Real Food and Children

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As I’ve mentioned many times before I love Earth Fare (both for their groceries and for their little café), but there is one thing I want to make clear…just because you are buying something from a “health food” or “all natural” type grocery store does not mean it is automatically good for you (or your children)! No matter how many great things they offer, all of those items are mixed in with a bunch of products that I would consider to be highly processed (just like any old grocery store). It bothers me to no end when I see products like “organic cheddar bunnies” and boxed “organic macaroni and cheese”, and “organic chocolate truffles”. The only difference between these items and products like regular Goldfish and Kraft Mac & Cheese is the fact that they are organic (which is, sure, a slightly better alternative). The thing that all of these products have in common though is that they are all highly processed and made in factories with many more refined ingredients than you would ever use if you were making them from scratch at home.

This topic is top of mind after a recent visit to Earth Fare’s “free kids” dinner night. I love taking my girls to free kids night because they love it, it is good for us, and it is cheap. But, the important thing I want to clarify is that not just any meal they serve there is good for us. Just because you are eating at a place like Earth Fare does not mean you automatically get “brownie points” for feeding your kids a “healthy” dinner. Sorry if this sounds harsh, but the point is that you still have to use your brain no matter where you are buying food!

There are actually very few things I will even allow my kids to eat on the free kids night, but luckily there are just enough “real food” options that make it worthwhile for us to go. My girls usually get grilled cheese on whole-wheat bread, one of the fresh fruit side item options, carrots, applesauce, and white milk. And call me judgmental, but I can’t help but notice what the other moms are feeding their kids (that I imagine they think are decent choices as well). It’s anything from grilled cheese on white bread to organic cheddar bunnies to flavored yogurt (that is probably loaded with organic – albeit highly refined – sugar) to organic chocolate milk. I am sorry, but a meal like that doesn’t even come close to following our “real food” rules“. And at the same time I can’t help but wonder what the majority of these kids would do if their moms chose to serve them white milk instead of chocolate (which often times has as much sugar as a regular soda) or if they served them applesauce instead of organic cheddar bunnies.

My daughter recently had a friend over and I asked her if she liked white bread or whole-wheat bread (trying to gauge if she would eat what I was going to serve her). Her response was that she liked both, but her mom usually bought white. This brings me to an absolutely wonderful quote from a book called Lunch Lessons….

“Most of the parents we know complain that their children refuse to eat healthfully and come to us in search of magic recipes that will put an end to mealtime madness. The real problem most often lies with the parents, not the kids. Most of us are so accustomed to eating out and buying prepared foods in the grocery store that we don’t even know what good food is anymore. We can’t line our cabinets with packaged cereals and sodas and expect our kids to eat like they were raised on a commune in rural Vermont. In order to be good role models we must educate ourselves first and then practice what we preach.”

This book also shares two other very important points…

“Children take their time warming up to new things and if you keep giving them the old standbys they’re not going to branch out and explore new foods. Be patient. Most research says that it takes an average of ten to twelve attempts before a child will try a new food.”

“Remember that you are the boss.”

I couldn’t agree more with the authors of the book. Especially with the part about the real problem most often (but of course not always) lying with the parents because as they said…you are the boss! My 3-year-old can be very difficult when it comes to trying and liking new foods. So what this means is that it is up to me to come up with options that I think she will eat and that we would also consider to be “real food”. To constantly be offering her a decent variety of the right choices is a lot of hard work so I can completely see why some parents would want to take the easy route with foods like frozen chicken nuggets and fries. Although I have to argue that I believe your kids’ health is worth the extra effort. And the point is (especially when your kids are little) their diets are pretty much controlled by you…the parent!

For those of you who haven’t known me long…just less than a year ago I was just like any other ordinary parent when it came to feeding my kids (and my family). I am a little embarrassed to say, but I admit that before I read Michael Pollan’s book at the beginning of last year I don’t recall ever reading a single ingredient label in my life! It’s not that I didn’t care I was just clueless. And it was a huge and (at times) unpleasant transition for us to switch to a real food diet, but now it is our new normal. And one of my most favorite outcomes from our 100 Days of Real Food adventure is that I completely rid my house of all junk food. I actually put it away in the guest closet thinking we would just put it back in the pantry when the 100 days were over. But about halfway through the pledge I surprised myself and got rid of all of it. Even though it took me 50 days to come to this conclusion I decided that I loved not having the junk around and never eating it at home. And now when my daughters are hungry for a snack they can have absolutely anything they want any time of day, and it is so nice. Nothing is off limits in our house (click for picture of our pantry), and it is so pleasurable that I can’t imagine going back to the way we were before all of this. I’ve also decided that between birthday parties, school functions, and playdates my daughters get more than enough junk food so there is absolutely no need for me to provide it to them at home as well.

