Preparing Your Kids To Eat In “The Real World”
A common criticism I hear about parenting while living a whole-foods lifestyle is that it will somehow make children “go crazy” with the Standard American Diet once they are out on their own. While I don’t deny that there is always the possibility that your children will choose differently when they aren’t at home, it defies logic to argue that you can somehow prepare your children to eat “in the real world” (code for Standard American Diet) by letting them eat junk food while you have the primary responsibility for feeding them.. What you teach them now will serve them for the rest of their lives–both now, when they eat away from home for various reasons, and when they become responsible for feeding themselves as adults.
In 2008, after being married for 20 years, I found myself a newly single parent. I was on my own trying to achieve a high-raw diet for my four athletes in elementary and middle school.
At their dad’s home, my children get a salad with dinner, but also sugar cereal, Top Ramen, junk-food snacks, meat for dinner, and . . . no more green smoothies.
Some of my kids are asking for good nutrition on their own. My two daughters are vegetarians by choice and ask their dad if they can come to my house when he makes hamburgers. My healthiest child begs for Brussels sprouts and steams them after school for a snack. And all the kids notice they don’t like how they feel, eating junk at his house. But others of my children will eat junk whenever they get the chance.
These are a few tips if you or a parent you care about is dealing with this or a similar situation. Because even if divorce isn’t part of your life, your kids may go to the in-laws’ or grandparents’ home and encounter a set of standards different than yours. And then, of course, they grow up and have full responsibility for what they eat on their own.
- Make sure your kids leave for school (or for their dad’s or grandparents’ house) with excellent nutrition up until that point.
- Give your kids skills in the garden, in the kitchen, and in the grocery store. In age-appropriate ways, teach them how to grow, select, and prepare food that will nourish them.
- Let go and know that after all you can do, God takes you the rest of the way. You don’t have to be perfect, you just have to do the best you can. My mom always said that she sent her eight children out into the world and said a prayer after us when we walked out the door. Control the things that you can, that feel right to you, and let go of the rest. It’s like my yoga teacher says: I’m going to show you ways to push your body outside its comfort zone, but do you what you can and call it good.
Even though I am doing the very best I can for my kids’ health, even though I run a health-oriented web site and write books and speak all over the U.S., full time–even though there is no junk food in my house–I cannot control everything my children eat.
“Controlling” what the kids eat is a really great idea when kids are young. It is a word mostly excised from your vocabulary, as the kids get older. I control the food that I purchase and make, still. I don’t buy junk food. But “control” what teenagers eat away from home? No can do.
I have observed that my friends who are the most open minded to what I feed them when they come over (sprouted, living, raw stuff) always tell me how their moms baked homemade whole-wheat everything, and juiced carrots and celery or made green drinks, and shopped at a health food store.
And my friends who won’t try anything and make funny faces because they say “I have a strong gag reflex!” or whatever? They’re universally the ones who were raised on the Standard American Diet.
Some of the benefits of my children having a good example, a lot of childhood education, and far better nutrition than other kids in America transcend the nutrition they get today. They will be adults who aren’t squeamish and avoidant of natural colors (like green!) and textures and new foods. Flax crackers and baby-turnip stir-fry and edamame for a snack and raw-vegetable soup will seem like home, instead of crazy-people food. It’s worth it!