We went to a local carnival on a recent night and my sons and I each had a snow cone. Sam’s and mine were both bright blue, and George’s was half-red, half-blue. They contained nothing but sugar and nasty dyes, but it was part of the fun of being there. We stood under the fireworks and happily ate them. We broke a lot of our other usual rules that night—we stayed up past 10 o’clock, we paid to play games we knew were unwinnable, and we ate carnival food. It was all part of the experience of being there and we had a blast.
This confuses some people. Most notably, my husband. Yesterday he brought home conventionally grown strawberries, which I promptly returned to the store. “How can you let the boys have snow cones and not let them eat conventional strawberries?” he asked. I understand the question, and realize that it looks like hypocrisy, but this is how I make sense of our lives. It’s what I call the 80/20 rule.
It’s all about balance.
I do not strive for nutrition perfection. That wouldn’t be any fun. I mean, what is life without French fries? Instead I strive for 80 percent healthy and 20 percent whatever comes our way. Life is to be enjoyed. The negative impact of the stress of trying to eat perfectly all of the time far outweighs that of eating something that makes us really happy.
So how do I maintain a balance? How do I keep track? My method is to treat my home as a “sacred food zone.” At home, we eat 100 percent clean food— no refined sugars or flours, no chemicals, no dyes, no pesticides (hence the no conventional strawberries rule) and no GMOs. The 20 percent of the time that we are out in the world? All bets are off. We eat whatever comes our way. That said, of course we choose the best available option. So if we are given a choice between a not-so-good food and a just-plain-awful one, we’ll choose the former, and if there is a healthy option we will always go for that. Even then, we sometimes take a nutritional time-out.
That means that when we go to birthday parties, we eat cake. We get popcorn at the movie theater. I believe that the key to teaching children to eat healthfully is for them to recognize those not-so-good-for-you foods, and realize they are to be consumed occasionally.
The 80-20 rules works well for us. The kids know it’s alright for them to break the rule on occasion because they understand what the rule is – and why.