I am still setting up my new house, but I thought I would take a moment to answer an question I got from a reader last week. This question comes up frequently, as I think it is an issue that we all face. Here’s the question:
Sarah: First, I’d like to say thank you so much for your blog. I enjoy it so much and your recipes are wonderful. I am writing to you as a fellow traditional foods enthusiast as well as a mother raising two young children. I am finding it extremely challenging to be around other families who for the most part parent similarly to me except for when it comes to food. I was at a birthday party the other day and my daughter (who is just over 2) asked me for a juicebox. She’s never really had anything like that before because we don’t consume juice in our home. The other children at the party were each having one and I didn’t want her to feel left out and my friends said something like “it’s just juice, it’s not going to kill her” so I let her have one. I believe first and foremost in gratitude and that when someone invites you into their home we should gratefully receive what they have to offer unless there are allergies or intolerances (which we have none of). This raises so many issues, though, because I do believe that we are what we eat and that juice from concentrate is not an appropriate beverage for my kid. But then I also want my daughter to be a part of the world we live in which happens to have crappy juice boxes that most of my friends give their kids. I love my friends but I eat differently from them in a lot of ways. I wanted to reach out to a fellow parent and ask what you do in these situations. how do you balance your beliefs about food and raising children in a society that for the most part eats junk?
I have a few thoughts here, most of which I have shared before. Hopefully, Sarah, you will find some of them helpful.
1. Historical views on hospitality
Historically, a guest would have been purposely insulting the host to refuse to eat his food. Most cultures placed a lot of value on treating guests at the table, even if they were just stopping for a bit (like English visiting hours of the middle class in times past-they would have tea and tidbits to serve to guests). For a guest to refuse the food was a serious offense in many cultures. While that viewpoint has largely been removed from our society, between all of those on weight loss diets as well as food intolerance or allergies, I think that people can still feel insulted.
Truthfully, I have found no easy way around this when one has to be strict about a diet. My saving grace has been my recovering health. My friends know that I suffered from very low energy and was diagnosed with adrenal issues. They knew that I was choosing to eat a certain way to help heal. Plus, I have very sweet friends who been very accepting and helpful even when they wouldn’t have made the same choices as me.
Your friends comment, “It’s not going to kill her…..” probably shows annoyance. Even though you simply hesitated at giving her a juice box, she was feeling that you were judging her food choices at the party. That’s why this is such a tricky issue, I think. People take offense because they feel that you are judging their choices.
2. The 20% rule
If you are a hardy, healthy family who eats really well 80% of the time, eating junk food at a birthday party occasionally, won’t be an issue nutritionally. Dr. Weston A. Price found that when he fed a group of children a really nutritious meal for their lunch, that even though their food at home was very bad, they stopped getting cavities and started healing. This allows you the freedom to eat with those around you. I know that some feel strong enough about the evils of refined sugar and flour, and bad additives like MSG, that they will find it hard to let go and allow their family to shovel in these types of foods when out. Personal convictions and standards will vary, but this rule can make life more livable when sharing your life with others.
3. Eat small portions of food
Once, when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I was eating at some one’s house and they served a casserole made with ingredients really high in MSG. I had just read all of this research on MSG and how it can harm young children as well as adults. I didn’t want to be rude, so I ate a small portion of it, but certainly didn’t satiate my hunger with it. After all of my reading, I would have certainly rather not eaten any of it while pregnant, but this saved me from hurting any one’s feelings.
In a situation like yours, when your daughter wanted a juice box, sometimes I’ve said something along the lines of, “Sure Sweetie! You can have five sips!” It allows her to try something that everyone else is having without drinking the whole thing.
4. Talking to your children
Talk to your children about why you feed them how you do. Make sure you don’t do it in a negative way towards others such as, “We don’t eat like the Jones, because they eat junk food and it’s terrible for them.” But rather put it in positive ways such as saying,while spreading a bit of raw honey on toast for them, “Did you know that bees made this honey? Some things that are sweet have been changed a lot in a factory and so it’s not very good for us anymore. But this honey came out of the beehive just like this! Isn’t that special?” You could also talk to them about the Proverbs that talk about honey, sharing how a little is good, but too much is bad.
The point is this, if you have talked to your children beforehand about why you eat the way you do, it will help them understand why you want them to have five sips of juice, rather than 3 juice boxes, like Sally. My daughter notices she doesn’t feel very well when she eats too many sweets, so we talk about the consequences as well.
5. Purposely do activities that don’t involve food with friends
There are a lot of things that can be done that don’t involve food with children. Going to the park, visiting the zoo or other outings. While little kids will often need snacks on outings, at least you can bring your own this way.
6. Offer to bring a side dish or dessert
You can always try to bring along a side dish or healthier dessert, when eating at a friend’s house. This allows you to share some yummy, but healthier food with them. Not only will you have at least one thing to eat that is more normal, but they can enjoy your “healthy” food too.
7. Don’t take yourself too seriously
I often make fun of myself and our eating habits and try to treat it lightly. While I do think that it is an important issue, treating an awkward situation with a bit of a joke can help release any tension. “You know us!” I will say jokingly to a friend when I am not eating something or another. I recently ate some ice cream with my family during a break while we were packing, and they were joking about taking a picture of it and “exposing” me online. I find it good for the soul and for relationships not to take oneself too seriously. (Unfortunately, the sweets I had during the move proved to me that I really shouldn’t eat much sugar, but that’s okay!).
8. It’s helpful to have some friends who eat like you do
While I have certainly not chosen my friends by their eating habits, I have found it helpful for my daughter to get together with families who are also on more particular diets (in her case, dairy and gluten-free). It makes her feel like she is not alone. It’s also nice when they can all eat the same food. You could try to join a Weston A Price Foundation Chapter group in your area to meet like minded eaters.
9. Decide the absolute “never” food items for your family
If there are items like soda pop, or candy, or ?, that you think your children should never have, make that clear to them before the party. And if you have close friends/family, you should probably let them know, in a friendly way, that your kids don’t drink pop, or whatever item it may be. While this kind of breaks the 80/20 rule, it may be necessary if you don’t want your kids coming back on a sugar/caffeine high.
9. The reality for those on special diets
For our family, we have often had to tell hostesses beforehand of foods that I wasn’t eating, like dairy (which at one point I reacted to very strongly, though now I am much better). My daughter recently tested as reacting very highly to eggs (along with a few other foods), so we will have to watch that where ever we go. Unfortunately, that does limit us and that is a reality no matter where we eat. If I had my way, I would feed us all really well at home, and not worry much when eating out at friends.
Those relationships are important for our emotional health and I don’t think it is always necessary to shield your children from ever trying “junk food”. Make your food life a life of abundance, of enjoying really good food, making yummy baked goods that are healthy, delicious roasts in the oven, roasted chicken, and giant salads full of crunch and flavor. If your child eats a cookie here or there at a friend’s house, that shouldn’t be too big of a deal in the context of their daily diet. And if there are special needs, or you just want them to have a better snack, try to send a treat with them to share with their playmate!
While there are no simple answers to this question, and what you need to do for your family will vary, try to help your children appreciate what they can eat and enjoy, instead of being sad about what they can’t eat.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, everyone!