Let’s Not Worry Quite So Much About What Our Kids Eat

Organic? Whole wheat? Whole Foods? Who cares? A lot of us. But maybe we shouldn’t. Or at least, maybe we shouldn’t burden our kids with all our nutritional correctness.

 When my older son (now12) was in kindergarten, he came home with a keen interest in cans. Not to build towers with, or roll down the stairs. He wanted to read the labels, because his teacher had been showing the class all about sodium, fructose and calories.

So much for story time.

Anyhow, those kindergarteners must’ve been mighty advanced, because I’m a grown-up and I still have a hard time figuring out those labels — especially when the can contains 3.79 servings. (Long division!) I’m also grown-up enough to know that a few years from now, whatever ingredient has been declared bad will probably be good again, and vice versa. Think: trans fats, wine, pasta, real sugar, fake sugar, chocolate — even lard is making a comeback.

But the bubby young teacher’s interest was enough to excite my son (also several of the dads – but that’s another story), and for a while he was talking so much about carbohydrates, it was like living with Dr. Atkins. Slowly, his interest tapered off (why ask about nutrition when all you eat are salami and Mint Double Stuff Oreos?). But an article in last week’s New York Times got me thinking about kids and “nutrition awareness” again.

The article – “What’s Eating Our Kids? Fears About ‘Bad’ Foods” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/health/nutrition/26food.html ) – talked about whether young children are getting too concerned about things like calorie counts and sodium content. Some eating disorder experts said that parents are so worried about their kids eating only the “right” food they’re turning the moppets into “orthorexics” – people afraid of eating the wrong thing, ever. Maybe afraid of eating, period.

That seems a bit of catstrophizing, on the experts’ part. But parents who obsess about food indulge in bit of catastrophizing themselves. The truth is: A kid can eat a standard-issue hot dog without it throwing his whole life off balance. An unwashed grape is not a crime against humanity. Even a little roll of fat on a kid doesn’t mean he, or his parents, have failed.

In our quest to be perfect, we forget that kids can survive on less-than-perfection. They can survive on stuff Whole Foods wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot loofah. I know from personal experience they can survive on a diet of Double-Stuff Oreos and salami. On Wonderbread!

Speaking of which – did you know that, thanks to all its vitamins and minerals that build strong bodies 12 ways, the much-maligned Wonderbread is credited for silently eradicating beriberi and pellagra in America? Yes indeed. Everything bad, even super-processed white bread, was once good, and vice versa.

So when we start fretting out about our kids’ eating habits, and worrying that last night’s kale wasn’t certified organic, let’s try to chill.

I’ve found that a little bag of M&M’s helps.

58 Responses to Let’s Not Worry Quite So Much About What Our Kids Eat

  1. CanCan (Mom Most Traveled) March 8, 2009 at 12:41 am #

    I was a “food police” type until my first child turned 2 1/2 and started voicing his own likes and dislikes. Then I gave up the battles until both of my children now eat what they want. Of course I offer healthy choices, but they can have junk or even synthetic cheese at times as well 🙂

    I have traveled amongst people groups who have very little variety in their diet. Yeah, they are of small stature but they are indeed very alive.

  2. BPFH March 8, 2009 at 3:57 am #

    I’ve thought for a long time now that we lose more of our lives in worrying about what the foods we eat are doing to us, than we do from just EATING the foods.

  3. phdinparenting March 8, 2009 at 4:05 am #

    Like all things in life, I think balance is key and giving our kids the tools to make good decisions themselves. No, you don’t need to worry if last night’s kale wasn’t organic, but if someone only ingests junk then something needs to change (but I don’t think being the “food police” is the answer in that situation either).

  4. dddd March 8, 2009 at 4:09 am #

    Sure, we don’t need to be hideously overprotective, but fruits/vegetables instead of Oreos every once and a while isn’t a bad idea.

  5. Amy March 8, 2009 at 4:29 am #

    I totally agree. We’ve become a culture who eats “nutrients” instead of food. As long as there are “good” foods in a child’s diet (fruits, vegetables, etc.), then I don’t think there is anything to worry about or sweat over.

    Plus, kids do tend to get food “fetishes” where they tend to eat only one thing. They will move on when they are ready.

