I Don’t Want My Daughters to Worry about Food

Can we please all agree to make this post a non-judgmental space today? Just like most other parents I am simply trying to do the best I can, and just like most parents—I do not claim to have all the answers. And as a result of some recent non-judgmental and constructive feedback from blog readers, I’ve been doing some thinking…and my thoughts are this: I never want my daughters to have to worry about food (or anything for that matter).

People sometimes imply that allowing your children to have free rein on junk food means “letting your kid be a kid,” but in reality I think they are confusing “eating junk food” with the happy-go-lucky, carefree feeling we often see in children. And in my opinion there are many ways to achieve that bliss, which I can assure you, is not only from junk food.

donut

But I am the first to admit it’s not easy to constantly find that fine line between standing up for what you believe in (nourishing my children with the healthiest foods on the planet!) and also not being too uptight. Whether we like it or not, there is a social aspect to junk food. I tell my husband all the time “we’ve been there done that” …therefore I don’t care if I never again chow down on a Little Debbie Snack, a box of Nerds, or a Push Up (really, I don’t). But my children have not had the same experiences as me and no matter how much they “understand” why those foods are unhealthy who can blame them for wanting to see what they are all about? They are literally surrounded by this stuff on a regular basis – just look at school lunch rooms, TV commercials, and even check-out lines at the store.

The Feedback I Couldn’t Ignore

Aside from our 100-day pledge (which ended in 2010) we have never been fully restrictive on what our girls can and can’t eat. We certainly eat almost all “real food” at home, but now that our pledge is over our children indulge in processed “treats” at birthday parties, school celebrations, friend’s houses, etc. I certainly wish they weren’t offered junk food at so many events, but this is reality and I try not to stress about it (although I have become more involved at their school in hopes of continuing to see positive changes there). We also usually offer our girls a “once a week treat,” which is pretty much the only time we eat any big sweets (other than a super dark chocolate square), but more often than not they have junk food elsewhere so others were almost always beating me to the punch when it came treat time. This means our treats together as a family didn’t happen very often—or if they did my daughters would have to decide to forgo a treat that was being offered to them by someone else. Watching them make these decisions is what started bothering me deep down.

Then it just so happens that last weekend we had the chance to buy our kids their weekly treat, and by request we headed out for donuts (which I shared with this picture on Facebook). It was on that post where an interesting discussion started.

Although I can’t always sit down and read every single comment personally anymore—I do read a lot of them and value what our readers have to say. And I certainly did not overlook the comment from Erin that said, “Actually, excessive discussion of ‘good’ food and ‘bad’ food can play a large role on eating disorders.” Nor did I overlook the New York Times article that Marie shared that is entitled, “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods.” Then (as if I didn’t already have my knickers in a twist enough) a kind reader emailed me personally and said:

“When I see your daughter questioning her food, I am encouraged by her awareness, but also concerned. I did the same thing, and my mom—who was also hyper-aware of food (and for good reason!)—encouraged this in me. I eventually become afraid of the food and restricted anything that wasn’t ‘healthy’ —until nothing was (at the same time I over-exercised, because exercise was healthy too). It all made sense—until it didn’t. I just encourage you, from the bottom of my heart, to be careful and aware and honest—but also leave some space for ‘food to be food’—that’s become my mantra.” – 100 Days of Real Food Reader

Our Outlook Going Forward

I can truthfully tell you I have never even dabbled in eating disorders, although I (unfortunately) know many friends who have. Therefore I am no stranger to the subject and it’s of course not something I would ever want my daughters to struggle with. So literally right then and there I had a discussion with my husband and we agreed to make a slight change. As soon as my daughters came home from school I told my 2nd grader, “We’ve decided that you can eat the foods you are offered (within reason) when you are not at home, and they will not count as your ‘once a week treat.’ The weekly treats we will buy or make together as a family will happen no matter what. Mommy feeds you so much good, real food at home and that’s where you eat most of the time. You are such a healthy girl who is an excellent eater and also gets plenty of exercise so eating junk food at school or with friends once or twice a week could never erase that. Now eating cupcakes everyday (or twice a day) would not be a good thing, but a couple times a week is nothing for anyone to worry about.” And you know what, in the grand scheme of things—even though my daughters have their moments of course—they both really are super good eaters. They eat a wide variety of whole foods including lots of vegetables and are also fairly willing to try new things. So I wasn’t just talking the talk with her—even with highly processed junk food often feeling like my personal nemesis, I truly believe that eating it on occasion will not erase all that goodness.

And interestingly enough, even though my daughters have honestly never verbalized a complaint about our frequency of treats before, my 8-year-old seemed to really understand what I was telling her and even acted a little happy about this change. My kindergartner is still oblivious to quite a lot and frankly doesn’t even know what day it is half the time, so I spared her this “talk” because I didn’t think she’d even notice the difference at her age. But I do think what will go even further than this change is for me to (continue to) not act like the occasional junk food they eat is the end of the world (i.e. no guilt trip) while still educating them in a casual, non-threatening manner. I have also always been super careful about never criticizing my body in front of them, and I think that is another very important part of raising daughters with a healthy image as well. Now this parenting gig is something I am figuring out as I go (just like everyone else!) so we may continue to make adjustments as we move forward…but I can say that I do feel good about our renewed direction.

So today my 8-year-old came home from school and announced, “I had 3 oreos at lunch since it was a friend’s birthday.” Then she told me, “I read the ingredients, too.” And I said with a surprise, “Oh really, what did it say?” then with a laugh she said “I don’t remember.” Sounds like we are on the right track with having a carefree, worry-free kid who is slightly more aware than the others. :)

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521 thoughts on “I Don’t Want My Daughters to Worry about Food”

  1. I love this! We are embarking on our real food journey and I have a 9 year old vegetarian (by her choice) who is body conscious and a bit of a little “health nut” in regards to sugar and processed foods. This blog post is helpful in explaining our choice to do real foods at home, while still allowing her to enjoy birthday parties and treats at school.

  2. I’m really glad to read this. My 18 year old daughter struggles with anorexia. I know that there are many factors to that, but looking back I drew a lot of attention to the food we ate, amounts, things that are “bad”. We are now 2 years in recovery, but habits like this are hard to break for me. Occasionally I start to see my 14 year old hyper-vigilant with what she is eating and I cringe. Parenting is a learning process. No one does it perfect and our goal is to improve our skills for the sake of our kids.

  3. Lindsay Untherbergus

    I think you’re doing a great job here. I especially love that you make the weekly treat a family event. So the family time spent together is part of the treat, not just the food. It’s very important to teach children about healthy food without making them fear or shun certain foods. The most important thing is teaching them to eat the foods that make them feel good and will give them the nutrients to grow. Also, the joy of childhood shouldn’t be linked to overprocessed and overpopularized foods. It should be linked to freedom (no paying bills!), long summer afternoons, and good health!

  4. You talk about never mentioning body issues in front of your kids. I have heard this many times from many, many places. I can completely understand this philosophy and see how it helps. But I’m stuck in a situation where my body is really unhealthy (not just seemingly unhealthy – I have real health issues, including obesity), and it is a direct result of the food I have eaten for years. Do you think there is a way to communicate that my body is unhealthy without bordering on body image issues?

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      If you focus on wanting them, as well as yourself, to consume healthy foods in order to become healthier vs body shaming yourself in anyway, it should be just fine. I know it is a complicated issue but just focus on health. It is fine to say you want to be healthier just don’t frame it as needing to be thinner.

