I’m sitting at a campground right now. A campground with awesome WiFi connection. My husband, the boys and I are taking a few days out to camp, fish, play in the water, and be in each other’s company for more than five minutes at a time.

In our cooler are grapes, strawberries, carrot sticks, cheese sticks, grass fed beef patties for burgers, yogurts, juices, and a whole lot of beer. In the back of the mini van are bags full of Pop Tarts, Doritos and marshmallows. Yes, you read that right – junk food.

This isn’t a green sin confession. It’s just the reality. When we go on vacation, I relax the food rules a little bit. Okay, a lot. There are also Cheetos and potato chips back there. And some candy. I have no delusions that the potato chips are healthy because they contain less than five ingredients or the Pop Tarts are good for us because they are fortified with vitamins. I know they are junk.

I’m reminded of when I interviewed Robyn O’Brien about her book The Unhealthy Truth. She repeated one thing several times. “You can’t make perfect the enemy of good.” She’s right.

I suppose that if I had raised my children from day one with all natural foods, a vacation break from the way we’ve become accustomed to eating might not be an issue. But, we only started eating more naturally about two years ago, and the reality is my boys ate a lot of junk food before that. They know that they like it. Telling them I will never buy those things ever again because I want them to eat perfectly might backfire on me.

If I don’t show my kids that there is room for breaking the junk food rules once in a while, when they are free to make their own food choices they may go all junk food all the time. 

I had a college roommate for a short time who had never been out of her parent’s site until they dropped her off as a freshman and said “Be good.” With no experience at making her own choices, she went off the deep end making bad choices about time management, boys, and almost every other decision she was suddenly given the freedom, but not the experience, to make on her own. The results weren’t pretty. She didn’t last the semester.

I certainly plan on teaching my boys how to make their own choices and give them the opportunity to do so before they head off to college (in fact I already give them opportunities). Part of that is teaching them how to make food choices. Healthy food most of the time with room for the junk once in a while is how I want them to eat. How we choose to do the once in a while is on vacation and perhaps at a birthday party or the movie theaters.

There’s a roadside farm stand just outside the entrance to the campground. I am really looking forward to stopping there on the way home and picking up some local, farm fresh fruits and vegetables. But, you’ll have to excuse me now, because I’m going to have a Pop Tart.  

MNN homepage photo: AngiePhotos/iStockphoto

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

What are those Doritos doing in my mini van?
Is there ever a time to let your kids, or yourself, eat the junk?