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Oprah, raw food, and parenting (part 2 of 2)

By Robyn Openshaw, MSW | Oct 29, 2009

I have started meeting with a good friend of mine this week whose wife asked for my help with nutrition counseling. My friend is a regionally renowned musician whose family is going through some seriously tough times. He is amazingly well read, brilliant, educated with an advanced degree, a church leader, fantastic dad, and one of the finest human beings I know. And still, his wife says he is like most of America in one sense at least. He knows nothing about nutrition. He did the Atkins Diet religiously for a long period of time before suffering the consequences of that regimen (health lost, weight regained). He was raised in a fairly chaotic environment and simply doesn’t know.

What a gift we give any child who is raised with a whole-foods, plant-based diet, even while the larger culture around him has gone insane. (Even a child will be gripped by the very visual and easily documented results when quasi-vegetarian Morgan Spurlock, in the documentary SuperSize Me, eats at McDonald’s for 30 days. But unfortunately you have to access the child-friendly version of the movie that they showed at my kids’ school, since the regular version inexplicably contains the F word.)

I got a very long email yesterday from someone who read my intro to 12 Steps and told me that my attitude toward children is “disrespectful” because I state that children generally need adults to help with their nutrition because they make choices based on what tastes good rather than what’s good for them. (Feel free to sound off on this blog about your opinions on that, which are welcome!) The writer said that her children always choose vibrant whole, raw foods and loathe any processed junk food.

When she writes a book about how exactly she achieved that (if in fact she didn’t just get lucky with perfect children), I do hope it outsells 12 Steps. I’ll be the first in line to buy it, because that is not my observation of the vast majority of American children. I speak positively about whole plant foods in my home and attempt to make appealing dishes, and two of my children are vegetarian by choice. However, most of my children will eat fruits and veggies but otherwise make poor choices if left to their own devices at food-related events outside my home.

I wish they wouldn’t, just like I wish I wouldn’t have ever made bad choices. But I honor their choices even if I “require” things of them (and make no apologies about it, while you, reading this, are free to reject my way of thinking and doing things). For instance, when I buy them dinner at Sweet Tomatoes, their first plate of food has to be a giant green salad. In the long run, I trust that their tastes have been “set” to enjoy green and raw plant foods, and their experience with good health because of their diet will be a powerful motivator in the future.

Posted in: 12 Steps To Whole Food, Books, Mind/Body Connection, Parenting

16 thoughts on “Oprah, raw food, and parenting (part 2 of 2)”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    I cannot imagine leaving my children to make their own decisions on what they are to eat! I for one, have made more than my share of bad food decisions and my oldest has paid the price for it. Now, his tastes are set for those bad foods. If I left those decisions to him all the time, he would eat nothing but junk! He will eat good foods, he will eat salad, fruits and veggies, but these are my choices to give him. I put healthy foods in my home and he is welcome to eat any of them. When we go out I will let him decide what he wants to eat. It is never a good choice.

    My little ones are still so young that I am hoping my new eating habits will become theirs without much trouble. However, if I was to let them decide what they would eat everyday, my 4 year old would for sure pick things that aren’t always the best choice.

    I think it is very important that we make healthy choices for our children and teach them how to eat at a young age. If we don’t, who will? In our current situation in this world, we must step up and take this repsonsiblity! There are too many over weight children (and adults for that matter). I spent so much time making bad choices and am now paying the price. Yes, I am losing the weight that I gained, but having to help change the eating habits of a family of 5 is hard. Having to help an 11 year old boy lose his big belly and round face isn’t an easy task either. So, me personally, I thank you, Robyn, for your book and your honesty! It has helped me learn how to not only help myself, but also help my family!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Watching Super Size Me just made me hungry to go to McDonald’s, seriously! And I watched it through all the way to the end even!