  5. While I think that food education is important … and by “food education” I mean introducing your children to whole foods that taste good; I do NOT think that food restriction is important and it can be harmful, ignorant and small-minded. I am happy that you are allowing your children to use their own brain to make choices. It will also help them to be honest with you because they will understand that you will not penalize them for it. (For example, maybe I just won’t tell mom I had this Oreo so that I can still have a treat.) They are children afterall … instant gratification has a strong pull on even the most disciplined adult.

  6. Hi Lisa, There are all kinds of families out there. Mine is one ( similar to yours) where my daughters still ask permission on what they can eat and also how much. We talk about what is healthy, nourishing and good to eat. And then we educate them on treats, how much is ok, and why sugar and other un-natural ingredients may not good. They are old enough to remember a time they had too much candy and how it didn’t make them feel well which impacts their decisions on choices going forward. I guess my point is… as parents we play a role to help them make good choices and whether this is with food, choosing friends,or alcohol later on, we’re all in the drivers seat doing the best we can, Right? Thank you for sharing such person insights on your own family.

  7. Claudia Castellanos

    We try to teach our girls healthy eating. They actually prefer home cooked instead of eating out. They absolutely can’t stand McDonalds or Taco Bell or places like that. They are conscious of what they eat in the sense of is it a veggie or fruit? They are not huge junk food eaters although we do indulge in IN n Out from time to time and they do like chips sometimes. My daughters are extremely good eaters. They love fish, steaks, chicken. Honestly there really isn’t much they don’t eat. Their favorite vegetable is brusselsprouts. However I have seen how being too restrictive with food can be a down fall also. My sister in-law is paranoid about everything having to be organic, grassfed, non gmo, gluten free. You name it she is against it and my poor nieces are petrified of eating anything. They are the pickiest eaters. I just hope it doesn’t develop into an eating disorder.

  8. Hi Lisa,

    First of all, thank you for posting this. Your honesty and transparency here is really inspiring. I have something I would like to contribute to the conversation, and I hope you will receive it not as criticism but as a well-intentioned piece of advice .

    Although I think you were taking a great first step, I really think you need to think deeper about the way that you qualified that statement your daughter. Saying that she was “allowed“ to eat food offered to her “within reason“ is taking away your daughters autonomy in making food choices for herself.

    She is old enough now to make her own decisions about food, and she has enough education to know what food is nourishing for her, and what food is not. By adding those caveats, you are still enforcing the message that you are in control of what she eats, and that she must restrict her choices to what you would view as a reasonable amount.

    Taking away her autonomy to make these food choices for herself, and only herself, has a very high likelihood of affecting her psychology. I think you should really take that into account going forward. A healthy body is a wonderful thing, eating real food will definitely help you get there. But it’s not the only thing in life, it’s not worth social isolation or the way that you value yourself, or the ability to make your own choices.

    1. While I am trying to understand where you are coming from I honestly can’t. Sugar has the same impact on the brain as heroin. Even occasional access to sugar can lead to behavioral and neurochemical changes that resemble the effects of a substance of abuse. If you would not give your child unfettered access (or access at all) to substances that we know are addictive why would you do it for sugar?

      I’m not here to give my children full autonomy. I’m here to educate and empower them. It’s why they have to sleep, do their school work, and wear pants and boots in the winter time no matter how much they want shorts and sandals.

      Food should not be any different. It is our responsibility to teach our children what foods are beneficial for our bodies and what foods are not. How to eat in moderation. Just because that goes against the societal norms that have evolved rapidly over the last 40-50 years does not make them wrong or mean they are damaging. Yes, full-restriction is never a good thing and can lead to a host of long-term issues as she addresses. But unless you are willing to allow your child to have full autonomy in every aspect of their life, suggesting that a mother who does not allow complete autonomy in this one area of her young child’s life is disingenuous at best.

  9. Thank you so much for posting this. I appreciated your candor and, as our family has just begun to switch to real food, the exhortation not to be obsessive or cause anxiety about food. I also read the NYT article and some of the comments, and that was very helpful as well.

    My daughter and husband (who have the same taste in everything) aren’t big into sweets, don’t overeat, already eat whole wheat bread, and are fine with other whole grain products, so in those areas the switch is not hard, thankfully. But there are a handful of processed food items they absolutely love that are very hard to make at home, and I don’t want to stress her out over those. I like the idea of 80/20, which I think will work well for us.

  10. You inspire me. I am trying to eat healthier. I’m working to change my unhealthy relationship with food. I see so many posts about decadent recipes and want to try them all. Then I see your blog and I’m reminded how well I feel when I eat right. Thank you for your posts. There will always be critics. Follow what you think is right and let the perfect people start their own blogs. God bless.

  11. I H ATE FOOD ISSUES! Dh and I are not exactly on the same page with food. He believes in the “clean your plate or else” philosophy and I believe in the “eat until satisfied” philosophy. It’s caused many arguments and tense meal times with the kids. Ultimately I think education is all we can hope for. (And food ideals seem to change on a regular basis.) I was raised eating Ding Dongs and Pepsi for breakfast, hot dogs and chips for lunch, and dead meat with canned veggies for dinner followed by whatever junk food I wanted the rest of the night! And *I* am the healthy one in the family! We raised our kids with RARE treats of candy or pop and now they are pretty much fast food junkies! With my grandkids I practice education. They are still learning what a “protein” a “starch” and “fats” are. They love junk food cereal with cow milk and they love steel cut oatmeal with almond milk! :) They love fruit and some veggies but they are willing to try almost anything in the food circus. They can cook for themselves pretty well and I am encouraged by this new generation in our family. Thank you for addressing this subject. It is important.

  12. Robin Caldwell

    Lisa,
    You are doing a tremendous job setting a good foundation for your kids with the nourishing foods at home. Trust your kids. If they eat a lot of sugary stuff, they are going to have a stomach ache, or feel bad otherwise, so, while they may try it, they probably won’t choose those foods on a regular basis.
    I agree with abolishing the “good” and “bad” label. Food is food. I do agree that some food has more nutritional value than others, but joy in eating is also necessary at times. It’s a personal choice.
    If you are modeling for your kids: eat when you are hungry, until you are full, you are giving them a powerful tool. They may forgo the sugary snack that’s offered to them because they just don’t want it then, vs choosing it every time they can because it is ‘forbidden’ and this is the only time they’ll get a chance to try it.
    Keep up the good work. Trust your kids. You are doing an amazing job!

  13. This brings up an interesting topic, thanks for sharing. We try to do healthy home cooked meals at home a majority of the time. Sometimes we tend to go out to eat more (once/week) sometimes less (maybe once/mo) just depending. We try not to turn people down based on food, and if we have a lot of special reasons to eat out in a row we try to choose healthier options at the restaurant. If we go to family/friend’s houses for parties or whatever, I try to bring a healthy dish like fruit or something, so that I know we have at least one healthy thing on our plate.

    I struggle with how to teach my 5 y/o daughter to eat nutritious food that nourishes her body, without it becoming “an issue” that makes her feel bad. She looooves junk food & sweets, seriously she would eat it any chance she got, we just really don’t keep it at home, but def. accepts it from others if offered. Would love to know the best way to go about it, what do you all do? Do you just not even talk about it to them at this age? Just keep healthy foods in our house that way there isn’t the battle at home, & let it go outside of your home? The thing is, it turns in to being offered junk all the time, at gma’s, school, etc etc. I worry about it more than I should, but we are dealing w/health issues like reflux, enlarged tonsils, & frequent sickness that I wonder if food is part of the issue. She is already mostly off dairy. Sugar suppresses the immune system, so I hate to see her eating sugar-filled things.

