Saturday, September 10, 2011

No, thank you.

We were at the Waffle House a few days ago and the kind lady who was serving us passed the kids' plates over to us.  Each child had his own waffle, and on top of each waffle was a disposable one-serving cup of margarine.

"Oh, here," I said to her, "we don't need these, thanks." 

"No butter? On waffles? For the kids?"  The words came from her mouth before she could even stop them. I could tell that some part of her wished she hadn't said it. Partly because of her own rotund middle and ample arms that held our plates and partly because it probably isn't p.c. to go questioning how grown folks feed their kids. (At least to their faces, that is.)

I laughed and replied--careful not to be smug-health-nut-lady, "You know what? I'm trying my hardest not to even introduce butter to them. Weird, I know. It just seems like one of those things that, as yummy as it is, you can live without if you don't know about it. At least on waffles."

"That's smart," she responded with a genuine nod. "Makes sense." She put her hand on her hip and cocked her head to the side like she was thinking.

"My wife also doesn't like butter." Harry had to bust my bubble so I wouldn't look like super-save-a-kid-mom. Hater. But this is a true statement. I'm not a big butter fan. As a child I just didn't really "get" butter. Something about it looked like Crisco, which sort of grossed me out.

Funny, right?

But here's the thing.  Once I did actually taste butter, I did get it. I got why folks dug it so much and slathered it on top of their everything.  In fact, I even got the difference between real, sho' nuff butter and substitutes like Country Crock or I can't believe it's not butter (which I totally can believe isn't the real stuff.)  Yes. It's yummy. But what I learned from all those butter-less years is that a lot of things that call for butter are pretty damn delicious without it. Sure.  I make some very clear exceptions to being butter-free which are popcorn, yeast rolls, baked sweet potatoes, and corn-on-the-cob.  Oh, and grits. Yeah, grits. Otherwise, Harry is right--I'm cool when it comes to butter.

With this in mind, I started deciding which things I would and would not introduce my kids to on the table. I guess I'm looking for this happy medium between letting them live a little and not making them die from food addiction later. No. I'm not ultra-organic lady with puree'd baby foods and herbs on my window sill. Not that I don't wish I were that lady--I'm just not hard-wired like that.  Instead, I simply looked at a lot of foods and drinks and asked myself, "What if I never had this as a kid? Would I go crazy for it later or be fine to keep living without it? And would not having this intrude on what it's like to be a kid?"

Once I answered those questions, a few foods were relegated to being "foreign objects" to our kids.  This, of course, came from me and not Harry. Fortunately, though, he is down with it. 

And so. Butter made that list.  Now. Do they have butter with grandparents or at times when we're not in control? Probably. But are they looking for it at home or the 98% of the time they eat? Nope.  It's like they know that syrup goes on top of waffles but the butter part? No comprende.

A friend called me laughing fairly recently while Zachary was there for a playdate with her son. "Has your child ever tasted soda pop?" she cackled into the phone. 

"Actually? I don't think so."

All I could hear was hysterical laughter. "What? He's almost five!"

But, see, soda was also on that list.  I've yet to find anything about it that's good for you and, as a kid, there's such great alternatives to it.  If my kid has a soda at a birthday party do I flip out though? Naaah.

Gum.  That one, too.  Zachy had a stick of gum for the first time two weeks ago. And promptly swallowed it. Eh? It happens when you haven't had something.

I guess here is what I'm reflecting on today.  Kids and food and exercise and how complicated it all is. The Children's Healthcare of Atlanta organization has put out these very provocative commercials fighting childhood obesity. Georgia is the second most overweight state when it comes to children, and man. These folks are not holding back.  I was recently at a lecture that the CEO of CHOA (who is freakin' awesome, by the way) gave and she showed us a couple of these public service announcements. Check this out--oh and warning: these are very "in your face." People generally have strong reactions to them--some positive and some horrified. But their idea was to get people talking and thinking about childhood obesity and what we're doing to our kids one butter pat at a time. . . .

Well? What did you think? Me--I felt so sad seeing these commercials.  And even a little bit discouraged. Not because I don't think it's forward thinking and overall a good thing. I love that they are doing this and putting money into the fight against what has become a horrible epidemic. It still makes me feel sad, though. Because I know how complicated food and obesity are. I know how it is a culture in itself and how difficult it is to unravel culture.  I see this culture at work every day--and not just in the clinic or the wards. I see it in the break rooms and in the cafeteria on top of trays. I hear it in words spoken to employees in the lunch line like, "Would you like some fries with your burger?" or "You want sausage and gravy with these eggs?"

