10 Cool Moms on When to Break the Rules About Healthy Eating

updated Sep 30, 2020
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Here’s how “mom life” is supposed to work: You get home from long days of (fill in the blank: work, school, play, travel, life), open the fridge, and find an abundance of fruits and vegetables for a perfect nutritious meal. (You’re doing such a good job of planning ahead these days!) The kids play quietly while things come together in about 30 minutes, and someone else takes over the dishes while you have a few minutes to relax before the bedtime routine begins.

Sounds dreamy, right?

But here’s how it really works: You get halfway home from soccer practice when you realize Sophie left her backpack there. As you turn around, your partner calls saying they have to work late. You’re home 45 minutes later than planned. The cat barfed in the middle of the living room, and Jack managed to step in it even though he never goes in the living room. You wrench off your shoes and go for the cleaning supplies while you ignore your ringing phone, but realize simultaneously that you never got a birthday gift for the party that starts in 24 minutes. Sophie and Jack start fighting. Microwaved nachos for dinner, anyone?

The takeaway: Sometimes, for all of us, eating healthfully takes a back seat to busy schedules, celebrations, or those days that just go sideways before you can do anything about it. We asked 10 moms when they break the rules about healthful eating. Guess what? We all do it.

1. We break the rules anytime there is a special event or holiday, like a birthday or Halloween. Also, when we travel and they have a chance to try something new or different or indigenous to that region, I want them to try it and enjoy it so we tend to break the rules then too. I want my children to learn balance and the importance of savoring those special moments (and the delicious foods that come with them) as much as they understand the value of enforcing rules to keep them healthy throughout their lives. —Erica, physician, mom of three

2. We break the rules one night a week, when my kids have back-to-back activities right at dinnertime. That day they usually end up eating both an early and a late snack/dinner that are definitely less healthy than what we usually have at home. We also do ice cream or another treat after doctor’s appointments. As one of my kids has a lot of doctor’s appointments, those treats can add up. –Kim, stay-at-home mom of two

3. For holidays, especially Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas, we don’t monitor sweets or sugar. For Halloween, we let them have as much candy as they want. I’m always surprised that they don’t eat more of it. We let them have access to it for a few days and then get rid of the extra. To be honest, neither of the girls have complained or been upset when the candy goes away after several days. –Rachel, clinical social worker, mom of two

4. Every day is a relatively healthy eating day but we don’t think of it in terms of “rules.” We just say “as many colors on your plate as you can” and the kids seems to have (mostly) adapted and choose the right foods. I’ve read that eight exposures to a food is the right amount to create a taste for it so we often wait and see (often forever). Also. the kids’ grandmothers give them pudding for breakfast but what happens at grandma’s stays at grandma’s. –Karly, clinical psychologist, mom of two

5. If by “breaking the rules” you mean pizza or burgers for dinner … well, it happens when it needs to. If we’re in a jam because of limited time to eat, cook, or shop, then it happens. But eating wholesome meals in our house is such a priority, we usually find a way to avoid it. Which means, the “unhealthy” eating that is a break for Mom and Dad happens seldom enough that it is seen as a BIG treat to the kids! –Jennifer, architect, mom of two

6. It feels right to break the rules for celebrations, after something hard has happened and they just need a pick-me-up and a hug, on vacation (they love the sugary cereal boxes that come with vacation!), and when friends are over! Sometimes, if we’re dining at a place that is more for the adults, we’ll let them eat french fries and dessert. I see no reason to make them suffer because I want a nice meal. –Leslie, management consultant, mom of two

7. We break the rules when traveling, when being hosted in someone else’s home, and when getting them to sleep ASAP is the paramount concern. –Kate, Japanese translator, mom of two

8. We usually break the rules once a week and during family vacations. The once-a-week break is our Wednesday morning doughnut tradition. I also let the kids choose a sugar treat over the weekend, like getting a soda or a Shirley Temple, or going out for ice cream. –Betsey, capital program manager, mom of two

9. We don’t have a lot of rules because our son loves healthy foods like fruits, veggies, and fish. We get pizza occasionally when we’re in a rush or have had a long day and need a quick dinner. –Andrea, preschool teacher, mom of one

10. We tend to insist on healthy foods first, then treats. We also try to limit to no more than one treat per day. The decision to break the rules is usually done on a case-by-case basis and sometimes involves discussion. For instance, we anticipate that there might be treats at an evening event, so when our daughter asks for a treat earlier in the day, we tell her she will get one treat and she can choose to have it now or later. –Lisa, clinical psychologist, mom of one