  3. Anonymous says:

    Robyn, I sincerely hope that you were able to let go of the descructive comments which the woman made in her ignorance, about being ‘disrespectful’ to children. I, like many many people, are so glad that you have taken the time to write your 12 Steps, and help us to make it easier to feed our children healthy in a time when our supermarkets are stocked with processed food, and we have the challenge of our children seeing what others have in their school lunch boxes, and asking why we don’t provide them with!

    Are you are quite right, education about nutrition is the key – exactly the same way we teach our children that smoking is not only unattractive, but it is deadly.

    You keep on your path, and fulfill your hearts desire of educating us – we welcome it with open arms!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I was blessed to learn about the power of whole foods (most of my early education on the topic came from Robyn) when my children were very young (i.e., the oldest was still in diapers). As my children have grown, I’ve had ample opportunities to teach them about making good choices about their nutrition. Much of that “teaching” comes from my refusal to buy junk food and my insistence (like Robyn mentions in this post) that they eat the best foods–green smoothies and salads–first at meal times.

    Though I absolutely agree that most children do NOT make good nutrition choices on their own, I’ve been happily amazed at how eager they are to learn and at how quickly they put their nutrition knowledge to good use. My three-year-old, for example, started attending preschool this fall, so I figured it was time to teach her *why* she eats some foods and not others. Now, whenever she is offered food by someone other than me, she asks, “Does this have any white flour, sugar, or meat in it?” It’s just the basics, but she’s learning more each day, and I couldn’t be more proud.

    I’m happy to report that she doesn’t begrudge most of the nutrition requirements I place on her–she really enjoys her food and feels proud that she doesn’t put bad things in her body. When returning home from her nursery class at church, where they serve goldfish, pretzels, and other processed foods for snacks, she happily reports on what she passed up and how much she liked her snacks instead (I usually send her with a fruit and a nut/seed–many of my recipes coming from ch. 7).

  5. Give them only good things to choose from, and let them run wild with free choice. Hee. Of course, then there is the real fast food world. Fortunately, I was allowed little junk food within the family, so it kept the other stuff to a minimum, too. Phew. Well, until out on my own and doing about ten years of yuck. But I learned and enough was enough.

  6. Robyn, I have read your blog a few times and I really appreciate your insight and ideas on healthy food and eating habits. Unfortunately i have many unhealthy habits. I don’t blame that on my mother. She did the best she could to provide us with healthy foods. I blame that on my natural desire as a child to have food that tasted good and gave me a “sugar rush.” Unhealthy food was always available to me at friends’ houses, convenience stores, and even at school, even though we didn’t have lots of junk food around the house. I have talked to several people who say “I always had a bowl of candy on my table and my kids hardly touched it but their friends whose parents didn’t allow sugar would gorge themselves on it when they came over.” That has NOT been my experience. My kids have all kinds of food available to them. I have not been one to deprive them of treats and guess waht? They still eat too much of the wrong things when they are available and will hardly touch the really good stuff(which is also available). I could have been much better about teaching them (my oldest is 15 and my youngest in-utero), but i also think that some kids/people are more carbohydrate sensitive and the sugar has a different (worse?) effect on them which creates a negative cycle (I feel bad, so if I eat sugar, i’ll feel better, but that makes me feel bad…). I believe that education and good habits are the heart of it which is why i am anxious to get your book and get started. Happy Halloween!!

  7. Anonymous says:

    It’s a game of balance. My mother was a lot like Robyn’s in some ways. I had teenagers myself before i heard the term ‘comfort food’. My friend thought it was just hilarious that i’d never heard of it. Even funnier, i didn’t get it even when she explained it.

    Like many others here, i was raised on meat-centered meals of processed, frozen and canned foods by a mom who was also no cook by any stretch. Food was a necessary evil to her. I hated mealtimes. And always had stomach aches, esp. after dinner.

    Flash forward to me raising kids beginning in the 70s. Trying to feed them healthy stuff as i became aware of what constitutes healthy…while my siblings and i became major foodies!! Good cooks – esp my brothers!! And we married good cooks. We totally changed our family food dynamics in one generation. Holidays are real food fests for us now!!

