Kick the ‘Clean-Plate Club’

Parental anxieties can damage kids’ relationship with food

(The below completed story, assigned to me by Optimum Wellness, is posted here with permission from my editor. It’s been held indefinitely as Covid has affected many magazines’ page counts, but I wanted to get it out there as I really enjoyed this one!)

By Sarah Protzman Howlett

As parents, it can be a tall order to foster positive body image and a healthy relationship with food in our kids when both are sore subjects in our own lives. The new book “A Parent’s Guide to Intuitive Eating” by pediatrician Dr. Yami Cazorla-Lancaster helps parents navigate these confusing waters using the principles of intuitive eating, a so-called “anti-diet” that eschews food restrictions. In the book, Dr. Yami outlines five pillars she says will help parents cultivate adventurous, joyful meal times for everyone at the table, no matter what hang-ups lurk in your past.

Honor hunger and satiety

Parents should decide what food to serve and when, Dr. Yami says—and then? Shhhh. “After you’ve presented the food, your job is done,” she says. Steer clear of any goading: Come on, have another bite! Don’t you want more? You didn’t even touch your broccoli. If you want dessert, you have to eat your… are all counterproductive, she says. Instead, let the child know they will never be forced to eat but that they must use manners, perhaps remaining at the table until everyone is done eating. Parents who are fearful their child is too small or too large seem to struggle most with this one, Dr. Yami says: “When a parent is anxious about a kid who is larger or more robust, or is very lean or petite, they’ll start urging a few more bites and so forth,” she says. “In other words, intervening when the child should be using their own intuition.”

Emphasize whole-plant foods

This phrasing intimidates many parents, Dr. Yami says, because it conjures images of salad and little else, when in reality plant-based eating is much broader. Think beyond mere leaves and create meals around the foods kids almost universally love that also happen to be plants: potatoes, corn, fruit, etc. Plant-forward meals decrease the risk of chronic disease and increase longevity, she says, and are packed with fiber and antioxidants. Avoid restrictive diets, especially ones that forbid foods widely considered healthy, she says: “The Paleo diet eliminates beans and whole grains, which are very health promoting and support the gut microbiome,” she says, “and fad diets like Keto can be incredibly dangerous for kids because of the lack of macronutrients. We can have carbs and fat as part of delicious, abundant meals.”

Establish a positive environment

Dr. Yami urges filling your home with health-promoting foods, making sure what’s available matches the messaging: “If you tell your kids to eat fruits and vegetables but there are chips everywhere, you’re not giving the brain and the eyes an opportunity to make those things part of kids’ consciousness,” she says. Further, examine what body-image messages your kids may be absorbing, through TV, social media and films, or hearing talk about dieting or body size—be it yours or someone else’s. “You may be telling your kids ‘all bodies are good bodies’ but have a magazine that says LOSE 10 POUNDS on the cover,” she says. “You put the culture into your child’s brain.”

Be flexible

Parents should feel free to honor the cultural importance of, for instance, cake at birthday parties, candy on Halloween and chocolate bunnies on Easter—again, without additional commentary that can instill guilt. “When they eat their cake, don’t give them the side eye or say something like, ‘I think you’ve had enough,’ ” she says. For older kids, Dr. Yami advises candid conversations about sugar, salt and fat—and how we as humans are naturally driven to eat those things because they taste good. For parents with younger kids, the temptation to forbid sugar can backfire once a child goes to school and sees other kids enjoying such foods in moderation. Denying access to sweets or other foods deemed “bad” can lead kids to hoard food, binge or hide candy wrappers in their pockets, she says.

Relax and have fun

Dr. Yami says too many parents in her practice deal with crushing guilt and shame over any number of parenting issues, but that tensions run highest where food is concerned. “Parents are so anxious, and the dinner table becomes stressful,” she says. “When it comes to food, parents do not need to be saints or be perfect. Their kid is going to be fine. We are not trying to feed them enough broccoli to get into Harvard.” She says that if a parent is getting whole-plant foods into their child’s diet, to not overthink the rest. Pressure and perfectionism zaps all joy from family mealtimes; she says. “Your kids love you, so give yourself space and time to try different things,” she says. “You do not have to get everything right all the time.”

>> No “bad” foods

In Dr. Yami’s family, no nosh is forbidden. But this cornerstone of intuitive eating—that no food is banned or off limits—doesn’t ignore the fact that some foods pack more nutrition than others. “I call them ‘health-promoting foods’ and ‘play foods,’ ” she says. “Play foods are fun but are probably more processed, and we won’t eat them all the time.” Regardless of what your kids may hear at school—that certain foods are “good” and others are “bad”—parents who reject this rigid way of thinking about food must say so, and say so often. “You can say, ‘Some foods help us feel better and have more health benefits than other foods, but nothing is off limits,’ ” she says. “That gives kids the ability to keep foods on an even platform.”

My act of hope in a funky summer: Resisting the urge to purge

I’m into clothes but not fashion, if that makes sense. While I applaud the industry’s acceptance of sustainable fabrics like biodegradable mycelium, fashion is still the world’s second most-polluting business, according to the UN, and produces 10% of the world’s carbon emissions. Yet another reason why I love to dress myself in secondhand duds.

I love cute, casual outfits that ever so slightly communicate that I did think about what I put on this morning. Like making my bed, it makes me feel good every time I pay attention to what I want to wear to feel my best.