  6. Jane March 8, 2009 at 4:31 am #

    Interesting. I took my kids to a flower show yesterday and we saw a presentation about food and eating “natural” foods. Most of the presentation was great but then she started talking about good foods and bad foods. She told the kids hamburgers were bad and that the lettuce and tomato on the hamburger were bad too (her point being that they were treated with chemicals).
    She went on to talk about chemicals causing cancer and diabetes. After leaving the presentation, my 9 year old daughter turned to me and asked, “mom, is our food alright?” I could see the concern in her eyes. I’m all for eating less processed foods and organic if you can afford it but I don’t think it’s healthy but I think this was over the top. I don’t want my child to fear getting cancer if she has a girl scout cookie!

  7. Aaron Klenke March 8, 2009 at 6:20 am #

    Food has become a very big deal for me as a father. But it really because an “issues” as a soccer coach. I was the meanest coach ever . . . I stopped team snacks. I was tired of kids playing for treats. I was tired of fat kids eating junk. I was tired of parents trying to top each other. Crazy reasons. But in the end the parents and kids dug it.

    Now, I’m following Michael Pollan’s food manifesto:
    Eat food
    Not too much
    Mostly plants

    We shouldn’t be worried about what our kids eat. But we should be aware and let them know to be aware without fear.

    More than making sure that our kids are eating healthy foods we should be allowing our kids to eat free-range food. We should be making sure that they have access to a garden or a farm or an orchard once in a while and we should make sure that they are eating off the vine now and again. They should pick blueberries and come back with half-full buckets and purple faces.

    We should make sure our kids aren’t scared of food that drops on the floor or is bruised or brown.

    We should encourage our kids to be adventurous inside the kitchen and grocery just like we should do outside.

    Link to the post to my soccer parents concerning snacks: http://www.klenkefamily.net/tiger2007/2007/05/why-soccer-snacks-at-all.html

    Link to Micheal’s introduction to his book, ‘In Defense of Food’: http://www.michaelpollan.com/in_defense_excerpt.pdf

  8. patsycat March 8, 2009 at 6:50 am #

    My first grader has been asking a lot of questions about calorie counts lately, and apparently she got the label lesson too. I tried to counter with common sense. That’s okay. We home school common sense. 😉 But what did irk me was this was right on the heels of a teacher assistant telling my daughter she had too much lunch for a first grader in her lunch bag. (This is a tiny child who we have to practically strap to a seat to get her to finish a meal before she goes and runs off every calorie she’s eaten!) My daughter then stopped eating her lunch. I gritted my teeth while I told her teacher that mom and dad know she doesn’t eat all her lunch anyway, and we do our best to pack well because if she shorts herself she winds up getting, well, wound up. We know our own child! The whole good intentions movement on food awareness for little kids is over the top. sheesh.

  9. lonedattyof3 March 8, 2009 at 7:42 am #

    My 3-year old eats like a bird–We’re going out for some white bread and French fries! Hee hee, goodonya!

  10. Sherene March 8, 2009 at 7:43 am #

    Nutritional education is one thing. Labelling foods good and bad in the minds of our children, though, is akin to making eating into a moral issue. An issue I don’t think our young children should have to struggle with. Is my child going to question whether or not I am a bad person, not because I choose to consume meat, but because I choose to consume non-organic, or high fructose corn syrup, or white flour?

  11. Marcy March 8, 2009 at 8:14 am #

    Teaching kids to eat veggies is good. Telling them about Atkins is crazy. I refuse to have food fights with my children, but I also read labels and make sure that the food we have in the house is reasonably healthy. That’s my job, not their’s. I know that my oldest is a miserable human being after eating pancakes, so I limit them for MY sake.

    There is time enough for them to learn about food.

  12. The Mother March 8, 2009 at 8:18 am #

    I was pregnant during the alar scare and the Perrier benzene fiasco. So i started my first with all organics (and back then, that meant I MADE it all).

    Then he went to school, and someone said McDonalds, and it all went downhill from there.

    Yes, we eat “healthy” at home. Yes, I make wholesome snacks. No, we don’t keep sodas in the house.

    But I don’t fret about it, and they don’t get lectured, and they eat whatever they want when they aren’t here.

    I’m hoping that that’s sort of a middle-of-the-road approach.

    At least that’s what I tell myself.