    It makes me angry really that this is even an issue that we have to deal with. Chemicals should never have been turned into “food” that people consume to begin with and I don’t think that we as a society should sit back and condone the corporations that sell the processed products that have become so commonplace in the US over the years.

  14. It’s a struggle, and I get very annoyed with school, friends, and family that are constantly giving them junk, and ‘undermining’ my efforts. I take them out for donuts or ice-cream once per week, because I need to treat them too. They get treats in their lunch boxes, which are not homemade as often as I would like, but they are at least preservative free. They can purchase the treat of their choice on Friday at school — if they eat their veggies all week.

  15. Amen! This is exactly what we do! I make my boys lunch & everything in it is homemade and organic. They also drink water with it. We cook every night. We don’t allow junk food in the house, except on Sunday Funday. Thats when the boys are allowed to get a treat which is usually ice cream or candy for after dinner. We eat out once a week & our boys are allowed to drink whatever they want (soda is one thing I will never allow in the house even on Sunday Funday so that’s when they know they can have it if they want it) as well as order whatever they want. We too agree that the more you make junk food the forbidden fruit, the more enticing & desirable it can become. By having a Funday, they don’t feel deprived & actually savor & enjoy it more. They do trick or treat as well as have Easter baskets with candy. In MY opinion, balance is key, not complete forbidance. You’re an AMAZING mom & doing an AMAZING job! Thank you for inspiring us!

  16. I’m very glad to read this post…having followed this for a couple of years I’ve felt equally impressed and concerned. Most of what my kids get is healthy, but I don’t limit the number of treats, I just try to overload them with enough healthy food – home-raised meat, lots of fruits and veggies – that the other stuff isn’t as attractive. They always get dessert in their lunchboxes, always get a few chips. At least twice a week the dessert is recycled because they don’t eat it, so I can leave a pre-packaged little Debbie in for 2 or 3 days before they take a few bites (or eat the entire thing…I don’t care). I sent a few pieces of a Kit Kat candy bar yesterday and…my kids sold them to other kids for other kid’s snack money to buy leftover tiny plastic Easter bunnies with parachutes that the PTA had picked up to throw in the snack sale.
    On the flip side of that (my kids go to a private school, with fewer than 200 kids 1st-8th, so these kids are together for years oftentimes) one of my kid’s best friend’s family has cultivated an extreme healthy eating regiment. Because I know the parents, I knew when their child asked for a cookie during a field trip a year ago that the treat would not be welcomed. I offered to call Mom to ask if the child could have one, but this 1st grader shrugged and told me not to bother. Not too long ago I found out another of my kids was giving his chips to this child every day, but when Mom is around all the kids agree wholeheartedly that most food makes them feel bad – the oldest is in fifth or sixth grade now and is beyond paranoid about everything that goes in her mouth and is bad for you. I know we are all just doing the best we can, and I don’t profess to know what is right or judge another parent’s choices, but I would far rather my kids have a fruit snack or little Debbie at lunch, turn around and eat a birthday cupcake, then come home and ask for broccoli because they love broccoli than have them sneaking food, agreeing with Mom because it is what she wants to hear. My kids are nine and under – I love that they are able to make healthy food choices and that it is actually their choice, not something I have imposed. Of course things change, and if it ever becomes a problem we’ll rethink it, but until then, we’ll continue to offer keep so many healthy options that they can’t miss them, and snacks and junk so that they understand that it’s about moderation, not elimination.

  17. From one parent to another, we do the best we can with what we know. There is grace in that.

  18. My kids are grown now but I raised them on home cooked foods and packed their lunches every day. Since I didn’t have “junk” in the house, when they had school parties etc they were exposed to junk food and ate it like every other kid. They learned quickly that soda pop, fast food, and other junk items upset their stomachs and they quickly opted out on their own. We had a niece who was raised with many restrictions and recently passed away from anorexia at age 21. My kids grieve the loss of their cousin but have thanked me for raising them to make their own choices and they all have chosen healthy real foods on their own.

  19. Good for you! I have had food issues and been over weight most of my adult life due to poor training as a child and having a mother who I call the “diet police”. Over eating and poor food choices was my way of rebelling (sad, I know). I wish I had known more about whole, real food as I was raising my own children but I did work hard not to make food an issue with them so they don’t struggle like I do.

  20. Thanks for your candor and courage in sharing your heart. I agree, there should be no “good” foods and “bad” foods, as that can lead to disordered eating. So much of what’s considered “healthy” these days is really just socially acceptable disordered eating. I am still working on “food is food is food” myself; recovery is a long and messy process. I’m encouraged that you’re aware of these potential issues for your girls and glad that you’re well on your way to worry-free! (Another note, disordered eating is often a coping mechanism for a deeper issue, and is not just about the food.)

  21. What a wonderful, honest post. Thank you for worrying about what really matters and not what your readers will think. I believe you have opened up a platform for families to discuss the “bigger” picture, and quite frankly, I feel it is lacking in many health websites. Kudos to you and your husband for working hard at healthy habits all the way around!

  22. I take your post to heart. I grew up in the sixties, and processed food was actually seen as “better”. My mum, the primary food preparer, used convenience items, but also made sure there were vegetables (canned,frozen or fresh) on our plates, and fresh fruit available when the budget allowed. As an adult, I’ve mostly eaten more vegetables, fruit and whole grains, and a whole let less meat, than I did as a child. I see my friends and acquaintances feed their children a whole lot of junk and sugar. Most of these friends and acquaintances battle (losingly) their own weight and health issues (especially pre-diabetes and full diabetes). They criticize others (and me) for being too uptight about what junk I don’t allow in my home and won’t bring to a party. They disrespect the special diet I have to follow, in both words and action. I’m over it. It’s obviously too personal a thing to discuss with most people . . .

  23. I have to say that as a parent, I love following your blog. However, I feel that the involvement of kids is concerning only because… Kids are not little adults… They have not been on the same adult journey we, as adult aging women, have been on. I was an extremely picky eater as a child. My mother chose to treat food as a non issue. If she hadn’t, if she “educated me ” like this. I surely would have worried myself about food from an early age. Instead, I only had healthy food available… Never. Oh my. Yes I said never. Talked about it. It was just what it was. The less “big deal” made of it, only ensured my compliance. I ate or didn’t, she monitored my choices with out me knowing… Never, there is that word again, talked about it. As an adult, I have expanded my choices on my own schedule. I am 40 and have never been on a diet and never had to exclude anything because food was never a topic. I never over ate or felt guilty about eating certain foods. Kids are not little adults… They should not share our adult expectations about food, about math, about sports. I have to admit, I give my kids food categories of “always foods, sometimes foods, and special treat foods” . My son is 13 and this has backfired ten fold. He feels the need to justify his sometimes treats. Sad day for me. I should have follows moms advice and made it a non issue. If it is a issue for mom and dad than mom and dad should keep that about mom and dad.

  24. No allergies here, luckily! But I do worry about how I will handle things moving forward. A few months ago, we were driving home from work and it had been a longer day than expected. My sitter hadn’t had a chance to eat and she asked me if we could stop at McDonald’s. (I made a few gagging noises, but it is her choice after all, she’s a grown woman.) I don’t eat that anymore, and haven’t for a very long time, but when those fries were in the car, they smells delicious! Of course my daughter wanted some! And how do you tell a 14 month old no in a way that they understand? So I gave her some. Sometimes life happens and all we can do is our best to protect them and keep them eating healthy.