One other thing I want to reiterate about the quotes from Lunch Lessons. They say based on research kids have to sometimes try a new food ten or twelve times before they warm up to it…and I believe it. Time and time again I keep serving our picky 3-year-old the same thing that the rest of us are eating for dinner only to have her turn her (cute) nose up to it. But just like the book suggests I never give up on her, although I do usually offer at least one thing on her plate that I know she likes. One day after many failed previous attempts she all of a sudden decided she liked green bell peppers (not red or yellow), but the green ones. I of course thought this was just wonderful and eagerly helped her pick all of the green ones out of our fajitas, but it was very surprising because I had easily offered this same dish to her probably 30+ times (not just 10 or 12). And it finally worked!! This is only one small example from one family, but the point of this whole post is….it is up to you, the parent, to make the right food decisions for your kids (and also involve them in those decisions whenever you can) and to never give up!!

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97 comments to Real Food and Children

  • Danyelle

    I have 4 kids. I buy whole grain breads bc we do not eat a lot of bread. We buy white pasta and some other things too…however the majority of our diet is whole foods such as veggies, fruits, yogurts, cottage cheese etc. Moderation is key. With four kids and the oldest almost 16…I have found that how you feed them to start is key. Get rid of the jarred baby foods and feed real foods. All the baby cereals are nothing more than rice or oat FLOURS with added vitamins. I recently started following Dr. Greene’ s whiteout. I always did real food with our kids and they have always been good eaters. Variety and moderation are important. Cooking from scratch is better handsdown any day. You control the ingredients even if it is white flour. I believe that the obesity is how we start our kids off and the boxed food, juices and excessive, hidden calories they eat more than whether they eat white or wheat.

  • Dana

    I am so sad to see that you deleted my comment. I meant no harm and I really would feel sorry for you if your children ever see that you also have faults like the rest of us.

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      I always welcome the opposing view, but this is a food blog not a parenting blog. Your comment did not say a word about food and was instead solely about my parenting skills so it did not fit.

      • Sara

        Dana, I also notice that they don’t allow much opposition to hang around long. I recently posted something negative about the website (technical, not even philosophical at all) and it was gone by the end of the day. They seem good at passing judgement, but not great at taking it.

        • Lisa

          Sara – I apologize, but have no idea what you are talking about. I just found this comment of yours in the pending area for some reason (wordpress automatically filed it there)…we occasionally do have comments that accidentally end up in the spam folder or the wrong place. We rarely delete the opposing viewpoint unless it is just downright ugly.

  • Shalene

    I SO want to try this real food thing, but I have a couple challenges. First off, my husband will only eat vegetables if they are 1)a potato or 2)chopped so small and cooked so thoroughly that they are unnoticable. Secondly, I have a child with sensory processing disorder (which is a BIG reason I want to try this) but her ability to eat certain things is limited. And unfortunately, some of the things she WILL eat are highly processed and it just kills me to feed her those things. (She will literally go without eating at all, rather than put some things in her mouth.) I think I’m going to try to do some of it, and see if we can change gradually. Thanks for your resources! I’m actually pretty excited to get started! (And I know it’s possible to do at least some changes. We eat mostly meals made from scratch now- and treats too- but 7 years ago, we ate almost only prepackaged/ frozen meals.)

    • 100 Days of Real Food

      It sounds like you have your work cut out for you…I am wishing you the very best of luck!! And baby steps are the way to go :)

    • Emily Woodall

      I also have an SPD kiddo! My 6-year-old little girl is SPD. It is a process, but so worth it to get them to eat healthy, whole foods. We have been working on this for 4 years and she is doing so well now! Keep up the good work, Momma!

