“Give that poor kid some sugar!”
“What do you mean he doesn’t eat cereal for breakfast?!”
“What’s wrong with pop tarts? I used to eat pop tarts every morning.”
“No fruit punch? What do you expect him to drink, water all the time?!”
If you’re a parent who makes natural choices for your kids, statements like these are probably all too familiar by friends and family who don’t see eye to eye with your choices. Fortunately, there are ways to maintain relationships without sounding haughty or spiteful, while still standing up for your beliefs.
Understand Where They’re Coming From
Relatives often feel like you’re depriving your children of the good things by being too strict.
My son eats (homemade) ice cream and cobbler for breakfast sometimes. Strawberry smoothies with raw milk are a regular staple, and he loves munching on the occasional GMO-free potato chip. Our children eat treats, just not unhealthy ones. Not only are they getting better nutrition but better-tasting food as well.
“It’s interesting to me now that so many people still think that children need processed foods in order to be happy or not deprived. Deprived of what? Sure, we ate that as kids (most of us), and it formed a part of our childhood memories. But our children have no such memories. To them, those foods are just…foods. Just other products in the store, and ones we don’t happen to buy. Instead their memories are filled with baking healthy muffins or cookies at home (yes, we do have treats), or helping mama brew kombucha. As they get older, they get interested in learning all of these cooking techniques and practices and they cherish these moments in the kitchen with us. They learn why we choose what we choose instead of what others choose, and they begin to take on the same beliefs about healthy food.” – Kate Tietje from Modern Alternative Mama
Dealing with Allergies
If your children are eating a specific way because of food sensitivities or allergies, it can be hard to explain this to well-meaning relatives. They may not see the stomach ache, pain, and labored breathing from the foods that your children are sensitive to. This article has some tips to help others understand why you need to be so careful with your child.
“I explain that our health challenges demanded a radical diet change and once we experienced the benefits we never looked back. My kids have tasted the reality that real, nourishing food tastes fantastic and as long as I send them to an event with one of their favorite foods they don’t feel deprived.” – Andrea Fabry from It Takes Time
“It all started when I worked desperately to heal my son. Rather than two kitchens to accommodate his special needs, we all ate food acceptable for him. This was the best decision ever!” – Mandy Lee from Fostering Nutrition
Why Do Friends and Family Get So Defensive About Food Choices with Kids?
In our culture, food is linked to memorable events. Hot dogs and sugary, colored popsicles for 4th of July. We have cookies at Christmas and cake at birthdays and weddings. When we challenge these food traditions, friends and family may feel like their memorable traditions are being attacked.
“I explain to family and friends that our kids enjoy the same foods their children love–chocolate syrup, ice cream, hamburgers, and even candy–just homemade or less processed varieties of these favorite foods. I’m a firm believer in not making food into a good/evil scenario for young children so I don’t make my kids refrain from the birthday party cake or occasional processed treat, and family and friends are aware of this (and respect us for our decisions!). Because my kids eat so well most of the time, when offered processed foods, they gladly accept but often don’t like the processed sugar taste or complain about a tummy ache later. This is a great way to teach by example and share why we make our own yummy versions of these popular treats. I think it’s important to teach our children, and family and friends, that food isn’t about what we can and can not eat. Rather, food is meant to be celebrated and created with real ingredients we can pronounce out of love for the process and the people we serve. I think when approached with this attitude, the me vs. you mentality associated with children/parents and outside family and friends is greatly reduced.” – Kristin Marr from Live Simply
Instead of only putting the emphasis on food at gatherings, start non-food traditions together.
Create a Food Culture
Food is a part of our culture and traditions. It’s good to not only foster food traditions with your own family at home but also when you’re out. Every Christmas our extended family gathers for a big, pot-luck style meal. My family brings our own dessert and a few side dishes for everyone to eat. We don’t eat any food there that we don’t feel good about, and no one notices the difference.
Your children won’t care about “missing out” if you create a healthy, vibrant food culture for them. Take them to the farmer’s market, let them help milk the neighbor’s goat, give them their own corner of the garden to grow veggies in. They’ll feel involved and enthusiastic about the process and may not care as much when well-meaning relatives offer them store bought treats and other unhealthy foods.
“We have a special glass pitcher that we often make herbal tea in, especially in the summer—and the kids know what to expect when they see that pitcher on the counter. When they grow up, they’ll have those memories, rather than memories of too much sugar or Kool-aid in the summer. It’s just different. Not better or worse” – Kate Tietje from Modern Alternative Mama
Share some of your food traditions with friends and family, so they can experience them first hand.
Is it Really That Good?
My husband and I used to eat at fast food restaurants and cheap Chinese places quite frequently. For the past several years, however, we’ve eaten whole, real foods as much as possible. A few weeks ago, for my husband’s birthday, we decided to eat at a Chinese buffet. This had been our favorite date night spot while I was in college. With each bite of food we realized more and more how it no longer tasted good, and afterward, we felt rundown and a little nauseous.
“I do have friends who are completely different than me, though, and they bring junk food to my house when they come over because they say I only have “diet food” (which I think is funny because I usually have high fat foods around, and most people here don’t really associate those foods with diet food, but anyway…) It’s just their way of teasing me. They know not to be offended if I don’t eat what they bring, and I don’t really have the opposite problem because, despite their teasing, they always end up eating and enjoying whatever it is I’ve made. They often ask me how to make it.” – Tracy Ariza from Oh, The Things We’ll Make
Bring some awesome homemade, healthier for you treats to the next group gathering. They’ll be able to taste the difference!
My Child IS Deprived
So yes, by giving my son real, healthy and tasty foods he will be missing out. He’ll be missing out on sugar crashes, excess cavities, nausea, indigestion, brain fog and food induced hyperactivity.
What he will gain instead is a vibrant childhood where he knows and appreciates where his food comes from. He won’t WANT to regularly eat processed, sugary foods when there are so many better tasting (and nutritious) options out there.
“I don’t need to be in charge of what all kids eat – but I do want to be in charge of what my kids eat…Most of all, I want my kids to outlive me, not be the first generation in recorded history to have a lower life expectancy than the previous one.” – Katie Kimball from Kitchen Stewardship
Inspiration for This Post