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The recent blog post about making changes to the culture of sugar in the Modern Orthodox world has gone viral. Rachel Cyrulnik writes on The Times of Israel blog that kids expect junk because that’s what we give them.

“I live in a Modern Orthodox community where Shabbat parties, lollypops from the candy man at shul, and soda, cake and candy at Kiddush are weekly staples in our children’s lives. Sugar is the common fare used to provide rewards and treats in school, camp and shul.”

Whether you’re Jewish or not, observant or not, we all live in a culture that uses sugary treats, such as baked goods and junk food to indicate happiness and celebration. Why are we linking artificially sweet food and food coloring to joy? Because that’s how it was done for us.

The problem with the way things are now is threefold:

1. In the past, to have a homemade baked treat for one’s birthday might have meant butter, flour and sugar, but at least it was all real – and usually without food coloring.

2. Today, even food that is considered “healthy”(such as granola bars) is highly processed and full of added sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, which contributes to Americans’ uphill battle against ill health and obesity. It takes immense effort to eat real, unprocessed food that will actually contribute to our health, rather than take away from it.

3. Today, our children are given candy and treats everywhere. It’s no longer about special occasions. Even if it is, those special occasions seem to occur multiple times a day. It’s a play date, let’s have cookies. It’s kid’s groups at your house of worship, let’s have potato chips and juice. It’s a birthday, let’s have cake. It’s Shabbat, let’s have piles of candy. We’re in the checkout line at home depot, let’s pick up those peanut M and M’s.

When you can’t even go to Home Depot without candy being shoved in your face, I’d say we have a real problem. Obviously, that example isn’t about culture, it’s about a corporation trying to sell their product everywhere possible to make money. While there’s nothing wrong with that concept, we still have to figure out how to protect our families’ health and crowd out some of that edible processed junk and replace it with real food.

Cyrulnik paints an accurate picture of how every other minute seems to have become an occasion for unhealthy eating and asks for communal help in making systemic changes that will improve our health.

Cyrulnik writes, “I ask our community institutions — schools and shuls — to create policies and infrastructure that actually help community members engage in healthier lifestyles. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Water at Kiddush instead of soda. A Shabbat afternoon walking group. Requiring one healthy snack at a school birthday party.”

Looking at this list, I was actually quite pleased to say that my shul’s regular Kiddush is generally quite healthy, with water instead of soda, numerous salads, healthy dips with raw veggies, and only one sweet. The cholent is generally vegetarian and truly healthy. You can have your sesame noodles and tortilla chips too, but it is the healthiest Kiddush I’ve ever seen.

In addition, my daughter’s school doesn’t allow sugary treats for birthday parties. While some would say this is being a killjoy, I think changing that system from the time kids are young and removing about 20 times per year they would be consuming cupcakes and candy, will continue to be invaluable for the rest of their lives. It doesn’t mean you can’t have fun or eat something delicious, like making fun projects with sweet, ripe fruit.

What do you suggest? Where can you see one of your communities improve? Is it at school, your house of worship, your play group? Let me know your intentions here or over on Facebook.

I intend to take on the holiday meal. In my community, that means Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch EVERY WEEK. For those of you who aren’t observant or Jewish, this is like having Thanksgiving EVERY WEEK, plus numerous holiday celebrations throughout the year that are sometimes three days long (8 days in the case of Chanukah!).

For more information and ideas about why this matters and what you can do to ensure your guests still leave happy, full and satisfied, see my new Healthy Mama’s Guide and the companion cookbook. You’ll find nutrition information you probably haven’t heard before, a strategic plan for your own family, and recipes you can use to both celebrate something and improve the health of your family. My motto is, “Substitution is your strategy.”

For 3 “done for you” healthy holiday meal plans, the 2 books and over 100 healthy recipes, come to my Book Launch Party and Healthy Holiday Program on Sunday night, September 20 (in Potomac, MD). If you can’t make it or aren’t local, you can buy the books on Amazon or through me for signed/dedicated copies. Both options are available HERE.

In addition, you can bring this program and many others to your own community. Be in touch! Natasha@HealthyFamilyHealthyYou.com. I look forward to planning a fun, community and family-changing event with you!

Which workshop will you choose?

 

 

About the author

I make fruits and vegetables come alive for kids and families; You can build a foundation of lifelong healthy habits and attitudes through my Fruit Funshops, Mama's Nights Out, Blog, and Books: The Healthy Mama’s Guide to feeding your family well – Simply and Sanely and its companion cookbook.