Raising Our Kids on a Healthy Diet Is Not Going to Ruin Them

In case you missed it there was a conundrum on my Facebook page yesterday – after I learned my daughter was buying items in the school cafeteria I was unaware of – that spawned more than 3,000 comments (on both posts in total). I don’t think I read every single one of the comments, but I did read most and noticed something very interesting.

We’ve all heard the warning, “If you are too restrictive with your kids’ food choices now, it will backfire later!”

There may be some truth to that and I do personally strive for a “healthy” (and guilt-free) balance when my own kids want to indulge, BUT what I did notice yesterday – that was different than usual and that I really liked – were many of the following comments that REALLY struck a chord with me.

It's important to teach healthy habits


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These are the stories I think a lot of us don’t hear enough and also serve as a GREAT reminder to keep instilling healthy habits in our kids (despite the naysayers many of us have in our lives)…

“I WISH my parents had ‘forced’ a real food or healthy lifestyle on me. IF they had i would not still be 50+lbs overweight (since jr high) and have such a warped relationship with food!”

“I wish my parents made me eat healthy whole foods when I was younger. It would have saved me a lifetime of health issues that have pretty much subsided since I changed what I put in to my body.”

“As a child I was taught good nutrition and given good choices and for that I’m thankful. I wasn’t given fruit loops and chicken nuggets. I wasn’t allowed to order off the kids menu I had what the adults were having —lobster and seafood! I’m grateful as an adult that I don’t really crave junk food–not to say I don’t indulge once in a while, I’m human right? I would have loved to have had all of the organic and vegetarian choices back then that we have now. Bravo to any parent starting their kids off on the healthy track!!!”

“As a 26 year old who has struggled with her weight since third grade, I wish my parents had introduced me to real food sooner. We ate at home, but corn was the only ‘vegetable’ ever to grace the table. As a parent you HAVE to introduce those foods and “force’ your children to learn how to nourish their bodies, or they won’t know how to do it themselves.”

“I wish my family had had better eating habits when I was growing up. I wish I had never learned to put sugar on cereal for example. We didn’t have a lot of junk food but I learned some bad habits. And didn’t develop enough really good ones. Now I’m 50 and gluten intolerant and overweight and who knows what other damage has been done?”

“I chose what I ate because my parents were absent during mealtimes. Mac and cheese. Cereal. White bread. Pizza. Now, I have PCOS, insulin resistance, and gluten intolerance and because of these, am struggling to get pregnant. I’m not obese OR inactive, but my body was made sick as a child. I am SO PROUD of all of you mothers that are taking charge of your and your family’s health. It is SO IMPORTANT. You are enabling your children to live long healthy lives, especially your daughters who will have babies of their own. I have control of my health now (just turned 21) but it took 5 years to figure out what was wrong with me. It was food. Now I’m fighting to get my fertility back and I will succeed!!”

“My husband and I both grew up eating healthy for the most part and even now at ages 24 and 25 we would much rather eat a healthy meal than junk food. How you raise your children to eat follows them into adulthood.”

“I only wish healthy food habits were ‘forced’ onto me as a child. Then I wouldn’t have had to spend the last 3 years completely changing my diet to avoid weight loss surgery (2 of my sisters have had this), avoid an autoimmune thyroid disease, remove anti depressants and anti inflammatories from my daily routine and really enjoy my life! Thankfully, I now know better and I pass this information on to my own children so they can avoid these issues too.”

“I was fed all natural foods from birth (and that was 1980 when it wasn’t even cool, lol) and of course I had my sneaky moments, but I am obsessed with eating healthy as an adult. People are absolutely more likely to eat healthy if they are raised to see that as ‘normal.'”

“I wish my parents would have provided me with whole foods. I have struggled all my life with weight….”

“I certainly wish I didn’t have to work so hard to overcome the UNhealthy eating habits my parents passed down to me.”

“I am teaching my children now, what I wish I would have known growing up. Fresh whole foods are better for your body than processed foods.”