    My kids were like Tina’s…at least they started out that way. Home schooling wasn’t an option back then, at least not where we were living, tho if i had it to do over, that’s exactly what i’d do. Public school introduced them to junk foods in other kids’ lunches and snacks in a hurry.

    My youngest daughter used to be like Tina’s 3 yr old…i once got her a beautiful pink grapefruit as a reward for doing something similar. She loved it! SHE was a major animal-lover and most willing veggie as a kid. My kids got nuts and fruit in Christmas stockings, beautiful fruit baskets instead of candy for Easter – esp when they were little. As they got older, they wanted and got more candy and less fruit.

    I never did like meat, but didn’t know until much later that not eating meat was an option. By the time i divorced their dad, they were 2, 4 & 6…we ate more and more veggie. As teens, they got very little meat at home. But increasingly better-tasting, healthier food, esp since their step-dad was such a fabulous cook. He and i have been veggie for a long time and mostly vegan for about 6 yrs. (me more than him) He’s a real gourmet chef and going raw gives him a whole new arena to explore in the kitchen! Everyone loves his creations.

    Today…all 3 kids are in their 30s. Our son & daughter-in-law live in SF Bay area and eat pretty well, tho not totally veggie by any means. (It’s so easy there!) They’re the oldest with no kids yet. Both daughters live in San Antonio and have 3 kids each. Both sons-in-law are amazing cooks…accomplished BBQ’rs…way overweight and on blood pressure and who knows what other meds. Both daughters are slim and seem healthy and feed the kids some healthy foods.

    Still, our grandchildren eat LOTS of meat…not even organically-produced…plenty of junk foods and soda. Stuff that even at my most ignorant when i first started out, i knew not to give them. They are gradually buying more organic foods (if they’re cheap at Costco, anyway)…tho the heavy meat, eggs and dairy portion of their diet worries me.

    Grampa and Gramma (my husband and i) are generously and (mostly) good-naturedly tolerated for our weirdnesses – esp regarding eating. As our lifestyle evolves, we become more vegan and raw and make it even more difficult for them to have us visit. (We live 4 hrs away, so must stay with them when we visit.) Even pizza is off the list of what we’ll eat, now.

    The sad part is that WE are seen as eccentric and weird by our own kids and grandkids for our way-out ideas and odd eating habits. The fact that we take NO meds…are in WAY better health and physical condition than their dads seems totally lost on them all…at least for now.

    Both daughters still lament all the candy they missed in Easter baskets, the marachino cherries that waitresses ‘accidentally’ left off ice cream sundaes, and the youngest one still taunts me about the pink grapefruit. All this in front of their own kids. It’s always done w/good humor and love. But the message is very clear. I was out-to-lunch (old hippie is what they think) and they aren’t denying THEIR kids the things i denied them. The grandkids range from 18 mos to almost 14 yrs…so plenty old enough to understand. It’s very hurtful and hard to take, even when it’s done gently with lots of smiles. And guessing we’ll probably outlive some younger family members is no comfort.

    We figure that some of those grandkids will eventually figure it out…esp if we don’t push it. And we don’t. We’re both pretty much live and let live kind of people. I do wonder how long it will take for them to consider that MAYBE we do know something worthwhile. I am betting that we’ll live to see it happen!

    In the meantime, we are working on moving to San Antonio so we can have our own home and esp our own kitchen there…which will help out in many ways. And we just continue loving them, spending as much time with them as we can and being true to who we are.

    We manage my husband’s long-term Hepatitis C completely with diet and lifestyle changes…after the initial crisis 6 yrs ago when he was very ill and finally got diagnosed. (VA wanted to him to take their standard interferon treatment, but he decided to wait on that as our drastic changes, including raw, vegan diet improved his health quickly and dramatically.) They all know that and see it and it’s a miracle to witness…!! Even got a story published in Liver Health Today magazine this spring and started a cool newsletter in conjunction with our green lifestyle mentoring.