So while I love clothes, I don’t collect clothes. Not even close. Every year around this time, I eye my closet with what can only be described as suspicion. With the impending change of the seasons and my ruthless “even if it’s cute, even if it fits, if I don’t wear it, it goes” policy, as the days slightly shorten I always start to look at what I wore and what I didn’t over summer.

Needless to say, this year the tradition won’t work. It would be, as my kids say, “No fair.”

Because, of course, Covid. I mean, I didn’t even wear my slightly nicer tops.

Like many of you, we’ve mostly been at home…since March. I don’t have a clue what kind of pandemic family we thought we’d be, but it turns out we are the kind that stays within 90 minutes of our house all summer. I already knew I was an ambivert and a homebody (though I deeply mourned undoing the flights and reservations for a five-week overseas trip), but since we already live in Boulder near inexhaustible bike trails, ridiculously stunning hikes, campgrounds, creek spots and outdoor exercise classes—we didn’t feel the need to “get the hell out of here,” so to speak.

So we stayed, and I wore my same thrifted midi dress, or quick-dry shorts and a tank top. The dress was thrifted but with the tags still on when I bought it, and I’ve worn it so much I’ve already had to mend it once; I tried to reach something waaaay in the back seat and busted a strap. (In a “it does pay to hold onto stuff” twist, I used a box of embroidery thread I’ve had since I was 10 to find the perfect shade to re-tack it.)

I remember the exactly one time I wore a nice dress this summer, in our communal green space for a casual going-away party. Since I missed dear friends’ out-of-town wedding due to Covid, I wore to the going-away what I’d planned to wear at their wedding—only with lacy Toms instead of wedge heels.

So I’m not getting rid of much from summer, and it’s not my norm, but it is my act of hope that I’ll wear more of my wardrobe next summer. I hope that next summer, I’ll blow out my hair and go to dinner, indoors, with gal pals. That there may be a wedding or two. That I’ll have date nights with my husband and wear wedges not because Boulder is fancy, but because we’ll be celebrating: each other, a return to relative normalcy, that we made it.

Here’s to holding onto what we have until we make it.

Where to donate your stuff during Covid-19

(updated 8/12/20) A lot of Boulder-area folks have gotten in touch on my Instagram to ask which thrift stores are open when for both donations and shopping. Here’s what I could find out through calling the stores and checking their websites. Always a good idea to call ahead in case something changed, but I hope this is helpful!

Click the image for a high-quality PDF to save to your phone.

Previously, I made the below sheet, which now has incorrect hours but DOES contain my insights on the strongest categories for each thrift store listed. Here’s that, in case you didn’t know about it pre-Covid.

My thrifting backstory

Right before the Corona closed all my favorite stores, a Boulder company asked me to talk about how and why I thrift, and how it all began.

While my hobby is on hold due to Covid, I appreciated the opportunity to speak with Room 214 about the joys and importance of secondhand shopping. I know it will be back someday!

Find the short interview here. Now for the rest of the story…

The first time I entered a thrift store was 22 years ago, and we were there awesomely ironically. Heading out on a sort of proto-hipster mission, my high school friends and I scoured the racks for cheesy T-shirts from family reunions, shuttered Mexican restaurants and little league teams — the apex of fashion, apparently. For the first nearly three decades of my life, that was as far as thrifting went.

Good thing I’ve made up for lost time.

Even so, my evolution to thrifting enthusiast doesn’t hinge on a memoir-worthy turnaround from overspender to mindful consumer or anything like that. The boring truth is, by both nature and nurture, I’ve always been frugal.

We didn’t go to secondhand stores when I was a kid, but watching my parents taught me about value and thoughtful purchasing. I remember isolated incidents that now add up to, Oh, I see what they did there. Save for the day my mom produced her credit card bill and taught me never to fall prey to sending the “minimum amount due,” the name of their game seemed to be show, don’t tell. Though we were comfortable financially, family vacations were mostly road trips; dresses for junior high dances, which would be worn once, were from T.J. Maxx; and some Christmas gifts were similar to what I’d asked for, but from a lower-priced brand. And fair enough: You only have to look at our nation’s scary statistics on consumer debt to see the consequences of what it can mean to be conditioned for expensive taste. In my family of origin and now in the one I’ve built with my husband, valuing value has little to do with what’s in your bank account. It’s just good sense, and boy can it save you a lot of stress and trouble to mind your money.

While predisposition and upbringing definitely started me on this path, becoming the person everyone in my circles asks about secondhand shopping was glacial. As a cash-poor New York City transplant at 25, I shopped and sold on Craigslist to “furnish” my 7-foot by 11-foot bedroom (it was a quick job). A few years later, newly married in Denver, I picked up the odd item from antique and thrift stores for our one bedroom in Capitol Hill.

It was really only once we moved to Boulder that I began to explore thrift and consignment shops, and got into conversations when friends would compliment something I was wearing, or a piece of furniture I was refinishing, or a toy I’d gotten for my twins. Before long I had frequent texts and messages asking me questions about thrifting.

Like most humanoids, as my fascination with the secondhand world has grown, I still buy new things at regular stores; I still create way too much trash; and I am not opposed to splurging on worthwhile purchases. However, as time has gone on, I’ve felt the pull to make used items a bigger part of how and why I buy. (Some call this environmental stewardship; others call it “being a cheapskate.”) I’ve increasingly begun to question some of my habits, perceived needs and the like.

For my small part of that much-larger discussion, I hope my Instagram page provides an insightful and exciting approach to where and how to look for perfectly good, gently used items for your home and life. I’ve found it all to be incredibly fulfilling, and I hope you do, too.