“I grew up in a house where my Mom sprinkled wheat germ on my yogurt and substituted tofu for meat…as a child, I didn’t even know that a soda and chip aisle existed in the grocery store. I have such gratitude for that, and have passed that on to my children.”

“I grew up in a house without sugar cereal, little debbies, and chips. As a child I was not happy about it but now I am sooo grateful. Now my family eats a clean diet…its my job to educate and provide healthy options for my family”

“I wish my parents would have cared more to teach me better eating habits because changing them as an adult was extremely hard since I really had no idea of what real health and real foods were.”

“I wish my mother had taught me healthy eating habits as a child rather than using food as rewards and to soothe. It’s taken a long time to break that. You’re their parent not their friend! Teaching them to be healthy is a good thing. Anyone saying otherwise is crazy.”

“I grew up on junk because my mom allowed me to be picky and let us eat what we wanted, and I have had a weight problem. So now I am trying to do better by my children and some people think I’m being mean and should let them eat whatever they want (the oldest being only two years old!). It is hard to make changes when you are used to eating poorly, so I want to make changes for them now and plant the seed of good health and eat real food. I think it is a crying shame for anyone to be ridiculed and put down for that.”

“I only wish my mother had the knowledge of eating clean and healthy growing up. My whole life, I ate unhealthy. Processed food. Fast food. I didn’t know any different. And all I knew to cook for my husband was the processed food my mom taught me to make. It’s so hard to change my eating habits of 22 years.”

“I feel so fortunate that healthy eating habits were ‘forced’ upon me as a child. I thank my mom all the time for that b/c I believe I am a healthier adult b/c of it. And I am passing along the same healthy habits to my children.”

My Own Childhood

There was also one comment (that I just cannot find again to quote!), but it said something like,

“I was allowed to eat all the junk I wanted growing up and I still snuck candy and other treats behind my parents’ back.”

And actually now that I think about it I was that kid, too. We were provided homemade dinners complete with vegetables of course, but beyond that I do recall a childhood filled with plenty of packaged food options (including Doritos, Kraft Mac & Cheese, Golden Grahams, Little Debbie Snacks, Frozen Pizza, Snickers, etc.). And even so I’ll never forget how many of my grandmother’s chocolate chips cookies I would eat as a child (while no one was looking!) when we visited her house.

During the holidays her famous chocolate chip cookies would be out on a tray in the dining room, and every single time I passed by I would pop one in my mouth. Man, her cookies were good. It’s not that I wasn’t “allowed” treats by any stretch of the imagination (although I am sure my parents did have some limits!), but there I was still eating an embarrassing amount of cookies and I don’t think anyone knew except me. Even despite my sneaky ways as a child though, I’ve always had a healthy relationship with food. So long story short – junk food restrictions or not – children might sneak food and while the issue certainly shouldn’t be ignored, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to be set up for a lifetime of negative health consequences as a result. Just my two cents based on my own experience.

So now I am really curious – what was your childhood like from a food perspective and how did that shape you as an adult? It seems there is really no “one size fits all” answer here so I’d love to hear your stories as well.

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290 thoughts on “Raising Our Kids on a Healthy Diet Is Not Going to Ruin Them”

  1. I am doing my best to introduce my kids to healthy food and try hard not to give them processed and kid-meal type foods. We mostly eat organic, home-cooked meals. But I grew up in a similar household to this and, unlike so many people commenting above, did not develop a healthy relationship with food. In fact, I’ve always blamed the restriction on junk food in our house for the fact that I have an overeating/junk food/weight problem. Recently I’ve started to wonder if there is just some kind of genetic component that is hard to beat based solely on environment and encouragement to eat healthy foods.

