How Much Can Parents Really Control Their Kids' Eating Habits? We Ask A Kid

I read with interest this story about a Memphis mom whose teenage daughter had to have her gallbladder removed. The mom is blaming the copious amounts of spicy snacks, like Flamin' Hot Cheetos and Hot Takis, that the girl would eat, taking large bags of chips to school with her. The PR arms of those companies were quick to point out that the flamin' hot snacks should be eaten in moderation. Says Buchanan, Takis' PR firm: "We assure you that Takis are safe to eat, but should be enjoyed in moderation as part of a well-balanced diet." Frito-Lay added, "Some consumers may be more sensitive to spicy foods than others and may choose to avoid spicier snacks due to personal preference."

My fellow Takeout staffers asked me what I thought about this story, as a mother. Sure, I have been knocking myself out trying to get my kids to eat healthfully and refuse to acknowledge chocolate (my daughter's favorite) as a major food group. They're in middle school now, but once they go to high school, would I be able to stop them from having Flaming Hot Cheetos with every weekday lunch if that's what they wanted? Probably not. I would have to rely on the various nutrition lessons I've given them over the years that would hopefully make them want to eat an apple even when I'm not around.

As luck would have it, my daughter is sitting across from me right now, after protesting a beach field trip at her "prison camp" (day camp) that would involve going into the water with her camp shirt on. She said she did it last year and "it was weird." (She is also kickball- and dodgeball-adverse.) So I decided to go right to the source: As an 11-year-old, does she ever think about the nutritional values of her diet?

She shrugged at me. "Sure. It's important that you don't die of diabetes or something."

"But does that affect how you eat?" I asked. "Because I feel like if you could have chocolate at every meal, you would."

"True," she agreed. "But it's good not to, because, teeth."

Okay, so that's something. I asked her to elaborate on how she felt the healthy eating habits her father and I have tried to teach the kids have been going so far. I was relieved to hear that they have apparently made an impact. "Like whenever we get ice cream or crepes or something, we always also have to get fruit. We can't have ice cream every night. Whenever we have to have something sweet, like a granola bar or a popsicle, we have to have fruit with it, and I think that's important."

"But do you actually like fruit?" I asked, "Or do you just eat it because I make you eat it?" I was reassured by her reply. "Both. I like raspberries and strawberries and pears and apples. But I don't like mushy fruit." Also, "I feel like our dinners our healthy. We usually have some sort of vegetable."

I have been grappling with my daughter's picky-eater tendencies for awhile, so I asked her how that was going. She was enthusiastic, "probably because I've been trying more things. But I don't eat things that I know I don't like." Like what? "The list is infinite." No kidding.

So I asked her what her favorite dinner would be. "Probably spaghetti or pasta with mushroom cream sauce. I love mushroom cream sauce."

"But you don't like mushrooms! You always pick them out," I pointed out.

"I know," she nodded. "I don't like the texture." Le sigh.

So part of me feels for you, Cheetos mom. We have control over what our kids eat, but only up to a point, and there will come a time when they have to make those nutritional decisions themselves. I have tried to teach my kids the values of healthy eating, and actually, this conversation offered some valuable insight into my daughter's relationship with her diet. Hopefully, we can keep this conversation going.

I asked my daughter if she thought she might get a piece of fruit instead of packaged chips with her lunch when she's in her high school cafeteria. "Probably. I hope I would." Me too, kid. She joked, "Note to future self: Buy healthy things." I really hope she remembers.