Can Kids Kill a Healthy Diet?

A new study finds childless couples eat healthier

A few months ago, I found myself in the kitchen of a girlfriend with two young kids under the age of five. It was lunchtime. On the menu? Mac and cheese, canned peas and corn and “healthy” potato chips from Trader Joe’s -- three items that never pass my lips. Not because I don’t want to eat delicious mac and smack, but because I run a pretty tight ship when it comes to my diet. If I’m going to indulge, it’s going to be with a dark chocolate whoopee pie or Phish Food ice cream, not chicken nuggets.

But at my friend’s house, I found myself stealing food from her toddler’s mouth. Suddenly, instant macaroni with powdered cheese sounded delicious. Green and orange potato chips? (Which are nonetheless deep fried in oil, mind you, yet, thanks to spinach and sweet potato extract, don a health halo.) Yes, please! Then I hit the gym for a Spin class, showered and met my husband for a dirty martini and some sushi.

Kids change everything -- or so I hear -- the least of which is your diet. I have friends who, in their childless days, wouldn’t think of touching pizza. Three kids later and they’ve got Papa John’s on speed dial. So I wasn’t surprised to hear about a new study of 7,000+ British families which found that households without children are healthier eaters. Even after controlling for income and age, couples without kids consumed four pounds more fruit and vegetables per person over an average two-week period. They also consumed less cereal, potatoes and dairy products (all commonly eviscerated “white” foods.)

“This confirms what we as parents know,” explains study author Richard Tiffin, a professor of economics at the University of Reading in England. “For whatever reason, the social dynamic in a household with children makes the diet on average more unhealthy.” By “social dynamic,” I’m assuming he means families like my chicken nugget-serving girlfriend: Two working parents who are so crazed juggling full-time jobs with breastfeeding, day care, working out and their own social lives that they don’t have time to whip up grilled salmon every night.

Indeed, peer into the pantry of a couple with kids and you’re bound to find cereal puffs that instantly dissolve in saliva, yogurt packaged in tubes that inexplicably does not require refrigeration, juice, boxed macaroni and cheese, applesauce, and granola bars. According to harried, frazzled moms, this is what kids eat. Healthy-eating advocates will insist it is possible to feed your family whole foods – and I believe them – but I can only imagine that once the bone-aching fatigue sets in after a long day of work and childrearing, even a five-ingredient meal can seem intimidating.

I do want kids, and I’m sure my day will come when my meals take an ugly gastronomic turn for the worse. I’m sure I’ll find myself like all my other mom friends, mindlessly nibbling hot dog chunks off my kid’s plate, finishing their leftover PB&J to avoid “wasting” it or unable to refuse that delicious mayonnaise-and-toast sandwich he made, just for mommy. Until then, I’ll smugly enjoy my red wine and ahi tuna, completely unprepared for the nutritional abominations which await me.

Moms, what do you think? Have kids changed your diet -- and if so, for better or worse? Chime in below!

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