  2. Lindsay Untherbergus

    My experience growing up was very interesting because I ate a lot of processed foods, but my mom loved to cook and gave us healthy dinners every night. Since she worked I made my own breakfast and packed my own lunch… which meant I was eating processed cereal, white bread sandwiches, and chips every day. Also, at home I was allowed to snack on whatever I wanted, there were no restrictions. Luckily I have always loved healthy foods and had no problem eating my veggies at dinner. It wasn’t until I was about 18 that my mom and I started learning about processed foods and how we need to avoid them. Now both of us eat healthier than ever, and our diet is 90% real food. We love to cook healthy meals together, and I make real food for myself while I’m away at college. My brother is a different story, he eats processed junk all the time and at least one soda a day. He says he can’t break the habits he made as a child but that’s not true; he’s just not willing to put the effort in.

  3. We were required to eat our veggies for dinner and have a glass of milk for dinner. School lunches were packed by my mom and there was always a piece of fruit. But that was as far as the health food was forced. Kool aid was a common drink in our house, condensed soups, fruit by the foot and fruit roll ups (considered dessert, but we still had them), bags of chips were always in the house. I think part of it was budget. We were poor growing up. But I also think my mom didn’t really know any better or was never really taught how to cook. I grew up addicted to sugar and have worked hard to overcome that and I work hard to not have my son grow up that way. My husband was never required to eat veggies because his mom didn’t like the taste of veggies, so she never served them! My hubby had to work even harder to overcome his addiction to sugar and his dislike of veggies. He now eats veggies. He is still picky about how they are served so it’s hard to try new recipes, but I can’t really complain since he does actually eat his veggies! We try with our son. We’re not perfect. But we definitely try to eat mostly real food.

  4. I grew up with relatively healthy, home cooked meals. My grandma was also a great influence in having me taste vegetables from her garden. Despite this healthy eating, I was raised in a family that loved to bake! Which was fine and I love it to this day, however I notice a pattern that I continue to eat healthy meals but then splurge on sweets every day because that’s what I’m used to. I wish we had not eaten so many sweets back then, but the good meals my family made definitely carried over into adulthood.

    1. Hi there! I can relate completely and when I eat my daily sweet, it contains natural sugars (maple syrup, coconut sugar, honey, monk fruit extract) and also no gluten. I use a combo of gluten free flour, rice flour, tapioca starch and xantham gum. If I use chocolate chips, I choose dark chocolate. And I typically put some organice freeze dried berry high in antioxidants into my baked goods. I even use avocado oil instead of vegetable.. and grass fed butter. Talk about guilt free!!!

  5. I am in my 60’s. I grew up on real food / not necessarily organic. I found this site when I was looking for a recipe I used to cook for my daughters. One of then was allergic to corn derivatives. This was before I had heard of high fructose corn syrup.
    My parents, my other daughter, and I ate the same as the one with the food sensitivity. My in-laws kept trying to give me coupons to help with the budget. I repeatedly had to explain why hamburger helper & packs of Mac & cheese or ramen were not helpful. Toothpaste coupons were great.
    Today, the daughter with food problems still follows her diet, enjoys cooking a balanced diet, etc. the other daughter not so much.

  6. Debbie Handley

    I’m 56. Times were different during my childhood. My mother made dinner and that is what we 4 children in our family ate. No substitutions allowed period. There was no such thing as “chicken nuggets” served to children instead of what the adults had for dinner. My mother was a good cook and served us healthy homemade whole food. If you didn’t eat your dinner because you didn’t like it that was fine. Then you didn’t get anything until breakfast the next morning. No stress, but that was what happened.

    I believe because of this I grew up loving vegetables (the only ones I hate are okra and brussel sprouts) and loving to try new foods. I haven’t had a weight problem during my life except after a chronic illness as a side effect from the medication I had to take. Currently I’m a whole foods plant based vegan (of 2 years) and am back to my goal weight and feel incredible.

    Loving vegetables and whole foods made that transition super easy for me and I thank my mother for giving me such a great foundation of healthy foods in my childhood.

