it wouldn’t work, anyway) and he often “indulges” when he spends time there…and comes home complaining of headaches, digestive issues and the nastiness that is turkey bacon.
We won’t even go into the complaints of this friend when he’s at our house, where there’s nary a Lean Pocket nor Snackwell cookie to be found, although I’ve yet to see him turn down the nuts, cheeses, seasonal fruits or “paleo-ized” goodies we always seem to have on hand. (This is also the same young man who, after having whole, non-homogenized, grass-fed milk at our home for the first time, asked me, “What have I been missing all these years?” I told him, “Real food.”)
The Young One handles it well, though, and some of the criticism has begun to wane, perhaps due in part to the fact he’s getting kinda ripped with next to no effort. But six-pack abs and bulging biceps aside, he’s never tried to pressure us to bring foods into the house we would not eat ourselves. For the most part he likes the way we eat now.
Barbecue sauce is about the only condiment he’ll eat, but that’s okay – it makes Barbecued Beef Liver one of his favorite dishes and it makes a great dipping sauce for another of his favorites: Crispy Fried Chicken Livers. When I sourced a goat for our freezer, he ate things like Moroccan Goat Stew with abandon (minus the butternut squash). Surprisingly, he enjoys spaghetti squash and dishes such as Venison Bolognese and Cincinnati-Style Chili have been huge hits with him. Heck, even his friends will eat things like Whole30-complaint Chili Dogs and Bacon-Wrapped Honey Mustard Chicken Strips.
I still worry a little about him going off to college – the food options on campus aren’t exactly the best, although I secretly cheered when he expressed dismay and disbelief over the fact there’s a full-service Quaker Steak and Lube in the student center. And I wonder just how often he’ll be home to raid the refrigerator in the months to come.