My 3-year-old son gets his haircut at the barber shop down the street. After each trim, the barber gives him a lollipop for being so good and sitting still. Often, as we pass by the shop on our way home from school, the barber calls him in to offer a lollipop. It's such a sweet gesture from a very nice man. And yet, my husband and I try hard to avoid the barber, rudely crossing the street or rushing past, just so that we don't have to deal with the lollipop. Or the lollipop-induced tantrum that follows.
To be fair, I live and breathe healthy food: I started my company Peeled Snacks in 2004 because I couldn't find snacks that were tasty and nutritious. Added sugars -- the ingredient often present in candy -- have been held responsible for everything from obesity to diabetes and cancer. So instead we make gently dried, organic fruit snacks, free of refined and added sugars or preservatives, which make people feel good about snacking.
When it comes to my son eating lollipops, I think about the politics of food in the United States and the science behind the ill-effects of refined sugar, and sure, I worry about the diabetes and cancer. But what really drives me to do something about it is my son's inevitable meltdown as he's coming down from the sugar high. The screaming, the crying, the pounding of the floor with his fists. Or his head.
It's not like I want to deprive my son of a surprise treat. But if I don't interfere, we could easily face a sugar-induced meltdown just about every day: Now that the holidays are upon us, it feels like everyone has a candy cane to hand out, tin-wrapped chocolate Santas wait around every corner, and every holiday party or family get together ends in piles of dessert. Even doctor visits end with a lollipop! ("Don't worry, it's organic," they say. Well, then are the meltdowns organic too?).
Store shelves are full of supposedly well-intentioned products: "low-sugar" 100% fruit juice, ("low", for the record, meaning that they still contain the equivalent sugar content that the American Heart Association recommends for an adult for an entire day); dubious boasts of astronomical anti-oxidant content; or, my personal favorite, the insidious "fruit snacks" and fruit leathers that are "made with real fruit", meaning made with some real fruit, usually fruit juice, which amounts to fruit flavored sugar, and even that meager amount often makes up less than 10 percent of the product. Family, friends, caregivers, all good people, buy those snacks because they want to offer my son something real and healthy, and the products seem healthy enough. But the effect of those snacks on my son is really no different than a lollipop.
So how is a mother to negotiate with a 3-year-old? I've developed a few tactics: hiding the candy, saying we'll eat it after the meal and hoping to distract him in between, or even asking him to share it with me so he doesn't ingest all the sugar (yes, very generous of me). I'm even considering avoiding birthday or holiday parties altogether, or at least making up an excuse about why we have to leave right before the cake. With 12 kids in my son's class, and all the holiday party hopping, that easily adds up to a meltdown each week.
I've taken a drastic step of offering the parents at my son's daycare free Peeled Snacks, to add to birthday party goodie bags, just so I don't have to constantly scrutinize what they generously offer my son. That's certainly a cheap trick for me because it's my company. Luckily, though a lollipop is especially alluring, my son craves dried mango with just as much fervor as he does sugary junk, only the mango doesn't turn him into Mongo.
But I can't afford to give the barber at the corner a big bowl of dried fruit for all of his customers. So instead, I just cross to the other side of the street.