  13. Lani March 8, 2009 at 8:24 am #

    A very wise pediatrician told me that when children are regularly supplied with well balanced, healthy options they will balance their food intake and nutrition themselves over the course of a week. Some days they may eat only high protein or even high fat foods. Other days it may seem that they consume only carbs. However, if looked at over a period of time, a healthy child will balance him or herself naturally. As a result of this sage advice, I offer healthy options to my children at mealtimes and then I let them eat. It never ceases to amaze me when they balance their own nutrition and make healthy choices without me nagging them about it. They ask questions about carbs and fat and protein occasionally and then we talk about it. I don’t think we’ve ever labeled a food as bad although we have discussed how a food may not be very nutritious and that it isn’t wise to eat too much of that particular food.

  14. Not in support March 8, 2009 at 8:54 am #

    Maybe we should worry. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpa/obesity/trend/maps/

  15. TimK March 8, 2009 at 9:39 am #

    A while back I got curious about the difference in food consumption between this generation and my grandparents one, and worked out the calories present in their childhood daily intake. Surprisingly, they were about 30% higher than my own daily average.

    With obesity rates on the rise, the average daily intake of energy was falling. What could be the cause of this?

    Then it hit me. Exercise. Walking to school, climbing trees, playing chasey, all the things kids used to do.

    While adults are busy measuring that slice of low-gi wholemeal bread with calipers, children are sitting in the other room watching tv and using less energy than when they are asleep.

  16. Karen March 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm #

    I’ve found that if I leave them alone to eat they get enough calories and only overindulge when they get baskets/stockings full of candy at Easter/Halloween/Christmas. And when I don’t insist too stringently that they should sit down and be quiet in the house, TV becomes and athletic event. I think my kids actually eat less than I did.

  17. Lara Starr March 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    When my son was in preschool, I was fretting to another mom that my kid had only handful of things in his diet, and ate very little of those.

    She had teenagers as well as a preschooler and said, “Let me tell you, they grow up big and strong no matter what they eat”


  18. Sandra March 8, 2009 at 8:47 pm #

    GASP! You mean my baby can actually eat a piece of cake on her first birthday and it won’t lead to a lifelong struggle with obesity? Say it ain’t so! Because this is what I’m being barraged with virtually everywhere!

    Ugh. I’ve actually been told that by letting my toddler eat a powdered donut as a snack, or by having a not-so-healthy dessert after dinner, that I’m setting my kids up for, well, death. Such an old story, and you’re right – tomorrow Twinkies will be fatal, in two weeks they’ll cure cancer.

    Does anyone remember the egg thing? Funniest thing in my lifetime – One day a HUGE media fiasco about how horrible eggs were, stay away, bad Devil’s food… but literally a few days – and I mean a few days – later, the media was touting the benefits of eggs. That’s when I began to take studies with a grain of salt. Or sodium-free substitute, maybe I should say. 😀

  19. NJMom March 8, 2009 at 10:51 pm #

    I like Sherene’s point about food becoming a moral issue. Exactly. This is most apparent amongst a certain group of people who share the same socioeconomic status. Food has become a class issue. Those of us reading this blog know that fruits and vegetables in abundance and carbs and red meat in moderation is the way to go. We readers have the background of reasonable family stability, education and a survivable amount of income (as well as an extra bit of common sense or we wouldn’t like this blog!) to be able to parent well. Those who live in poverty–a mulit-faceted experience–are not able to make correct decisions about parenting, including food choices. So, again, it comes down to indulgence: many parents police their children’s food because they have the time and money to do so. It’s that simple.

  20. Heather March 8, 2009 at 11:32 pm #

    “We’ve become a culture who eats “nutrients” instead of food.”

    I don’t know about this. For all the fuss about eating healthy, I think MOST of our society barely eats any real food at all. It’s all processed crap that people believe is ‘food’. Maybe that’s what you meant though? That we’re eating flavoured ‘nutrients’ that have to be added back into the package because it was processed out of it, instead of real food?

    I do think it’s important to educate kids about food. I don’t think it’s necessary to make them paranoid… or do I? The food industry actually is pretty scary, and I don’t believe barely a thing they tell me.

    So my son is learning that just because a label says “healthy!” doesn’t mean it is. But rather than throwing all the different potential problems at him, to analyze every label in great detail, we more or less just say that any processed food is less healthy than the ‘real thing’ and yes we have talked about why.

    We eat mostly ‘real’ food, mostly organic, but do eat junk food sometimes. He’s learned that it is about balance, that a little junk once in awhile is not too bad.

