Real Food and Children

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As I’ve mentioned many times before I love Earth Fare (both for their groceries and for their little café), but there is one thing I want to make clear…just because you are buying something from a “health food” or “all natural” type grocery store does not mean it is automatically good for you (or your children)! No matter how many great things they offer, all of those items are mixed in with a bunch of products that I would consider to be highly processed (just like any old grocery store).

It bothers me to no end when I see products like “organic cheddar bunnies,” boxed “organic macaroni and cheese,” and “organic chocolate truffles.” The only difference between these items and products like regular Goldfish and Kraft Mac & Cheese is the fact that they are organic (which is, sure, a slightly better alternative). The thing that all of these products have in common though is that they are all highly processed and made in factories with many more refined ingredients than you would ever use if you were making them from scratch at home.

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

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

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

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

This book also shares two other very important points…

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

“Remember that you are the boss.”

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

For those of you who haven’t known me long…just less than a year ago I was just like any other ordinary parent when it came to feeding my kids (and my family). I am a little embarrassed to say, but I admit that before I read Michael Pollan’s book at the beginning of last year I don’t recall ever reading a single ingredient label in my life! It’s not that I didn’t care I was just clueless. And it was a huge and (at times) unpleasant transition for us to switch to a real food diet, but now it is our new normal. And one of my most favorite outcomes from our 100 Days of Real Food adventure is that I completely rid my house of all junk food. I actually put it away in the guest closet thinking we would just put it back in the pantry when the 100 days were over.

But about halfway through the pledge I surprised myself and got rid of all of it. Even though it took me 50 days to come to this conclusion I decided that I loved not having the junk around and never eating it at home. And now when my daughters are hungry for a snack they can have absolutely anything they want any time of day, and it is so nice. Nothing is off limits in our house (click for picture of our pantry), and it is so pleasurable that I can’t imagine going back to the way we were before all of this. I’ve also decided that between birthday parties, school functions, and playdates my daughters get more than enough junk food so there is absolutely no need for me to provide it to them at home as well.

One other thing I want to reiterate about the quotes from Lunch Lessons. They say based on research kids have to sometimes try a new food ten or twelve times before they warm up to it…and I believe it. Time and time again I keep serving our picky 3-year-old the same thing that the rest of us are eating for dinner only to have her turn her (cute) nose up to it. But just like the book suggests I never give up on her, although I do usually offer at least one thing on her plate that I know she likes.

One day after many failed previous attempts she all of a sudden decided she liked green bell peppers (not red or yellow), but the green ones. I of course thought this was just wonderful and eagerly helped her pick all of the green ones out of our fajitas, but it was very surprising because I had easily offered this same dish to her probably 30+ times (not just 10 or 12). And it finally worked!! This is only one small example from one family, but the point of this whole post is….it is up to you, the parent, to make the right food decisions for your kids (and also involve them in those decisions whenever you can) and to never give up!!

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  1. I Know! At whole ffods, there are so many unhealthy options like…
    Deep fried potato chips,mac and cheese with white pasta, white flour pretzels, white bread, cookies, cupcakes, wjite sushi……… the list goes on!

  2. I am enjoying your website and it has lead me to the place I need to be, but remember not everyone is where you are. We all have a different starting point, and if folks have moved from goldfish crackers to Annie’s bunnies they may get to where you are eventually. It’s a process and maybe a softer touch and a little more consideration from you is in need. I realize this is from three years ago so maybe you have evolved in your judgment.

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

    1. Agree with her or not, but please recognize that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This is ME being judgmental: bullying through name-calling is simply not an acceptable way for adults to communicate.

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

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

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

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