When did we start eating junk food?

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk wonders how sweet and salty store-bought snacks have crept into her cupboards.
Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

I have this memory of being at a drop-in centre when my daughter was maybe 18 months old: It’s snack time, and the tiny paper cups are being lined up on a tray and watered-down apple juice is being poured into each one. The staff person, or another mom, is distributing the cups when another mom shrieks, “Juice?! Samuel’s never had juice!”

I remember wanting to simultaneously roll my eyes, text a friend and write a blog post about the ridiculousness of this outburst. There was also a part of me that wondered why the drink wasn’t water, which is what we’d have at home. It’s moments like this (and always thinking, “But raisins are so bad for their teeth“) that most strikingly mark becoming the mom I never thought I’d be.

This is not about judging who eats what. I grew up eating a lot of junk food, in the era of toothpaste-style tubes of bubblegum goop and Lik-M-Aid (sugar was basically a food group). As an adult, I have many food allergies, and I choose to cook mostly healthy foods at home, because it’s how I enjoy cooking and what I enjoy eating. My daughter is a good eater, so I don’t have to mask or (literally) sugar-coat things for her.

But things change. In the fall, my daughter and I started living alone, just the two of us for the first time since she was a baby (i.e., for the first time in her solid-food-eating life). At the same time, she also started school, which shifted our schedules, and I stopped having some cooking nights and some nights off—all nights are now cooking nights for me because I’m the only one who can do it. What I bought at the grocery store changed: it no longer made sense to buy items she doesn’t like and I had to buy in smaller quantities so that perishables didn’t go bad (meaning fewer types of produce at a time), plus there needed to be options so that there was food to eat even when we were rushed or I was tired.

I also became a mom who was fine with a medium portion of maple syrup instead of a small one, or a sprinkling sugar on fruit, knowing it didn’t need it and my kid would eat it either way. Instead of the occasional muffin, I started buying my daughter cookies at coffee shops pretty regularly. Where I was once going for “fun mom” who brought home cupcakes from a bakery on occasion—and they were often gluten-free and made with organic ingredients—I was now fine with having No Name brand cheese puffs in the apartment.

The shift surprised me. I wondered if I resented the fact that Anna’s other parent eats trail mix as a treat and so was letting my daughter have junk out of spite. Or if our new living situation required a bit of comfort food in a different way (even though I wanted it this way). Or if it was about letting my guard down and indulging in a more moderate approach to treats. I have a sneaking suspicion it was all of the above. And when I am done the quinoa bowl I’m eating as I write, I’ll have some chips and think about it some more.

Have life or lifestyle changes changed the way your family eats? Tell us about it in the comments. 

Tara-Michelle Ziniuk is a Toronto-based queer mom to a four-year-old. She started off as a single-mom-by-choice, and now co-parents. You can read more of her posts here and follow her on Twitter @therealrealTMZ.

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