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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Eating Habits as a Child / How We Were so Different

I was just reading comments on a forum where somebody had posted the question -  when did junk food / sugary desserts become the norm as opposed to special occasion treats food? The replies varied and many people described the meals they ate as children. It really got me thinking.

Children do not purchase their own groceries. They eat the food that is bought or prepared by a parent. I grew up in the late 60's to 70's. I lived in rural southern Ontario. We rarely if ever ate out at restaurants . It was a huge treat if my father brought home Kentucky Fried Chicken on his way from work. My mother made much of our food, and we sat and ate supper together. However, we had an enormous amount of processed / packaged food available to us as well. Here is a list off the top of my head: chips, cheese whiz, sugary cereals, chip dip, candies such as jelly beans, chocolate bars, Tang, kool aid (kool aid popsicles), unlimited flavours of pop, packaged Hostess brand "cakes", cookies, frozen mini pizzas, cinnamon spread, barbecue flavoured peanuts, Carnation Instant Breakfast, ice cream. These were not occasional treats. They were almost always kept in stock in the house.

My father quit drinking when I was about ten years old, maybe a bit older. He substituted sugary junk food for the alcohol. We had a "treat" drawer in the kitchen. It was never empty. My mother cooked and baked a great deal. While she made dinners like roasts and vegetables, she also heated up quick and convenient food like canned alphagetti. Dessert was not for special occasions. There was almost always a cake, pie, homemade cookies, or rice krispie squares available.

I knew no different. I am not "blaming" my mother. She was no doubt tired of making meals by the time I came along (youngest of four). The marketing of convenience foods was strong. There were absolutely no limits placed on me. I spent a great deal of my youth at my uncle's / grandmother's farm. My grandmother baked and made her own food but also placed a weekly order at the bakery whereupon things like donuts, coffee cake, and Chelsey buns were the norm. A dinner always included dessert. If pie or cake or apple dumpling or custard was not available, at the very least, a piece of white bread swimming in real maple syrup was offered. Canned pop or Shop Pop bottled pop was in constant supply.

Needless to say, I was a heavy kid. My sister, closest in age to me, but still five years older, was not heavy as a child. I do not know if she just had better self control, or if the amount of junk food in the house increased as the years went on.

Contrast this with my husband who is only two years older than I am. His mother also made almost all of the family's food. Dessert was a rarity. Fruit was offered if they wanted something sweet. She was the one on the block who gave out apples or little boxes of raisins at Hallowe'en. He did not know what Cheese Whiz was until he married me, then would clandestinely eat it from the jar with a spoon late at night, like it was some sort of edible oil crack. An after school snack he made for himself as a kid was ketchup sandwiches. He considered that a treat. Ketchup was limited in their home. It had too much sugar. I don't think the words "too much sugar" were ever spoken in my home. My husband was not a heavy kid.

Why the difference between the two families? I'm not sure why my family embraced the world of processed food and sugar and his did not. My mother was raised in a hard working farm family that ate its own beef and grew much of its own food. She was of German descent. My father grew up in a small rural village of Scottish descent with little extra cash flow.

My husband's mother is Yugoslavian and had a very difficult childhood, spending some of her youth in a work camp and the rest of her youth in boarding school, or in England. She did not have the experience of having a mother who showed her how to cook and family meals around the table for a lot of her childhood.

Neither one of our fathers did any of the meal preparation, although every once in a while my father got it into his head that he would bake bread. He made loaves of white "potato bread" which he loved but I quite despised as it was not the soft, fluffy crap white bread that I was used to eating.

I had / have a very different relationship with food than my husband. It is comfort for me and I love a variety. It is sustainance for him and he could eat the same meals over and over.

I like to think I found a balance for our own children. Neither one of them binge eats. They would actually have leftover Hallowe'en candy for weeks if not months after. (Note I did not insist that it be thrown out after a certain time period? One does not waste good candy!) I generally made the meals for them growing up and tried to pack healthy lunches with veggies and fruits. They did receive treats, but they were treats, not daily consumption. I chose whole grains for them, cooked homemade soups and stews, offered a variety of vegetables and salads with dinner, and grew many of my own vegetables and raised chickens for eggs.

I still personally struggle with my food issues. I go through phases of "clean" eating and being very diligent versus eating sugar laden food in private and eating way beyond feeling full. Would I have these issues if I had been fed a more nutritious diet as a child? I'll never know, but it is all fodder for thought.


18 comments:

  1. This is really a fascinating post and one that resonates. I was a city kid and my mom did cook a lot but we had dessert often, cookies baked... I, too, grew up with lots of food in the house. Some canned goods; fresh produce wasn't as common or regarded. I hated Brussels sprouts till I was a grown up because I remember them boiled and covered in Cheez-Whiz! I have struggled with weight forever and still do and probably always will. I'm trying very hard now to cut down sugar (not out, but way down) and be more cautious of carbs but put me near a loaf of Rick's fresh baked bread and I'm done. Neither of us tend to cook from a box very often, which is good. I think I'll be muddling on this one a bit. Very thoughtful -- it'll stick in my head!

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    1. I suspect Rick's bread is far superior to my father's! I will likely have an ongoing battle with sugar as well.