  25. This was an excellent post! I admit, this is something I am paranoid about. My kiddos have a very serious gluten intolerance and soy allergy (as do I, which I discovered soon after my oldest was born), so I constantly feel like I am being a food Nazi with them, and myself. I struggled with disordered eating from about 7 years old until about 24, which makes me so worried about causing them an issue. But soy especially is in almost everything processed! I feel like I’m constantly telling my daughter “no sweetie, that’s yuck, it will make you sick”. I have to force an unnatural awareness onto a toddler who just wants a darn cupcake :( Hopefully I can help guide her so she doesn’t become obsessive, or rebellious, both of which I went through. Such a hard balance to find, but wonderful to read on this topic!

    1. My kiddo is allergic to milk, soy, wheat, nuts, & egg. We knew from the time he was 8 months old. His siblings have no allergies and I don’t always make them eat the same thing. If my other kids want something to eat I see if there is a allergy free equivalent for him. I always told him, “You are allergic to this”. I explained what being allergic means. Eventually around 2 he could say “Allergic?” And point to food. Then around 3 he could tell me if he was allergic to something. We never said “Yuck” or gross because other people eat it. The food wasn’t the problem it was how his body responded. You’d be surprised how well little kids can understand big things.

  26. I found this post after asking this exact question on another post. (How to educate about foods without creating food fear and guilt.)

    I agree with another poster who said that talking about it might be the problem. After all, expecting young kids to read ingredients and choose the “right” thing is a pretty big expectation. If you’re feeding them well at home, I feel like kids don’t need all the details. It’s your job to feed them well when you can. You can’t control everything, and they shouldn’t have the responsibility of figuring out what’s “good” and “bad” when you aren’t there. Just my opinion, of course, but I did grow up in a house full of disordered eating and unhealthy attitudes towards food. Talk about “junk”, “bad” food, etc. did cause me a lot of guilt and stress.

    You’re doing a great job by feeding your kids healthy foods when you can. Maybe let that be YOUR crusade, not theirs. Eating “junk” at school or at parties occasionally won’t hurt them, and they’ll grow up with a balance of home cooking and treats. Let them read the ingredients and make healthy choices when they’re adults!

  27. I have to say my young daughters took to the food change well. My greatest allies in this transition was the highly processed bad foods. We did the change slowly an are now about 90% whole foods in our eating. Anyway back my greatest ally, processed foods an junk food started making us sick!! Even a one time in a hurry stop would make us so sick we had belly aches, headaches an just felt awful. That was a real eye opener. So now when my girls are in a situation to eat junk food, be it at school, birthday or church they know that eating too much of those foods will make them sick an so they are more aware of what they eat. We also have a once a week treat where we go to our favorite restaurant to eat, an since the food change my girls pick healthier food options now an love that they feel so much better after eating. So the best we can do with our kids is lead by example an hope that some of it sticks with them.

  28. I don’t have kids so I don’t really have a valid opinion here, but I have a thought. If you feed your kids healthy food they will gravitate towards those foods when they start buying their own food some day. Maybe just don’t talk about it all the time. If your kids happen to eat a treat at school don’t make it a big deal and halt your family treat together. 2 processed treats in a week isn’t the end of the world. I personally grew up almost exclusively on processed foods and I made it out alive. Now that I have changed my eating habits, I am a very healthy person. My point is, a few processed foods will not affect them in a huge way, but making them afraid of certain foods might.

    1. I totally agree with this. I have no kids either, but as a girl who grew up with food being restricted for healthy and aesthetic reasons I have a thought too. I understand that you want to show your kids to choose healthy food, but the reality is that they will replicate what they see at home. Not necessarily what they hear from you all the time. The fact that your 8 year old feels the need to “announce” what she had in school seems a little alarming to me. I try to steer clear from processed foods too, but having some once in a while is not the end of the world, and making peace with that has been key in restoring my relationship with food.

  29. Hi Lisa,
    I do need to share that a few years ago I started to pay attention to what was in the food we eat and share with my family in an effort to get them to make better choices, and it back-fired on me. My 14-year old daughter developed an eating disorder and we spent the last year worried sick about her. I would have to pick her up from school early if there was a party at school because she couldn’t even handle choosing the least of the evils available. After seeing an dr. of adolescent medicine, nutritionist and therapist for a year, she is back at a healthy weight, but she will not eat even a salad from a fast food restaurant if necessary when traveling. After witnessing what we have gone through with her, my son eats too much junk-food and I have gained weight trying to get my daughter to eat more and be less critical of foods. I was always a healthy weight and ate everything in moderation, 3 meals a day and one special treat. In hindsight, I wish I was less vocal in cleaning up my family’s and my (for the most part healthy) diet.

  30. It’s so hard to find that balance, isn’t it? And to communicate it to the littles….just recently my son started saying in the grocery store, “we can’t have that, it’s not ORGANIC” and it made me shudder a little. I want to be that parent without being THAT PARENT, you know? I want him to understand and make good choices without making others feel judged. I also want him to despise things like artificial colors and high fructose corn syrup as much as I do, but he’s a kid…and those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fruit snacks are just so much cooler than the bunnies (sorry, Annie). I guess we are all on this road together, and as so many parents have said in comments previous, we do the very best we know how. God bless! Thanks for your blog. It’s a huge resource to our family.

  31. So much of parenting involves trying to find the right balance…you want to teach them to be hard-working and responsible but don’t want to be critical and nit-picky…you want to teach them hygiene and to take pride in their appearance without being obsessed with appearances…you want to teach them to be cautious and safe without creating needless fear and anxiety…

    We are all doing the best we can. The good news is their bodies and their minds are well-equipped to handle when conditions aren’t optimal. Our kids won’t be ruined for life if we’re not perfect.

    I’ve cooked and baked with my kids since they were very small, and we try to focus on the idea that cooking is fun and real homemade meals are delicious and a treat. We should also remember that kids’ tastes change …as my kids enter their teens I find they are just excited if not more over a bowl of homemade soup as a fast food meal…they would readily choose a homemade muffin over an Oreo. They still love Skittles but also love grilled chicken and veggies. Most kids who have grown up around healthy cooking and real food do develop a preference for it eventually. That IMO is mission accomplished. Ultimately they will be making all of their own food choices so developing a taste for real food is far more important to me than trying to control everything that goes into their mouths.

  32. Thank you so much for sharing. Your honesty and humble attitude is one of the many reasons I love your blog and use it as a go-to for whole food, delicious recipes. I, too, struggle with the enormous amounts of sugary treats offered to my children on a daily basis. But, like you, I have learned to relax about what they eat outside of the home. Keep up the wonderful work you are doing. You are a blessing to so many!!

  33. Thank you for the your candid thoughts. I too struggle with the wording and efforts around teaching my boys the highest and best choices about food. When very little, I told them junk food (manufactured stuff) had chemicals and that we would only eat at McDonald’s if we were “desperate”. Well at 5 and 3, they understand more and those words are too harsh! I am trying to offer them more choices and when they choose something, I ask how it makes them feel. My 5 year old is very aware that too much cake or candy really makes him feel bad. My 3 year old doesnt think there is such a thing as too much cake or candy!!! All in all, I am in control of what I purchase for the home and am trying to “let it go” when we are out and about! Parenting is a hard nut to crack!!!

  34. Thank you for posting this. I have two boys who eat really well at home but when offered candy my oldest who is 4 is allowed to have some but cries when it is taken away or wants more. We try to teach him about the amount of sugar in candy and that his body does not like when he has to much sugar. He is the type of kid that once he has sugar he cannot stop and it can be scary. However, the great thing is he is such a good eater besides that. If offered his favorite carrot applesauce muffin instead of candy at home he usually chooses the muffin. Lucky for us his preschool is a nature focused school so there are only healthy options. I am struggling with weight at he moment and I thank you and support your decision in not critiquing your body in front of your girls. I do the same with my boys they will never hear me say I am not happy with my body and I do eat super healthy. Not only do our children learn from discussions but also actions. Thank you again this post really hit home today.