  • Brianna

    As I’ve said before, I live far from “good” grocery stores. I’ve even called Walmart’s Corporate Office and spoke to our store’s assistant manager about making some items available (mostly organic dairy foods), which they have yet to do. I was SO excited to make a trip to Trader Joe’s and the STL Farmer’s Market. I thought that going somewhere like “Trader Joe’s” meant that I could relax and choose any and everything. We were able to buy cheese and grass-fed beef there, but Walmart has as many “whole foods” as they do. I appreciate that they don’t have HFCS or GMO’s (although I saw corn and soy products on their non-organic labels…so what does that mean?), but I was really let down that much of their food was so processed. I don’t always abide by the 5 ingredient rule, especially if I recognize the ingredients (i.e. beef stock that contains celery juice, onion juice, carrot juice, beet juice, etc.). However, I now realize that I will have to keep reading labels no matter where I shop. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. Oh, to be able to feed my kids canned soup without guilt again….lol.

  • Brandy

    I really appreciate your post. A few months ago, I decided to begin eliminating processed foods from my family’s diet. As a stay-at-home Mom, I cook all of our meals from scratch but found myself constantly relying on boxed foods for snacks. After reading about how much corn is in dog food, it really got me thinking about how much corn-products/other additives must be in our own food. This is something I kind of knew in the back of my head but more-or-less chose to ignore because of convenience. We have afterschool activities almost everyday & it was so easy to throw a prepackaged snack into a bag to take on the road! My kids are 10, 7 & 6. It has been a big change for them to not be able to open the “snack cabinet” and find it full of stuff…even if the foods were crackers, goldfish, fruit gummie snacks, etc. I constantly talk to them about why we are changing our diets, which really seems to help them understand and be more open to change. I have also taken my kids on individual occasions to a “health food store.” When I first began this change over and went to this store, I was blown away by how many boxed foods that were organic. I was over-the-moon happy with myself, however, that I had found your blog before this journey and was able to look at the ingredients on the back and realize just how much sugar and other processed trash were in the ingredients. Because of you helping to open my eyes, I was able to make better choices. I’m definitely not perfect, I would like to do more (like make my own bread…which scares me!! :) ) but I figure I will accomplish my goals in due time. In the meantime, I know I am working very hard to move our diets in a more wholesome direction.

  • Nancy

    Jennifer and Courtney, I have a box of cheddar bunnies in my pantry, nearly gone. Just started the 10 day pledge. Lighten up ladies. Really, you are offended? Can’t you see the heart in this post and the integrity in her research? Let’s face it. There are a lot of mom’s that don’t care and a lot that let their kids rule the menu! Then there is the clueless, and the ones like us…simply trying to raise healthy kids! Get angry and offended over our horrible food supply and how we’ve been lied to about it! I did and that is why I found this blog. Thanks Lisa! You do a great work!

  • Bonnie

    I just recently stumbled across this blog on a sleepless night…I have a tween who is adjusting quite well to the changes that I am trying to make in our eating habits as a result of reading it. I am amazed at the things she is trying that I never thought she would eat! I made the banana pancakes this morning and she loved them. I am struggling with snacks. She said several times yesterday, “There are no snacks in this house.” After dinner, it was “There is nothing for dessert in this house.” I have been focusing on meals, but need to read through the snack suggestions and have things handy for her. I just wanted to let you know how wonderful this blog has been for me. I am excited to try so many of the recipes you have provided. I have a long, long way to go to 100% real food, but we won’t be eating frozen pizzas anymore:)! Thank you!

  • Emily

    Just a thank you for all of this information and education! I have been passionate about real food for my one year old, and made all of his baby food from scratch but have been struggling for the last months since he’s been eating “big people” food. It is difficult to avoid those Goldfish and other junk crackers that seem to be staples in toddler-snack land… I am LOVING your recipes and I’m so inspired with all of these ideas for healthy, real food for my family.

  • AuntPol

    I love this site. I too have picky kids w/SPD -one is a seeker who likes crunchy and spicy can’t take anything mushy and/or sweet. Then the other is sensory averse and can’t take anything with texture or spice. Throw in a husband who can’t stand the smell of squash or anything cruciferous, etc. and won’t drink water, and won’t eat most vegetables (other than simple salad) and he won’t abide by the one bite rule (thus the kids feel they don’t have to either.