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  2. Very interesting! We had almost no treats in the house. Even orange juice was something I had to aks for before drinking. We did however have times when we were allowed to have sugary or salty snacks but that included a trip to the corner store and we got $1.00 to spend. Back then you could get a small bag of chips and a pop for $1.00. I think the reason we had next to no snacks is my brother could not have anything with sugar in the house. We couldn't even have sugar! He would eat it right out of the bowl. Interestingly, he is an alcoholic. They say alcoholics can have addictions long before they start drinking. He is now in recovery and eats very clean.

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    1. That's very interesting about your brother, Birdie.

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  3. Oh boy, couldn't we all write a long essay on this topic! I'll refrain from doing just that but throw out a possibly interesting fact. Since marriage my husband and I have eaten very clean, very healthy. (Although there's always room for improvement, I know.) We raised our daughter with very little sugar (honey only when I baked) and no junk food. Now at age 45 she still "blames" us for her love of junk food. We, her parents, are both much healthier than she and she readily admits we can still physically work circles around her. So did we error in raising her the way we did (we were strict about what was "bad" for your body) and did this really cause her less-than-good eating habits as an adult??

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    1. I suspect your excellent eating habits have contributed to the energy you always seem to have to do all of your gardening and other work!

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  4. Foods do change over the years. I remember certain things being so different even 20 years ago until today

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  5. I too am fascinated by the culture of food and how it affects us. I also grew up in the 60's and 70's but we had little junk food solely because of finances. I was a healthy, slender kid. Then I was set loose in the world of junk food in college and oh my...did I indulge! I struggle all the time with my weight even though I've eaten much better the last five years since we produce so much of our own food. I may not look much different but I sure do feel better. My annoying husband on the other hand eats what he wants when he wants and is the exact same size he was in high school wearing the same 32x30 jeans. It's hard not to kill him in his sleep.

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    1. Yes, that would be annoying (about your husband, I mean). -J.

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  6. Oh- What a post. My mother made everything from scratch and we never had pre-packaged anything. However, my mother baked every single day of life and we always had dessert with every meal. On a farm you worked things off and needed the 'good food' as she called it. IF we wanted a snack we had a piece of pie, cake, cookies or whatever sweet was left from the meal before. I, too, was a fat kid...and it was a chore to learn to eat healthy. I also made desserts for my family when they were young but we did not have the heavy, sugar laden things my mother served.

    My parents grew up during the depression so they felt blessed that they did not have to skimp on anything when it came to sugar and other rationed items. I think a lot of us can relate to this post. xo Diana

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  7. Interesting post; looking back I had an incredibly unhealthy diet as a child (lots of crisps, coca cola, sweets). But what is a cheese whizz?

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    1. Cheese whiz is a soft spread that you might put on bread or toast. It is orangey / yellow coloured, like cheddar cheese and comes in a jar. Canadians also spread it in the hollow part of a stick of celery (or they did when I was young). I am uncertain if there is actually cheese in it.

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  8. Ah food, such an emotional issue in my head. I have tried to ensure that I do not use food as reward for the kids in my life or use food to self soothe when distressed. That's my very weak link, upset, eat. Have you ever read Geneen Roth's book, Women Food & God. Lots of insights (although not the solution was I was hoping for). More food for thought :)

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  9. This was such an interesting post. Each household has its own style. We had a lot of home cooking and healthy foods in our house, but there were some processed foods, as well. Sweets were mostly homemade with an occasional store bought thrown in. Like chocolate chip cookies or the boxed type of lemon cake that you prepared. And because we were a low income family, forget about eating out. That was a huge treat if that ever happened.

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  10. You and I have similar food stories! Food is definitely my comfort zone, as I don't drink much or smoke at all - and LOVE sweets. Hence the 15 lbs I would love to lose but have a hard time getting done.

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  11. This post is fascinating and so are the various comments, not least because they demonstrate that there is no one way of parenting! My children were brought up without sugary foods for the first few years of their lives, but, unlike Mama Pea, my forty-five year old eats with great awareness of health and far greater discipline than I do. Most of my childhood was spent with rationing, which continued for years after the end of WW2, so I was unused to sugary foods and sweets, although my mother seemed to be forever making jam from the various fruits grown in the garden. When rationing ended my father took our coupons to the shop and bought chocolate. Heaven!

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  12. Hi there :)

    I can't remember how I found you, but it must have been through a mutual friend. Anyway, I was raised much like you... home cooked meals but every imaginable junk food. My mother thinks I'm nuts because I choose to eat healthier. I slip now and then, of course, but I feel much better than I did when I was eating all that crap. Great post!

    rue

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  13. I'm not sure, either, how I found you; possibly Karen (thisoldhousetoo) but I really enjoyed reading your post and the comments as well. For a lot of our childhood we ate pretty healthy, Mom always had a big garden, and our relatives (farmers) in W FL - once a year we'd go and Mom would purchase beef from them. My cousin still raises beef, and he's 90 y/o. :)

    As for sweets back then, we were limited to a piece of pie, cake or whatever Mom would have cooked. My sweet tooth came about many years later, and still I want something before bedtime. The irony is that I'll get on a "kick" of wanting the same thing night after night, and then bingo I'll be on to something else. :)

    xoxo

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