"Fries? Yes, please. No, wait. Give me some of them mojo potato wedges instead."

"I can give you both, sugar."


I used to live in a beautiful neighborhood in a predominantly minority part of town. It was clean and quiet-- and my neighbors were wonderful.  Yes. I meant to say quiet. No one running or walking or pushing a stroller in sight. Okay, maybe every blue moon. But for the most part? Nada.

Now I live in-town near the University. I can't pull out of my driveway without nearly mowing down a runner, jogger, or someone walking their dog. Bike riders and shirtless teenagers chatting and laughing on mile four. I even saw a kid from the boys' school running with her dad one day and I know for certain that she is in third grade.

Yeah.  It's a different culture in this neighborhood. And my old neighborhood wasn't a bad one, either. It just had a different vibe. . . .which wasn't as health conscious as this one. But it all has a domino effect, don't you think?

So Isaiah and Zachary are growing up with "exercise just for the hell of it" as a part of their culture. They're passing on the butter and asking why a drink with bubbles tastes so "spicy."  We're making some nights "fruit dessert" nights like my friend Lesley does with her kids and we're schlepping the kids to the gym with us to let them see that, yes, black folks run and jump for exercise and not only as a part of organized sports. But see, these were all choices that we made strategically. Oh, and did I mention? A whole lot of these choices cost money.  


I don't know.  Culture is such a hard thing to change. I don't know what those kids in those commercials are up against, either. But I do know this--a little can sure go a long way. So that's what I tell my patients at Grady. Try these little things that don't cost money. And do these things in front of your kids. Starting with simple ones like, "Butter? No, thank you."


  1. What other items are on the list of things your children can't have? I don't have kids but I think it is good to know these things. I know if I ever have kids they won't be drinking soda on my watch but I never thought about butter.

  2. Our culture didn't used to be overweight and unmoving. Kids used to be out there riding bikes and playing and adults must have been doing something because they also weren't as overweight as now. Back then, when I was growing up in 1950s and '60's in Detroit, we walked to and from neighborhood schools. There was no fast food around. There was gym class everyday. For a variety of reasons most of that is no longer part of our community.

    I think your method is a wise one and wish you loads success! Pop phooey. sorry about the butter though.

  3. My parents also decided not to have soda in the house when I was growing up. As a child, I did try it at birthday parties when there were no other options, but I didn't like the fizz. So I drank a lot of water back then. I think controlling what your kids are exposed to on a daily basis is a great way to keep them healthier. Part of it is the example you set as parents and part of it is not ever getting accustomed to whatever that thing is. I do drink an occasional soda these days, but it's the exception rather than the rule.

  4. Great post. You should check out Girl Trek. From their website:
    "GirlTrek is a national non-profit that inspires and organizes Black girls and women - whose communities are most at risk - to live healthier and more fulfilled lives."

    My friend from high school is a co-founder.

  5. My mother tried similar things and it backfired. I hope your situation works out like you want!

  6. Living in the diabetes capitol of the world, I'm thinking that syrup is worse than the butter - just sayin :)

  7. i get it- i think i do it by accident- the things i don't eat or do- they don't get (soda pop, butter, and green beans). but lets talk about donuts... we were at a party in san fran when zoe was 3- she came up and asked if she could have another donut, which i obliged, and at the same moment i hear another kids say to their mom, "what is that funny looking bagel?"- now that, is a crime :)
    xoxo- and what i wouldn't give for a bagel in uganda

  8. I don't know what I feel about these PSA's. I was involved in getting a PSA done for epilepsy and it was quite a brutal and controversial one. They worked for tobacco and smoking, I guess. They didn't work for drugs and alcohol, though. But I so understand what you're saying about culture and obesity. And I find it uniquely American -- or at least our culture, whether black or white or Hispanic or Asian -- but American -- to build up certain things (in this case, crap food and a certain way of life), glorify it, actually (the adulation of let's say The Coca Cola Company)and then when we come to our senses, spend gazillions of dollars to "fix" it. Sort of like war, too -- bomb the hell out a country and then work to build up the infrastructure. I also thought about the grief Michelle Obama got for her garden and anti-obesity participation -- how the right loves to shut her down, call it all part of the nanny state, etc. But now I'm rambling on --

  9. coco -- hmmm. I need to think on my full list. LOL. sounds like a future post!

    kristin -- you are so right. i don't know what happened. oh, yes I do. we all got too "busy." so much stuff and so many gadgets, you know? so crazy. oh, and y'all--check out her blog. amazing.

    ny-ying-- hoping it works like it did for you!

    davita-- hey there! will totally check out girltrek! thanks for sharing~

    NOLA -- oh no! don't say that!!