    I use a process called chaining. I have taken my pastafarian child to only eating Kraft mac and Cheese to eating a much healthier version

    a) Kraft Mac and Cheese but use real butter and whole milk (switch one at a time)
    b) Annie’s Mac and Cheese in Blue Box (not the organic but the box is similar color to Kraft)
    c) Switch out ¼- pasta and replace whole grain macaroni –keep the cheese mix
    d) Gradually increase amount of wheat pasta
    e) Do half the cheese mix and half real cheese and change until you get to real cheese only.
    *** you could also do cheese first and then pasta

    My averse child (Who is 13!!!!) is still picky but now she is eating whole grain pastas and breads (still working on getting her to eat a homemade tortilla instead of storebought), real cheese, whole milk, Stonyfield yogurt (Strawberry only –must be totally smooth), fruit cups in juice (won’t do the same fruits raw except melons , bananas and strawberries), will take natural peanut butter if mixed with half regular, homemade ranch dressing, and most of the softer raw veggies (tomatoes and carrots), Cheerios as a cereal (all the others don’t taste right to her so far). She recently added Chik-Fil-A nuggets so I’m trying to get different HM versions (so far only Shake and Bake is excepted –so next I will do a HM Shake and Bake). We also just got her to eat a chocolate muffin and hope to move to fruit muffins eventually. We just got her to eat plain sauce (no chunks) on her pasta in the past year and last week I got her to eat pizza sauce on her cheese quesadilla. Still struggling with a pizza crust she will eat that is whole grain (she won’t do English muffin or French bread pizzas –she likes the frozen bagel pizzas but won’t eat the WW bagels because the crusts have a seedy like texture)

  • Genny

    I came to this post because a friend posted about your cheddar crackers. I was interested in linking over to see your thoughts on the cheddar bunnies. I had no idea if you would say you love them so much you couldn’t stop eating them and therefor need a substitute, or that they were terrible in every way. I am surprised by your judgment on other parents and the feeling you give off that you are smarter and superior to them. I would think that as you start down a path of trying to feed your kids healthier you would realize how many different schools of thought there are and be open to the idea that other parents might be following a different one. There are movements preferring white bread over wheat. The are family situations that are different than your own, like the commenters mentioned above, or they may be that they are only on day 10 of 100 days and to the kids it’s huge to have a yogurt instead of a pudding. Be gentle, because everyone’s processing different info, and for their own family’s needs. Here’s the only link I can find right now about white being potentially better than brown, but one day I jumped from link to link and found a lot of interesting info, that to me says depending on what your body needs in a given day there’s benefits to eating whole wheat (or brown starches) and benefits to eating white.

  • I also was suprised at the judgment you pass.
    I take the same stand as you, my house is rid of junk food and we just plain don’t have it in the house, so on that note, I DO allow my kids to eat what they want when we are out of the house. Avoiding places that have bowls of junk food and processed foods as only choices. How dare you to parent judge.

  • Megan

    I was looking for your stance on Annie’s snack products as I do use them to hold over my ravenous children until my from scratch meal is complete. I agree with you and do not take offense. I don’t think it is a great choice. I do think it is better than a lot of options. I am a stay-at-home Mom that makes every meal from scratch and sometimes I just honestly NEED convenience food! I pick Annie’s organic for this purpose. They don’t get it in most instances, so I feel ok with this decision. Keep up the good work. You do make a difference!

  • Holly

    Hi Lisa,

    I just wanted to say that I applaud you for your efforts to educate our culture about the harms of eating unhealthy foods and the importance of eating well. My husband and I have been on a real foods journey for over four years now, and have been trying very hard to protect our almost two year-old son from developing improper taste preferences. He loves real foods and good beverage choices despite the fact that he is offered highly processed and refined sugary options too frequently by other special people in his life. Eating well is not the easiest way to eat, but it is so incredibly vital and rewarding. I am also an internist practicing primary care, and I am on a mission to teach my patients this message too(even though it was unfortunately not a focus of my education which was more geared towards pharmacotherapy and secondary prevention).
    Please keep up the good work!