    Just another (long) perspective on parenting children on eating! Do what you can…hope for the best…and know you don’t have control over what happens later. As the song goes, Love is all you need!! — Suz 😀

  8. Wow those are some long comments. All I can say about that lady is that either she doesn’t really know what good nutrition is or she is very ignorant about children in this country today because her kids are obviously so different. I would love to have kids like that. I’m hoping raising them with green smoothies instead of cows milk to drink will do the trick!

    Actually nutrition is the biggest reason I am considering homeschooling my kids. All the choices here are junk and then there is a small fruit basket that looks so unappealing next to all the fries and pizza in their school lunch lines. How can a kid concentrate on learning when they fill themselves full of junk? And then they are still teaching kids these days to drink their milk and eat hamburgers.

    To Suz I would say if you move to San Antonio, try to live near the one Whole Foods. It takes me 30 mins to drive there from where I live. I think that side of town might have some more crunchy people. But all in all San Antonio is not a very crunchy place. I think Austin is better that way.

  9. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

    I love all these comments. Tina and Suz, thanks for sharing your stories.

    Suz, it was many years before I recovered from the not-particularly-positive approach to the whole-food nutrition I grew up with. But of 8 children, all 8 are a healthy weight despite a very high propensity toward cancer in my family. The one who leans most towards junk food is the one who has had some serious health challenges (that appear to be lifestyle related). And most gravitate toward a healthier lifestyle than average Americans. A few of us are VERY nutrition and alternative-health oriented, including my sister, and my brother who participates in endurance races. A lot of it seems to depend on who we marry. My racing brother, in his late 30’s, has a wife who is really interested in good nutrition/health too.

    I’ve said it before: those who were mocking me 15 years ago are now doing 12 Steps and asking me for help in the humblest, most open way, that I could never have imagined back then. Usually because of a health crisis. Suz, I believe your daughters would return quickly to what you taught them, if one of their children became ill with a lifestyle-caused illness. (My observation is that a crisis is often REQUIRED to make changes. And I will always consider my son Kincade’s severe athsma to be one of the great blessings of my family’s life because of what it caused, and the growth/learning opportunities it afforded, which I share with you on this site/blog.)

    The longer we live (Suz, you seem to “get” this), the more we see a long-range view of things.

    Good luck on the hepatitis front. I love to read about miracles: I get a LOT of them on this site, blog, and facebook.


  10. Anonymous says:

    Thanks so much, Tricia & Robyn!!

    Tricia – you’re 1/2 hr from Whole Foods in SAT?? How cool is that? Both daughters in NW — Leon Valley & near SeaWorld. We were planning to come down this weekend, but will probably wait and come down next weekend instead. Yes, i’ve even considered applying to work part-time at that WF. Love that place!! Would LOVE to live in that part of town w/all the crunchy people and the funky old houses!! Working very hard on it…!! Yes, Austin is crunchier, but the point is to be near the kids. We also want to spend part of the year (summer, maybe??) in Be-zerkeley w/son and daughter-in-law in REAL crunchy-land!! Figuring out how to finance this!!!!!!!

    Robyn – can’t tell you how much i appreciate *your* long view…as a daughter raised by a no-nonsense whole foods mom. Good to know how resistant YOU were and for so long!! My whole foods approach was still pretty bad as i look back now…but it was the best i knew at the time. Started evolving then and continues today. Most of the real progress i’ve made since they left home.

    They don’t even really know how we live now. They just see (in varying degrees) that we’re a pain in the butt cuz we don’t eat most of what they eat. And they WANT to be hospitable when we come. They just never know what we’re eating and what we’re not from one trip to the next! I’m sure it IS frustrating for them. We often eat at WF and then do our shopping before heading back home.

