Mom lightens up

A nutrition-conscious parent makes room for some airy fun

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I had a Fluffernutter epiphany at the grocery store not long ago.

To be truthful, it didn't come in a flash. It was more a wearing down of "common sense" and misperceptions. I was, until just recently, one of those mothers who would never, never feed my kids peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff.

I was the mom who kept sugary sweet treats a secret from my boys. We ate popsicles that I concocted from orange juice, bananas, and yogurt. I set 5 grams per serving as the limit on sugar content in our cereal, and I stuck to my guns.

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When they came out with the slightly sweetened multigrain version of Cheerios, I let my kids eat it, but not before I had secretly mixed in some of the regular, tastes-like-the-box version. My boys ate rice cakes and carrots. They drank their milk. I was a Good Mother, anyone could tell.

But then my kids evolved, as kids do, from messy, try-anything toddlers to fussbudget preschoolers. Where once I could dish up moussaka and have my little men happily doodling eggplant all over their bibs, I somehow ended up with no-cooked-vegetables, don't-let-this-food-touch-that-food culinary wimps.

And I found myself doing what many parents do to keep their children's list of palatable foods from shrinking to single digits: I made little dipping sauces with things like lemon and honey, to make broccoli disappear - and not into napkins.

I gave in on bagels and added jam (sweetened with fruit juice) to the cream cheese. I upped my allowable grams of sugar per serving, thereby allowing Honey Nut Cheerios into our lives.

You can see where this is going.

Before you know it, I'm packing lunches that include peanut butter-and-honey sandwiches, little all-natural berry yogurts, and milk spiked with Ovaltine, along with grapes or raisins or applesauce. Maybe a PowerBar. All healthy. No junk.

And about 100 grams of sugar per meal.

I reassured myself that, after all, they're not drinking sodas. The sugar is coming from fruit, not some highly refined sucrose concoction.

Yes, well. The truth of the matter is that, in the end, sugar is sugar.

It took a summer-camp flashback for me to get off my nutritional high horse.

The seeds of my epiphany were sown when my kids came home from day camp with a notice about the big overnight event. There would be the pitching of tents, the playing of flashlight tag, the singing of songs round the campfire, the toasting of marshmallows, the eating of s'mores.

Do I even need to say what Ian and Eric's main motivation would be in putting up with lumpy sleeping bags and pesky mosquitoes?

But those toasted marshmallows weren't all they'd hoped for. Ian didn't like the ashes or the smoke, Eric kept losing his into the campfire, and both boys burned the roofs of their mouths.

The nutritional Nazi in me should have been secretly delighted, but their misery in the aftermath of this expected summer highlight was too painful. As we packed our tent, I consoled them.

"I never liked toasted marshmallows either," I confessed. "Too messy. Too hot. What I always liked best was grilled Fluffernutters."

"Grilled what?" Both boys perked up.

"Fluffernutters. Peanut butter and marshmallow Fluff sandwiches, grilled, just like grilled cheese. We only got to eat them on special days. Sick days, snow days...."

The memories came to me in a flash: My older sisters taking care of me when Mom was somewhere else, cooking my favorite, their specialty. Reprimands later for crumbs on the counter and the melted mess of chunky Skippy and sugary white goo that had dribbled off my chin and onto the floor. Heaven.

"Could we have that someday?" Ian asked.

"Sure," I vowed. "For a special treat. Sometime before school starts."

As Labor Day approached, and my sons' list of undelivered summer promises bore down on me, I found myself in the grocery store jam-and-jelly aisle, preparing to make good on my word. There it was, below the rows of all-natural honey in bear-shaped squeeze containers.

I chose the smallest jar of Fluff I could find and began reading the label, as if there was some nutritional information to be gleaned, as if I was contemplating the relative benefits of apricot preserves to this ... this stuff. I was surprised.

Serving size: two tablespoons. Grams of sugar per serving: 9.

I picked up a honey bear and read his label. Serving size: one tablespoon. Grams of sugar per serving: 16.

Twice as much Fluff for nearly half the sugar? I was onto something, but not ready to go to the dark side - or, in this case, the airy, fluffy, white side. There's got to be bad news here somewhere, I told myself. Emulsifiers. Chemicals. Additives. I searched for the list of ingredients.

And I found it, not skulking in fine print under the corporate address, but above the banner: Sugar. Corn syrup. Dried egg whites. Vanillin.

That was it. The worst thing I could pin on the marshmallow Fluff folks was the fact that they use imitation vanilla.

We had grilled Fluffernutters for lunch. They were as messy and divine as I remembered.

Both boys said that they intended to discuss this treat at "sharing time" when school started. The aroma of warm peanut butter hung in the kitchen the rest of the afternoon.

I have no false pride now about what goes into my kids' lunch boxes. Each gets half a Fluffernutter - they call it their "snack," I call it a vehicle for bread and protein. I've eliminated the juice boxes and milk sweeteners. Everybody's happy.

Well, nearly everybody. About once a week, while one or the other of my boys watches me make lunch, they'll spy the label on our extra-large, family-size tub of sugar, air, and egg whites and ask, longingly, "Mom? When can we make some Never Fail Fudge?"

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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