  35. It bothers me so much that children are sent off to school and put in these situations with food that is so unhealthy for them. Why this is still such an issue in our schools just astounds me. One thing stood out to me in your blog post, and other’s comments….is the terms used. On one hand…junk food is called junk food or “rubbish” …but in the same posts then some of you refer to letting your kids have junk food once in awhile as “special occasions’ -or refer to them as “treats”. Ok….that in itself presents some confusion. Words have SUCH power. Let your kids have that junk food once in awhile if that’s what you decide for your family….but…..call it what it is. It’s not a special “treat” – it really is “junk”.

  36. I love this! I love that you made a change that you feel is right for your family. I also love that you stated that you watch what you say about your body in front of your girls. I actually think that is the most important. It is so very hard not to critique myself in front of my 6-year old daughter, but I don’t. And, you know what, it has made me happier and more accepting of my body than ever! Hopefully that will translate into a good self-esteem for her. Knowing that even you changed what you “allow” made me feel so much better about what I “allow”. I try very hard to keep things “real” around here, but life happens and junk gets eaten (even under my watch)! Thanks for all you do and for being honest.

  37. Your blog is stellar, Lisa. I am not yet a mother, but look forward to being one with an educated, balanced outlook on food to pass onto my children. I have been feeding myself and my fiancé based on your practices. We couldn’t feel better, physically and mentally. I now see that my mother achieved balance by always cooking with real food in the kitchen, but still stocking processed food in the freezer out of convenience. This allowed me to taste both sides, but she never mentioned anything about “bad” food. That I figured out a few years ago. Deciding for myself to make lifestyle changes was the big thing, and I see that your daughter has developed an opinion of her own as well. That is the key! (Side note, VERY happy that wine is included in your practices!)

  38. Yet another great reason I enjoy your posts. Not a lot of folks would have taken what readers said and truly thought about those other points of view and then act on them. I really enjoy your blog and love your book. We have an 8 month old and hope to raise her to also be a healthy eater, so this perspective was a great reminder. Thank you for sharing.

  39. Hi Lisa
    This is SUCH a tricky area. My son (3 1/2) eat 95% “real food” no junk at home. He knows about sugar and that its not great to eat “high sugar” but that sometimes we eat “a special-occassional” as he has taken to calling them. I find the line between education and not creating an “issue” a hard one. Not because it’s hard to eat real food – because it’s not. And not because my son doesn’t love love love real food – he does (and such a varied palate of tastes too). But because we are surrounded by junk each and every day. And in our schools too. There is no safe haven apart from at home. And like you – I want to do the “special occasionals” with my son. Not have someone else give him rubbish. I totally hear what you say and I’m going to reread what you have written. I think you are right. But I also think that when your children are getting given cakes and muffins for kids birthdays twice a week minimum (often more with baking and what not they seem to do) and then all the other situations when you are out and about then this is just too much. What’s being normalised just is not normal historically. (I know you know this!) So I’ll keep trying to find the balance and like you working on getting changes in the school. Thanks for all that you do. I enjoy your blog. Claire x

  40. Franchouillarde

    After having read some of your articles and readers comments… i have the impression that food still an obsession for americans. Even if they aim to eat healthy… it is a BIG, if is not HUGE, part of their way of life. not as a convivial, friendly, yummy, funny… aspect but as if it was a succession of rule, or as if there was a black list.
    I think food is not anything mental, but choices should come from heart and palate…

    (hoping you will understand my poor english, best wish for your quest of perfect nutrition)

  41. More power to ya, sister! This parenting thing is hard enough, without feeling critiqued. I am always inspired to make changes, even if I’m not getting it all right, when I see your posts and read your blog. I never feel like it is anything other than one mom to another, ideas to maybe try. Thanks :) Chin up. Nice work. Keep it up.

  42. Thank you for this post. I have been following your website and have had your cookbook for a little while now. It has significantly changed my life and that of my husband and two children (ages 2 & 4). I have learned so much about healthy eating and what is actually in the food we are eating. I will not lie that my husband has had to say to me before slow down and that we cannot change everything overnight. Sometimes I actually feel stressed or anxious over the foods my children are offered, especially when they come from other family members. I don’t want to stress my children out (or myself). I think your attitude is fantastic and that I need to focus on how well they actually are eating with vegetables, fruits, and other whole foods. My four year old son likes to tell anyone that will listen that brussel sprouts are his favorite! Thank you so so so much for your website and cookbook and please make another cookbook soon!

  43. I really liked this article, Lisa, and I think you’re doing a great job with your girls!

    As a mom who comes from a family of disordered eating, I am extremely aware of what others say about my daughter (only 15 months old) and I’m trying to figure out how I can raise her to be healthy and not concerned about her weight/appearance. Every time I hear her daddy say something to the effect of “eating like a piggy” I cringe. He doesn’t understand why I think this is a terrible way to talk around her.

    One of the most traumatic things for me during my childhood was listening to my mother talk about her (very thin) self as “fat”, and I decided that I would never talk badly about my body in front of my little girl. I also want to get our family eating as healthy as possible. Thanks to your website/blog and cookbook, I think we are doing well. She LOVES the Whole Wheat Raisin Bread recipe. We aren’t 100% “real food” yet, but we are probably 50-75%, and now I’m more aware of ingredient labels and such.
    (My mother-in-law liked my copy of your cookbook so much I bought her a copy for Christmas!)

    Thanks for the great recipes and tips!

  44. My kids are a lot younger than yours but I read your blog often and have gained a lot of really helpful information that has helped our family’s health a lot. I have one constructive comment to add to what others have shared. As a mental health therapist who works with teenagers and moms (some of whom have eating disorders) I want to encourage you in what you said about not speaking negatively about your body in front of your children and encourage you to go one step further. Maybe instead of just focusing on not making negative comments about your body but on praising your body for what it can do (in large part because of the healthy food you feed it!). “It feels good to see how strong my arms or legs are to lift heavy objects or run and play!” (Or whatever fun things you like to do). Girls learn how to view their bodies by listening to their moms. As my own daughter gets older I hope to be able to model talking about and appreciate what it allows me to do and not focus so much on how it looks – like the rest of our culture does.

  45. I think what you have done for your daughters, is amazing, you are setting them up to live healthy lifestyles and that is so important! My own parents raised me on fast and frozen food with tons of unhealthy junk always in the house. I myself have battled food addiction and weight issues, and have had to learn how cook and am teaching myself to live on more real food. I know for my own children, it is important that I give them a foundation of heathy living so they never have to worry about things like that. I love your blog because it helps me realize the importance of this lifestyle and how passing it to your children, is not as hard as you think, nor are you depriving them.

  46. I just had to come back and re-read this post….Last night, I found out that my 10 yr old daughter had eaten almost all of her halloween candy! I’m pretty devastated, for a variety of reasons. First, because we try SO hard to educate her & her older sister about WHY we want them to eat “better,” read labels, make LOTS of homemade things, including sweets! I’m disappointed in myself because for whatever reason, laziness, forgetfulness, I never got around to the “sort and toss” with her after halloween. Another thing I’m upset about is that she would sneak behind my back…I just don’t know how to handle this! I talked with her briefly, trying not to come down on her too hard, but I’d appreciate any advice on how to handle this! Ugh, now we have a candy-filled advent calendar, “thanks” to Grandma :/ that I’m seriously considering not letting her do!