    Thanks for sharing your story and how you and your siblings have reacted and been affected. And your son’s asthma. Not sure my daughters would trust us over the docs if their kids got sick. i’d like to think they’d consider our approach, but it’s hard to imagine it really happening. Getting them to even believe any illness was lifestyle-related seems unlikely.

    My brother passed away a week before last Thanksgiving…melanoma. Mr. Goodhealth…super strong CA mtn man…who baked the first solid bricks of whole wheat bread in our family and gave me my first whole grain breadbaking recipe books when the kids were little and introduced us to x-country skiing…eventually married the only non-foodie in the family (besides my mother).

    And when we tried to get him to try green smoothies along w/chemo, his wife intervened and wouldn’t let us show her how to do it right (she has PhD in biotech), so it was chunky and tasted awful and he wouldn’t listen to us, either. We stopped trying because there was sooo much resistance.

    Maybe it wouldn’t have mattered, but it was extremely hard to lose him, knowing he wouldn’t even try changing his diet or anything we suggested. Everyone in the family saw what we did on the hep c front. They were all very happy and supportive!! Sooo…i’m not even sure a medical crisis would change anything. They all seem to trust the allopathic docs while applauding our success. Go figure!

    Still…i DO believe in miracles!! And the people now asking for your help are proof!! I think that the grandkids will eventually figure it out and start asking questions when they’re older. And we are living healthy and happy – even our pets are!! Can’t live anyone else’s life for them. Not even your own kids’. Just gotta love ’em!!!!!!

    Thanks for being a great support tribe!!! — Suz 😀

  11. Anonymous says:

    I don’t know which is worse, being the parent and being seen as weird, or being the children and being seen as hurtful and hateful, because we won’t let the grandchildren eat cake and ice cream. Being accused of making arbitrary decisions, as if we don’t eat this way at home or anywhere else. And they all know we do. My family isn’t a big deal, they are live and let live, but my husbands family is a different story. We are depriving our children because they can’t have sugar.

    The funny thing is they don’t want sugar! Like Tina said her daughter does at Nursery School asking if it has meat in it or sugar, my children will ask their grandma does it have sugar in it or MSG or preservatives, then I don’t want any! At first I felt like they should not do that but after reading what Tina said about it I have changed my mind. At least it is not always me saying no, but the children of their own free will saying no! What doesn’t help is that my husband wants to eat this way and he is the one who said we were going to. But he has a problem turning sugar down so sometimes he says they can have something, but if they ask me I say no. So it is always me saying no and not ever him, I am accused of being controlling then.

    But there is such a difference in how our children act without sugar that it is not an option to go back! We have always limited the sugar intake but without it entirely, WOW! What a difference.

    Enough rambling…..

    I feel so much better without sugar, too. I have always known I did but didn’t know of substitutes and how to use them…. I am so thankful to now. My husband is the same way…. and none of us has gotten sick so far this fall/winter….ssshh don’t say that outloud!:)

    Now if only I could get back to green smoothies!:(

  12. Robyn,

    You bring up real and potent food news and stories. Thanks!

    AS I have been working on improving my health and easing chronic conditions through nutrition and supplements (and a lot more), I notice how now even after 37 years of being a vegetarian how often I still use food as a stress escape and how often I become afraid of what I eat. I have lost a lot of weight, and am afraid that if I am not good enough, I will regain it.

    After reading one comment, I was reminded of when I was helping raise 4 young children. After in engaging in food struggles reminiscient of my Mom and me, I decided to trust them to make healthy choices. Of course the food in my house was only healthy food. At school they could be on their own (that was before sodas and candy machines littered hallways).

    They made great selections, and food wars were over. We began to trust in food and each other. While in my care, sickness almost evaporated. Ultimately we need t find ways to adopt a nourishing, loving relationship within ourselves, with our bodies, and with our food.