    Kimberly -- I hear you. The only thing is that butter gets used a lot more than syrup (since only certain things call for syrup) and folks can always find a reason to call for some butter. The other thing is this--sweets aren't the cause of diabetes, so technically syrup wouldn't be as worrisome as one might think. Obesity is what's putting us at risk for diabetes here in the "capitol" and I have a sneaking suspicion that butter has a whole lot more to do with that than Mrs. Butterworth. . .;)

    Kris -- LOL, the donut thing! My mom tells this story of a kid she saw playing with a piece of wrapped chocolate like it was a toy because he had no idea it was candy. Ha. I'm not that hard core!

  10. Great post, Dr. Manning...I also think TV, computer, X-box, etc., etc. are a HUGE part of the problem.

    Once when my kids were younger, I ordered Sports Illustrated for Kids, thinking it would be focused on kids and sports, but at that time at least, the magazine was filled to the brim with advertisements for electronic games with little actual sports content. It seems part of what is harming our kids is the non-stop, relentless advertising of things that are not so great for them.

    Those ads you posted are sad...maybe lots of positive ads also showing kids going to the park with their parents, swimming with their parents, walking, biking, shooting hoops with their parents, would get people out there & motivated...advertising is soooo influential, might as well use it for positive messages, too.


  11. I would be interested in what's on your list of restricted items too. And maybe you could give some healthier options to the common culprits. And to your disbelieving friend, I never tasted cola until I was 21. For real. Trouble is, it's about more than food, too. I always hated exercising for it's own sake (okay, I hate the gym and feel the need to have an actual destination when I go for a walk). But now that I have a very active son, just taking him outside to play is a workout. He's 3 now and I refuse to let him become a screen addict like so many of his peers (seriously, a DS for a 3 year old? Is it just me?) If that means moving my fat ass out the door and outside of my comfort zone, so be it. I don't care if I'm sweaty and red-faced, or how I look in a swimming suit when he's laughing and having a blast. Not supermom either, just can't seem to do it for me, so I'll do it for him, ya know?

  12. Dr. Manning, I was just thinking a little more about those ads today. When I dropped my son off at his school, I saw two separate young men, both very, very overweight, and both looking so shy and so lonely, my heart just went out to them.

    I think the ads that actually influence me are those where I can identify with the people somewhat, but they look happier and cooler than me, because of whatever that ad is pushing.

    I was thinking they could have those very same Moms and children as in the ads you posted above, but show them making some very good, simple choices that make their life better, and just show them having a good time with it.

    One ad could show the Mom driving past McDonald's, but instead of buying fast food, going home and making turkey, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches with low-fat mayo.

    Another could show her preparing elbow macaroni and tomato sauce, with a side of cantaloupe slices.

    They could have maybe 5 or 7 ads with very simple, easy recipe ideas that cost the same or less as what people usually spend for dinner.

    There could be an ad when the Mom and child are in the supermarket, and choose non-fat cottage cheese over regular, skim milk over regular milk, non-fat ice cream, etc.

    One could show them choosing to drink water instead of soda or juice, and the mom could tell the child that water is the best drink on earth.

    It wouldn't be too hard to create some very simple ads that just spread some good ideas around, and where the moms look empowered and know how to make good choices.

    Then they can have a phone number or website to get more recipe,snacks, or sports ideas.

    Thanks for caring always, and putting your ideas out there, Dr. Manning! You're the best! :)


  13. Lena x 2 -- Sister, you better preach! I like your PSAs! They sound awesome!

    Jen-- You moving with your son is the right idea. He sees his mommy out there shaking a tailfeather and guess what? He'll want to do the same. Good for you, ladybug!


"Tell me something good. . . tell me that you like it, yeah." ~ Chaka Khan

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