  47. I have really been going over this in my head nonstop now that our 100 days is almost up (10 more days!). I want to continue to eat whole food, but it was SO MUCH easier when I could use the “excuse” of being on the 100 days. Now that we are ending, I was really thinking of doing 2 “treats” a week. And then our two kids (6 and 8) could choose while at school whether or not they wanted the treat or to have a treat with us as a family. But I do see your point, too. Thankfully, we just got a letter from our son’s teacher…this year they bring their own snack to school! Yay! But for my daughter, it still is a snack every day and probably will be junk :(

    So you are saying that even if we have 4-5 get-togethers/birthday parties/etc in a week (exaggerated to make the point), you still would let them choose whatever foods they want??? And then would you just not have a family “treat” that week?

    Another situation I have is my in-laws like to take the kids for weekends or even in the summer, for all week. What they feed our kids bothered me before the 100 days, and even more-so now. So you are saying that (like your daughter just going to camp for a week) you suggest just letting them choose again?

    I definitely do NOT want my kids to be stressed out about weight or image or anything like that…we are also super careful about what we say about ourselves and other people. But I never really thought about food before.

    I am so nervous to end our 100 days!! Yikes!

    Thanks for posting this…a lot to take in right now…any suggestions would be welcomed!!!

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi Michelle. You will be fine. At this point you have developed at habit that will serve your entire family well. Try to relax about it a bit and don’t feel as if you have failed if some weeks are less that perfect. I promise they are for all of us. Regarding the treats–this comes directly from the post: “We’ve decided that you can eat the foods you are offered (within reason) when you are not at home, and they will not count as your ‘once a week treat.’ The weekly treats we will buy or make together as a family will happen no matter what. Mommy feeds you so much good, real food at home and that’s where you eat most of the time. You are such a healthy girl who is an excellent eater and also gets plenty of exercise so eating junk food at school or with friends once or twice a week could never erase that. Now eating cupcakes everyday (or twice a day) would not be a good thing, but a couple times a week is nothing for anyone to worry about.” So, while I am sure Lisa is very hopeful that it does not occur more than once or twice a week, I think she can accept (within good reason) the decision to be a bit more flexible and allow the girls the room to make their own choices. Hope that helps a little. You’ll do great I’m sure. Once you are aware at this level, you don’t go back. :) ~Amy

  48. I am in love with your site. I have two younger girls 11 and 8 who are so excited to find your lunches in their box. We eat real at home almost all the time. I tell my girls sometimes foods that are “bad” are really good for you in a way. When your friend blows our her birthday candles and hands you a piece of pink frosted cake. When your Grandma bakes Great Grandma’s apple pie. When we eat one of Santa’s cookies. These are not foods I want my children eating everyday but they are memories I want them to take with them forever. These are “bad” foods drenched in our happiest memories. Enjoy life as it comes at you. We eat fresh, wholesome, homemade foods the majority of the time, the rest I chalk up to living.

  49. Tracy Richardson

    Lisa, I appreciate your willingness to be real with your readers, and the willingness to listen to reasonable feedback. Your blog has helped to transform this family’s eating and grocery shopping habits. I applaud your efforts to make people more aware of what we are consuming, and I have a strong hunch your kids will grow up with a healthy approach to food.

  50. I applaud your efforts. I believe teaching your kids to be aware of what is in the food we eat can be empowering, and to empower them with the ability and knowledge to make good choices is a wonderful thing. Now, if you yourself appear anxious and worried about food then yes this could lead to some problems but if you are teaching them that (as they get old enough), yes, unfortunately food companies and regulatory agencies do not have a history of putting forth the best regulations or using healthy ingredients and it’s up to us to take responsibility for treating out bodies with love and respect by learning about the quality of the food and making wise decisions…by doing this you can spare, as you know, your children potential future grief such as health problems due to the ingredients in processed food. I mean, if it was normal for kids to chew tobacco at birthday parties and at school what would we do? Some people get all up in arms about limiting processed foods as if it will certainly lead to some sort of eating disorder, without considering the health ramifications of eating processed foods. I look forward to the day when more people realize that eating all these foods as part of a daily diet is as unhealthy as smoking and who would want their child to be smoking? Thanks for sharing your journey! :-)

  51. I really enjoyed this post and from the perspective of a child whose parents tried to instill the value of healthy eating and a respect for our bodies, i understand your choice to aim for this with your own children, it taught me to be a great cook more than anything else. again, from the perspective of a child who never really had those ‘bad’ foods and was very aware of that at the time, i have spent much of my life since overindulging in all types of foods i was never allowed to have early on. i don’t like the relationship i have with food now, in terms of how i ‘see’ it, i developed a strong good vs bad food philosophy. i sometimes wonder if my parents had allowed the odd item such as ice cream/store bought biscuits/juice/white bread into the house whether the way i respect, value and use food now would be quite different.

  52. I honestly think what you were doing with your girls was great. My parents did the same thing with treats here and there and if there was a bday party that was our treat. Now I have had eds and currently am dealing with binging, but it wasn’t caused by my diet. It was caused by other girls my age at the time, tabloids and media, and my mom. I had never in my life ever heard anyone female say they were happy with their body and once I hit middle school I was perfectly healthy and girls who were smaller than me would call me fat. That is the one word a girl should never be told. Never tell her she will get fat, looks fat in some outfit, or is fat. That is what leads to eds. I think if you educate your kids from a young age when they get older they can make the call on choosing healthier food. I have made a promise to my self that my child will eat healthy whole foods with no added sugar unless it is stevia sweetener, no processed foods I will breast feed as long as possible and make my baby’s food myself. This not only gives them a healthy start but they try all sorts of different foods. I know a little girl who has been raised this way and she never wants cake or sweets. She is more than welcome to have them but she would rather say no thanks than I can’t. She is younger than your daughter and makes better choices than most adults. She was being raised like your girls. You have to emphasize health over weight and image and just give them structure in their diet.

  53. Am reading an awesome book called “Fearless Feeding” it’s helping me think through the treats/healthy food choices and work through some issues so I don’t pass them on. Highly recommend the book.

  54. As the mother of a five-year-old, I’m on board with your approach. When I was a kid, I ate much more junk food than I do as an adult. I don’t let my daughter just eat junk, but I have to remember that she will spend most of her life making food choices without me looking over her shoulder. I think my job is to guide her and teach her how to eat healthy foods overall. I still eat treats–just in moderation (unless I get a rare case of PMS, in which case, I am no angel!)

  55. Just came across this post and wanted to say how much resonated with me. Like you, I raise my daughter on real food for the most part, and have avoided sugar and highly processed foods as much as I can. However, now that she is spending more time with friends and at school, she is exposed to all sorts of things that we would never allow her to eat at home. I’ve found that for healthy baby and healthy mama, I just have to let that happen. She eats predominantly with us, and well, so on balance her diet is relatively good. I think in part it’s a lesson for me – I can’t protect her from everything in the world, and all I can do is give her the groundwork to be a strong kid. I also don’t want her to feel like the odd one out who is refused things other kids get, nor have her worrying about her food intake. So like you, I”m just letting her eat what she feels like when she’s offered it in other homes – the good news is, it turns out she doesn’t even like most of it that much! But if she wants it, and other kids are having it, she can try it. At home, it’s just not an option! Anyway, thanks for the honest and important post – really good thing to air!

  56. I LOVED this post, as a woman who is teaching her children to eat the healthy way but has an ED past and is afraid of instilling so much obsession about good-bad foods, I unconsciously lay the foundation for ED’s in my kids. Linking back from my own blog. Thank you!