  7. I am a nutrition consultant. My son started kindergarten in 2014. As soon as he started, I started working toward getting sugar out of the classroom. This year (first grade), the school started a new policy that banned birthday food treats. I was so happy. But there were an angry few that attacked me personally. They watched my son eat at lunch and reported back to me. Especially one day when I packed him 1 tbsp of maple sugar to sprinkle on his waffles. Apparently, he ate the maple sugar plain and these moms had something to say about it. However, he also ate all his waffles. And yes, my son has snuck cookies or other treat foods behind our backs. I do worry sometimes of it backfiring. But, we are not opposed to sugar and he gets plenty of treats. He was able to indulge on Halloween before trading with the Switch Witch. I didn’t regulate at all this year and he only ate 6 pieces of candy total before he said he had enough. When he mentions having kids, he talks about feeding them healthy. I also wish I ate healthier as a child. I grew up on Fruit Loops, Frosted Flakes, TV Dinners, etc. And my body has paid the price. Despite eating real food for years, I am still in recovery. Is there a chance my son might go out of control when he leaves the house? Yes. But that could happen too if I let him eat whatever he wanted. He might not even know the real stuff existed. And it’s not just about feeding them real food. It’s also about teaching them how to shop for food and cook it. So while I second guess myself sometimes, I’m not caving. It’s best they get all the nutrients they can while their bodies are still developing. Keep up the good work!

  8. My childhood food was basics- processed flour, sugar, macaroni, canned veggies, potatoes, rice– my parents were not well and my mother had heart problems, diabetes and was obese. By the time I left home at 18 I was determined if at all possible to find a way to be healthy. It’s been a long process, but I’ve been successful and your site here is one I visit often. I now write a health blog- I sell nothing, just share things with others that I’ve learned. and I am very healthy. Should you like to see it, my blog address is https://talknshare.wordpress.com/eat-healthy/

  9. I am doing my best to introduce my kids to healthy food and try hard not to give t hem processed and kid-meal type foods. We mostly eat organic, home-cooked meals. But I grew up in a similar household to this and, unlike so many people commenting above, did not develop a healthy relationship with food. In fact, I’ve always blamed the restriction on junk food in our house for the fact that I have an overeating/junk food/weight problem. Recently I’ve started to wonder if there is just some kind of genetic component that is hard to beat based solely on environment and encouragement to eat healthy foods.

  10. Thank you for this post! My kids fight me about eating “real” foods, and my daughter tells me she gets junk food at middle school from her friends. At home I focus on real, homemade foods, but I let them eat what they want at friends houses or parties, and when we eat out. I teach them about nutrition and why processed food is harmful. My hope is that while they don’t always make good choices now when they are away from me, when they are older they will understand better and will have some cooking skills to be able to eat real foods. I have slpent most of my adult life learning to cook because I wasn’t taught it as a child.

    Sometimes I get discouraged by my kids (and sometimes husbands) attitutes towards all the cooking real foods i do. But this post has helped me realized I need to stick with it, that my attitudes will eventually rub off and keep them healthier in the long run. I began with real foods because I developed Non-Alcoholic Fatty LIver Disease, which I completely think is caused by processed foods. And this disease on the rise!! We need to teach our children wheather they are receptive or not!

    1. I can totally relate! Sometimes I think have I taught you nothing! Or they’re just doing the total opposite of what I’m trying to reach them. I grew up eating Whole Foods. We had salad often to the point where childhood friends say do you still eat salad with every meal? I’m grateful my mom taught us well because It gave me a good foundation. My oldest is a big sweet tooth and there’s been sneaking of sweets with him. I allow them to have soda when we go to a party or out to eat. I buy chips once in a while, healthier cereals and snacks. They’re newest thing is they say mom is a health nut. Lol I talk to them about the importance of eating healthy so we can be healthy, strong and minimize future issues as well as how food affects our brain and behavior.

  11. When I was young we still had a milkman delivering to our door! All our meals were “real” foods. The less than real things I remember were soda crackers and white, spongy bread. We had soda as a treat maybe four times a year. Of course we also played outside all the time. I only remember one child from my childhood who was obese. I also don’t remember any obsession with snacks and snack foods. I very easily watch football without stuffing my face with anything! Then came convenience and low calorie foods. Game over.

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