  • [...] few weeks ago we had a lovely little discussion on the blog about organic cheddar bunnies. So after making my feelings clear about those crackers, [...]

  • Christa

    I can’t quite believe some many people got their undies in bunch over your post. Anyways, that aside, I wanted to share a story that I saw on an ER show that was dramatizations of real cases that doctors have seen. They had this little boy–like 3–that came in with a strange set of symptoms. I can’t remember now quite what they were. But in the end, the doctor figured out that the child had SCURVY caused by a lack of vitamin C because “all he will eat is oatmeal” according to the parents. The doctor had to tell them basically the same thing you advocate–You are the parent… YOU make the choices. Very few children will starve themselves long term to avoid something they think they don’t like (or don’t like at first).

  • miranda

    Hi I have a bit of an issue with some of the choices you deemed safe and healthy. I live in Canada (thank goodness) and would really like you to research your healthy food choice for white milk. My uncle works for Canada Customs with Health Canada and warned us not to consume Milk from the states as they use Bovine Growth Hormones and it is impossible to keep the puss from the cows utters out of the milk. This milk is used to make your organic or whole food dairy products as well. Just some food for thought… Also while I believe it is extremely commendable for you and your family to eat Whole foods or “Real foods”(Our family has been doing it for 5 years now) I do not understand why all the discrimination about other peoples food choices. After all thats why they are called choices. I don’t usually comment on blog posts but did find some of your comments in the post to be highly discriminatory and a direct blow to others parenting. Even though we eat whole foods at home (we grow our own produce raise our own game etc) I would not begrudge my son from having a grilled cheese sandwich on white bread at a friends house lol I am so thankful to live in a country where I do not have to worry about hormones being pumped into my families meat and dairy products, but do agree with you that it is a choice that is easily made by a parents example… I was really into following this blog (as I just found it today and was quite excited) before I stumbled on this post. I just really wish that people weren’t so judgmental. Its because of the judgmental attitude that people who choose this lifestyle got the name “health nuts” and why people shy away from listening to others tell them about healthier food choices…

    • Nicole S.

      Hi. I just wanted to chime in. Alot of the dairy farmers here in the states are NOT using the growth hormone anymore. They all used to. Thankfully most farmers will not anymore, although some have not jumped on that wagon, yet.. lol. We’re getting there :)

  • Janelle

    The fight should not be amongst ourselves. ALL parents want the best for their children. We need to focus our attention on the manufacturers of the “UNreal” food. If we don’t buy it, they won’t make money, they will stop making it. Put your efforts into lobbying them and support one another.

  • Chisty

    Very good post!! If it wasn’t for this site..I don’t know what I would do!! Actually, I would have already given up on eating healthier! It’s so nice to have a place of encouragement and a place where I can find real food recipes. It’s true what they say…knowledge is power..the more I learn about our foods the easier it is to never buy that product again (or buy more of the healthier sfuff!). The most challanging thing for me is trying to get my 2 kids and husband on board. My kids are easier because like you said, their diets are controlled by me. But my husband is the hard one to get to switch over. He wanted so bad for me to make biscuits last night with white flour and Crisco when I’ve been making them with white whole wheat flour and butter (your recipe). Of course when I make a big pan of biscuits not only does my husband eat them but my kids do as well…not me though! This new food tastes better now and I know I’m doing my body good. I was wondering.. how do you handle when your kids have sleepovers…do you just let them eat whatever at the friends house or do you let the parents of the child know your real food rules?

    • Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Chisty. I think you have to be able to relax your rules enough that it doesn’t stress your kids out so much that they can’t enjoy a sleepover. That said, anyone that the kids would be staying with are either very close friends or family, all of whom are familiar with the food philosophies with which we are raising our children, and typically offer some healthy choices. This also gives our kids a chance to make choices. Sometimes those choices might make us cringe, but we can live with that from time to time. :) ~Amy

  • Nicole S.

    I just wanted to say that I feed my kids Annie’s fruit chews and cheddar bunnies and I do NOT take offense to this blog post.. lol. I don’t think any harm was meant by it at all. Everyone judges others about SOMETHING.. this just happens to her thing. Coming out and telling everyone you were offended by it only tells us you’re an oversensitive baby. Sorry, but it had to be said.

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