  57. This post really resonates with me. I started a diet one day, 11 years ago. I limited my calories to 1200 per day, with a 200 calorie treat, whatever treat I wanted. This eventually became an addiction for me. I became obsessed with calories and food portions. “Bad” food and “good” food. I spiraled out of control. I measured my food, counted crackers, etc. I eventually got to the point where I would challenge myself to see how far under 1200 calories I could go. My eating became ritualistic. I had a serious problem. I was terrified of food…terrified. Thankfully, I have broke that debilitating cycle, but it was not easy.

    My husband, who is a type-1 diabetic, and I have recently started discussing what we eat. We have made lots of good changes…using whole wheat flour, whole wheat pasta, real butter and milk, no low-fat foods, etc. But through this process I have become aware that I cannot label food “good” or “bad.” There MUST be a balance. I cannot allow myself to fall into food legalism. We have dear friends, whom we eat with often, who have decided to not eat wheat due to “Wheat Belly.” While I respect their decision, and I understand it, I cannot put those constrains on myself and my family. Mentally, I cannot hack it, it is dangerous for me.

    Balance is the key.

  58. This post has really stuck with me. When you first posted the picture of your daughter with the donut on Facebook, I was so surprised by the comments that had to do with your use of the word “treat.” I wrote a post about it on my site to see if my readers thought it was as controversial:
    http://holdtheoffice.com/2013/05/24/donut-seem-a-little-crazy/#more-863

    Keep up the good work! I love that you are just trying to figure it all out like the rest of us.

    Nicole
    HoldtheOffice.com

  59. Congratulations! It is so hard to know the right thing to do as parents, sometimes. Sounds like you did the right thing!

  60. I commend you for your honesty.
    Parenting is not easy. Period.
    There are all these “fine lines” that we do or do not want to cross.
    I respect your willingness to adapt. Since clean eating is very important to you, I can only imagine how challenging this may be for you. But props for taking the steps to learn to be ok with it in moderation.
    I sincerely look up to you and love that your intention is just the best for your family.
    You’re a great mom!

  61. I have completed (I hope) raising three daughters. I have always been conscious of what they ate – preparing almost all meals, including the years when we bounced from ball game to ball game and I brought the bags of granola, carrot sticks and hummus instead of buying nachos and hotdogs for my girls. At home, we were vegetarians, but I didn’t “forbid” meat. I still take a lot of heat from a lot of moms for those decisions. My advice? Ignore them.
    As my daughters left home and discovered college dining halls, with unlimited soft drinks and junk food (pizza and ice cream at every meal!) they imbibed. It didn’t last long. They all admitted they prefer the way they feel when they eat salads and veggies and only occasional meat. One even takes her blender to her early morning shift to make breakfast fruit/spinach smoothies.
    Hang in there. Your food choices and awareness are giving your children a gift for life.

  62. Lisa,

    You (and FoodBabe) our being followed (on FB) by my teenagers and my son LOVES your blogs!!!! You our reaching our children!!!!! 😂

    My 14 year old son has been challenged with food/dye allergies/sensitivities, dyslexia, and ADHD (probably related) his entire life. Plus, a “once” hard core indulger of processed food, sweets, and drinks outside of our home. I cook healthy and encourage with a vengeance healthy habits but participating in 100 Day from January 2013 to present clenched the deal for everyone in my family. Also, asking them on a weekly basis how they feel after eating processed junk. Answer, is always the same quoting my 13 year old daughter “I need baby carrots” or water to dilute the negative side effects. This is especially true when I pick them up from school, they have eaten in the junky cafeteria, and they or tired and/or irritable when they get home. We focus on relevant teenage issues first and when there is not really one then I ask “what did you eat?”. They have made the connection and it has opened all of our eyes!

    I am just sooooo please with your blogs reaching my families life and making a forever difference in my children’s attitude towards our food our bodies fuel.

    P.S. My son admitted to me yesterday, without any prompting, that since he doesn’t enjoy reading because of his dyslexia he always makes time and enjoys reading both blogs…. I was so stunned and excited to learn his latest secret i took him to the health food store to pick out dye free, gmo free, as low processed as possible candy. He now only splurges occasionally but recognizes there are alternatives that are just as enjoyable and excite the brain and taste buds like polluted junk food.

    THANK YOU FOR ADVOCATING REAL FOOD!!! :))

  63. Thank you, yet again, for another wonderful story. I always feel relieved when I find another mom who has the same thoughts.

  64. Good for you! I read Dr Friedhoff’s blog, weighty matters, and a parent on there said that she has a trade-in jar for treats they are offered for sports, etc. At church, in the past, I’ve taken healthy food, and it has been devoured…

    I do think in this day and age, you have to have a strategy. When I taught CCD, the parents kept trying to bring food in for “special” events, and even at the library, most kids’s events have some kind of treat.

    I do think balance is important…as a kid we only had “healthy” food in the house, and the one time I bought a bar of chocolate for myself, at age 15/16, my father went to all the convenience shops/grocery stores and told them they were not allowed to sell me chocolate. (We lived abroad).

  65. I am a regular reader and I loved this post. I am a mom with children, ages 7 and 5. I struggle so much with the “junk food balance.” I am also a health coach, so I really feel like I have to walk the talk. I basically allow my kids more freedom outside of the house to eat junk food if it’s offered to them. I am still guilty of hovering a little bit too much over them at family events or church lunches because they could easily eat 6 desserts or more. I am trying to proactively educate them so that they know why the “bad food” is bad, especially when it comes to artificial food dyes. I don’t want them to fear bad food – I want them to know how it doesn’t help them to play sports, think clearly to do their homework, etc. I also am very careful about not making body image comments about myself or anyone else.

  66. Thank for this post. I have two daughters – 3 1/2 and 1 1/2 and had really been thinking some of the same ideas that you expressed here. We all have to carve out our own paths with our families and especially our children, and I feel that with two daughters that the need to help raise them to have a healthy self-image and also be aware and knowledgeable is a challenge. I am so thankful to you for birthing and growing this blog, as you share your experiences and the things you have learned and discovered along the way, especially since your girls are slightly older than mine. I feel like you, and your blog, contribute to my confidence that it IS possible to do this!

  67. We try to encourage our kids with healthy habits. We also encourage our children to exercise and to make good decisions when we are not home. My daughter has embraced this much more than my son. So I was very upset when my healthy normal-sized six year old told me yesterday that she “didn’t want to be fat” and that she thought she was “mostly skinny” but maybe “a little fatter” than her friends. She then told me she was going outside to have fun so she could lose weight. As a slightly-overweight adult who was an overweight child that suffered through years of eating disorders, I want my daughter to have better habits and a better body image than I do. Needless to say, that conversation was an eye-opener.

  68. Lovely post. I have the same worries, although my son is still too little to understand any of this. We don’t have any friends that care even a little about what they eat so it is hard when we get together and I think they think our food is weird or too exotic, and their kids all want junk food. I have to find a balance so their kids will still come to play at our house and my son won’t feel uncomfortable when eating at other people’s houses when he is older. I am working on it.

  69. Gina @ Keepin' it Real!

    As my kids got older, and I began to lose more control of what they ate, I realized that even though I felt strongly about eating healthy etc, it had to be something that they felt strongly about for them to make it their own. So, I would cook healthy at home, but not make a big deal about it other wise. I would buy them their favorite candy bar and put it on their pillow or have their favorite “junk” snack in the house. I just remembered seeing kids who felt “deprived”, and ate all the junk they could whenever they were away from their parents, so I decided it was more important they didn’t have that mentality. After a few years, (both college aged) they have both come back around to wanting to eat very healthy. It’s their choice now, and I don’t have to force them. You are wise to not make a huge deal out of food. You may have to adjust how that looks as they get older, but it will pay off in the end. I promise.
    Great job!