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  13. Robyn Openshaw, MSW says:

    Yes, it’s just never going to work to be punishing and controlling about food. I can’t say that I’ve never resorted to that or that I haven’t learned that the hard way. But in the past year or two, my kids think I’m sappy when I ignore any griping and just say, “That’s how we do things here!” or “If we didn’t eat right, you guys wouldn’t know who I am.” And I just stay the course with what I cook, what I buy, and the choices I make every day.

    One of my children is already always grateful, others are SOMETIMES grateful, and the one who is very rarely happy about the healthy lifestyle said this weekend, “I think when we grow up we’ll respect you for the way you fed us.” Wow. BABY STEPS.

    It’s all in the way it’s presented. We don’t have to sit around fretting about “will they like me if I feed them kale crisps instead of Cheetohs?” because we have, as Suz put it, the LONG VIEW. We know that a tantrum is just a tempest in a teapot. Here today gone tomorrow.

    It’s okay if they whine or complain now and then. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be kids!

    I have seen parents who made HUGE mistakes be loved and respected many years later despite those mistakes. We just do the right thing, every day, every way that we can. It works out okay in the end. Not that everything’s perfect in the end, just that we always know we did our best, found the balance or really tried, anyway, stayed the course. It’s not easy, but my gut, my experience, and my research tells me there’s not a better, competing parenting philosophy.

  14. I loved your insight on the effect of how we’re raised influencing how we eat

    chuckling reading this – I was one of those ‘crunchy granola’ parents who didn’t want the kids (now 36 & 39) eating the pie or cake & ice cream at my parents’! & fed them veggies & simple foods – lots of rice n lentils, whole grains, raw milk (from a grade A+ dairy) etc.

    When the kids were little, I remember them whispering ‘do we HAVE TO eat the frosting?’ at a rare party where I ‘let them eat cake!!’

    My daughter & I eat still eat like that, & have a CSA share; my son raises a big garden with chickens & ducks & game – more sugar & white flour in their house, & both use more canned food than I do

    . . . my dau, her family & I went gluten free this summer, after she had the genetic testing, & that’s been a whole new experience – ‘of course’ they had whole wheat growing up – the playschool my 4 yr old granddaugher attends has graciously switched to gluten free snacks!!

    Which is nice, since a lot of the crackers were additive laden – & she & her sis will ask ‘is it gluten free?’ & know they do better without sugar. Now there’s more whole food emphasis 🙂 (They always had some nuts & dried, fresh or tinned fruit, or good applesauce, . . .)

    In researching the GF shift, we found much of the wheat for sale in the US has twice the gluten it did in the 50s (> Gluten = > protein = > $$ for the farmers) hence the increasing number of folks with problems with the stuff!

    I’ve eaten more rice than wheat for years, & love quinoa & other seeds – so it’s been relatively easy – though it makes going out to eat even harder – our ‘fav.’ soup n sandwich restaurant uses flour in the soup we love, & of course they make great whole grain bread, etc.

    An African healer commented that it’s the parents’ job to ID their children’s strengths, & weakenesses, & help them emphasise the strenghts, overcome the weaknesses! I’d say that’s a good rule for teaching them nutrition as well – we remind them when they feel punky what food might have caused it!

  15. Anonymous says:

    I think that it’s the way we say “no” without actually saying it. Staying positive and making comments, especially to little ones that want to be big… when my girls dring their smoothies, I excitedly tell them “wow, you are going to be so strong and healthy because you drink smoothies”. If they ask if they can have candy, I say, “hmmm, candy is not really healthy for our bodies, but what about this instead” and give them a better choice. Then when I eat some too, I make comments outloud about what I am eating like “this is SO yummy, and SO healthy, Mmmmm”. My positive attitude has really rubbed off. I think if we down them, and say “HEY –

  16. Anonymous says:

    (ooops – I hit the wrong button) if we holler and say “HEY – DON’T EAT THAT GARBAGE” or “NO” all the time – and make it a negative experience, they will grow up with resent.

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