  70. My mom made a huge deal about healthy food when I was little. We weren’t allowed any white bread or added sugar except at family birthday parties until I was about seven. She fought with my grandma (her mother-in-law) about it constantly. My older sister had dreams about Lucky Charms. After my fifth sibling was born, my mom got burned out and started slipping. Then she had three more kids. By the time I left for college, we had cold cereal with sugar-added soy milk (because she thought that was better than raw milk from our neighbors), burritos (on white, partially hydrogenated tortillas), pasta (white), and TV dinners almost every day. I think I assumed the foods she fed us were healthy because she would still restrict other bad foods like white sandwich bread, desserts, and Top Ramen (even though the Stouffer’s lazagne we had every Sunday has MSG in it too). When I first found out about real foods, I felt like there was nothing to eat except vegetables because every other food was categorized as junk food by either my mom or the real foodies. I think the best thing you can do for your kids is to serve them real food as often as possible and, when they’re old enough, teach them how to prepare it. Then when they leave home that is all they will know how to cook and that will be their go-to food in times of stress because it is so familiar. When I stopped feeding my 3-year-old bagels and macaroni I just told him that we ran out. If he sees bagels at the store and asks for them, I just buy one for him and then I put some milk or fruit in front of him while he eats it so he won’t eat as much bagel. I don’t want him to fear food. (The other reason I don’t buy more is because I will eat them.) I spent a large portion of my life thinking that foods that taste good are bad for you, and foods that taste bad are good. This just isn’t the case. For example, fruits and vegetables that are picked when they’re ripe are delicious. So I try to prepare wholesome foods in a way that is appealing to my toddlers, but I don’t force them to eat anything because I was forced to eat disgusting vegetables when I was little and it didn’t carry over into adulthood for me at all.

  71. I really appreciate your honesty with this post. It is such a struggle to feed the kids “real food” without having it become an issue.

  72. Another reason I LOVE reading your blog! You have such a well balanced approach and that is why I love you. I have a 16 month old daughter and I often think of the challenges that are to come with educating her on eating healthily while being careful to never give her body image issues or food fears. Sometimes I think that not being able to eat the ‘oreo’ with friends will do much more damage than the occasional oreo itself. There is definitely a social aspect to food and although we eat almost all organic, whole foods at home, if friends call and want to go to dinner at XYZ restaurant…we go and we don’t sweat it. I think your new solution is great and that you are a great Mom, teaching your daughters all about real foods, but also giving them the opportunity to be taught invaluable social lessons as well as invaluable lessons in regards to making choices and decisions. And I am sure your daughter felt a great sense of trust from you when you empowered her with the ability to make her own decision whether or not to eat these occasional treats if she wishes. Keep up the great work! I tell everyone about your blog!!

  73. This post is really sweet. I’m so glad you posted it. I also worry/am hyper-aware of foods my family and I put in our bodies. I have been making more of an effort lately not to worry so much about an occasional treat (although, I try to make it myself with real ingredients), but for me it becomes a control-thing with my 2 year old and sometimes my Husband because I worry so much! Only because I want them to be healthy. But in reality, you can only “do what you can do” and you don’t really want it to be something that gets you down. Anyway, this (like all of your posts) are really inspiring and I’m so thankful I found your blog almost a year ago! Thank you for what you do!!

  74. Good for you, it’s not easy sometimes to evaluate something we feel strongly about and chose moderation…. sounds like you have a good plan and wonderful daughters…

  75. Lisa, I my respect for you has grown immensely with this post. I’ve always admired your message, but I admire it even more that you think beyond just this one issue :). You clearly love your daughters and they are so lucky to have you.

  76. We have been eating clean for as long as I can remember, but have stepped it up a notch this past year after discovering food intolerances in myself and my two oldest children. We have now gone dairy and gluten free as well. I think educating your child, along with not restricting or limiting their diets is key to helping them make healthy choices on their own. We joined a CSA farm about 10 years ago (when my three kids were just babies/toddlers), and we talked a lot about why we joined the CSA, how and where our food was grown, in age appropriate discussions through the years. Now that they are teenagers, we have more in depth discussions that center around the chemicals in processed foods, GMO’s, as well as the problems with big agri-business. They will still have Doritos when they’re at a party, or a hot dog at a cookout, but I don’t sweat it. I know that they know what’s good for their bodies and 9 out of 10 times, they prefer the healthy choices. My youngest even gave an impromptu lecture to his class on the problem with GMO’s.

    I believe it was in exposing them to healthy foods and to where their food comes from at such a young age has helped them to be more willing to eat a wide variety of healthy foods! I also think talking to them about why they should or shouldn’t eat certain things is extremely important. If you are always telling them “no you can’t eat that, it’s bad for you,” without further explanation, they will only resent you and continue to eat unhealthy in rebellion. If you have access to joing a CSA, I highly recommend it!

  77. First, I want to say that I love your blog and visit it often. Although I can’t always eat as unprocessed as I would like to (my youngest son and I are currently living with my parents), I do opt for “real” food and cook from scratch as often as possible.

    I really appreciate this post. As one who struggled with an eating disorder for several years, I learned the hard way to never attach guilt to food. Instead, I have taught my kids to eat when they are hungry, stop when they are full, and that we feel a whole lot better when we eat the right things and avoid junk. I also got to a point in my life where, once I let go of my weight obsessions and realized how unhealthy they were, I found myself annoyed by people who constantly pointed out the “bad things” in foods, obsessed about calories, and responded to offers of treats as if they contained toxic waste and the one offering them should feel ashamed of themselves for liking donuts or chips or whatever the evil food might be. Yet, in my attempts to eat healthfully, I found myself doing the exact things that annoyed me. Like you, I needed to learn balance and model it for my kids. After all, I never want my kids to be rude.

    My rule is that I can eat as whole and natural and real as I want to at home, but when I am at someone else’s house, at a party, or someone is reaching out in kindness (for example, if someone makes me a meal when I am sick), I eat what is being served. Right now, I am working on encouraging my parents to eat better while not being the food police in their home.

    Thanks again for this great post.

  78. Love this post, love the comments. It is so nice to know that I am not alone in struggling to walk the fine line between healthy eating and being overly restrictive. Especially when my 6 year old and 4 year old are constantly being offered “treats” by their father, their grandmother and friends and sports teams and…and…and…

  79. We struggle with this because my oldest is overweight. I have never had an eating disorder or an unhealthy relationship with food but my oldest struggles with compulsion. Even when he was a baby he would nurse too much and throw it all up. When he was a toddler he ate a variety of foods, even salad, but he has no off switch. He is only 11. I don’t want him to be scared of food but it’s a fine line of teaching him how to be healthy and when to say when. Parenting is a constant worry isn’t it? Keep fighting the good fight!

  80. I really appreciate this post! As a follower who’s family currently doesn’t struggle with allergies so no official *reason* to avoid other than health choice, this is a great balanced perspective- especially the aspect of raising daughters in a world that puts so much influence on image- the motive for diet should be health!

    Thanks, Lisa & team!

  81. I was actually having this same set of thoughts the other day. I think the most important part is not limiting the treats, but rather filling a majority of their meals with healthy stuff. Like you said, expose them to the healthy stuff at home, and let the rest of it fall where it may. I get frustrated at treats at school / parties, too… but definitely don’t want her to feel guilty or like the food is something to “sneak” or binge on because it’s forbidden… So I plan on keeping the home food well rounded, optional. Get her palate used to lower salt, less chemical food – I don’t know about you, but to me some of that processed stuff doesn’t even taste good anymore!

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