    But what we eat is the fuel our bodies run on, and is literally what our bodies are made of. I think it IS important to make sure we’re eating real food and not just blithely and naively say we can eat ‘anything’ and be okay. Given the continuing obesity problems, I don’t think that kids are about to become anorexic just because they’re learning about what’s not good to eat.

    It’s not just about our own health either, but about supporting nasty mega-corporations by buying their processed crap, and all the horrible things they do to the real food that’s out there. Corn subsidies ruining family farms, GM research driving out heirloom crops, not to mention factory farmed animals and all the environmental problems that causes.

    I cannot accept the status quo on food production in our society, and the only way it’s going to have enough pressure to change is if the next generation rejects this way of eating and embraces real food.

    So… yeah. I do agree that we shouldn’t lay all the stress on our kids and be all paranoid and obsessive. But I think this is something important ENOUGH that they do need to learn about it… and that we adults need to learn about it too!!

  21. Christopher Byrne March 9, 2009 at 1:05 am #

    This is part of our national obsession of measuring every moment for a predictable outcome, rather than living. The food issue is simple–calories in versus calories out. You want kids not to be obsese? Expend more calories than they take in. In other words, as my mother said, “get out and play.” Preferably in a safe but uncontrolled environment where there is not an “adult expert” monitoring every movement and correcting or advising.

    Our observation of kids’ eating has revealed two things–as mammals kids will naturally balance diets over time. We seem to be programmed to crave things when our bodies need certain things. And, yes, that can mean fat and sugar.

    Second, when you see one obese kids, you often see two obese parents. I’m not talking about kids fat that they grow out of. I’m talking about obesity bordering on morbidity. Kids learn what their parents model for them.

    Yes, chemicals are a concern, as is sodium. The best way around it? Balance processed foods in the cupboard with foods you make yourself. We have interviewed countless moms and dads who, despite having careers, manage to make the bulk of the food their family eats. It takes planning and commitment to be sure, but in these families, the kids have healthy relationships with food and eating, never feel deprived and have lots of treats. (It’s not all organic, either. There’s plenty of white sugar in those cookies!)

    Like so many things on this site, this is about practical information and making choices based on the knowledge and information we have, not as hedges against future events over which we have little control.

  22. Kevin R. March 9, 2009 at 2:10 am #

    Eating habits are inherited. My parents eat like crap! As a result, I eat that way too. I tried hard to fight it but I don’t always make it. I would like to pass on healthy habits to my children. I don’t want them to end up like their grandparents.

  23. SheWhoPicksUpToys March 9, 2009 at 2:51 am #

    I fall somewhere in the middle here, though leaning more toward Lenore’s side. I think it’s important to teach children good nutritional habits, and to make sure they eat, and learn to eat, well. I think it’s an important part of raising your kids to be healthy adults, and I even believe in some degree of “coercion” when it comes to insisting that your kids eat properly within fairly broad limits. (E.g., I would let a kid eat salami and oreos for lunch. I wouldn’t let him do it every day.)

    BUT, I think that if there’s any “worrying” to be done, certainly before the teenage years, it should be Mom doing it, not the kids. And I absolutely get furious at outside institutions getting between me and my kids and scaring them about food. Food is a blessing. Any food that keeps you alive is not “bad,” it is at worst “not as good.” It takes a spoiled society to teach kids to hate and fear food. I guarantee you there are not a lot of Haitian kids who are afraid of eating the wrong thing (assuming we’re not talking about actual poison.)

    So I guess my objection is really to two things: teaching kids to be responsible for things they’re not ready (and often simply not in a position) to be responsible for, where most of them actually have parents who do the shopping and cooking for them, and teaching too “negatively” about food. By all means teach the kiddies about things that are good for you and about not eating too much of things that are less good for you. But don’t make them afraid of food, or make them think that THEY have to sort through what is put in front of them for nutritional quality. There are, I suppose, some children being raised by very ignorant/neglectful parents who have to figure these things out for themselves. But this is not the case for most kids in most schools in this country, and it’s ridiculous to treat them as though it is. In most cases, if the parents are doing a really egregious job at this, it isn’t really within the children’s control to do anything about it. And if the job they are doing is better than “really egregious,” then the kids will survive, even if not ideally. But there’s just no way you can take a six year old and make him responsible for making sure he’s eating “ideally,” or else be scared of the consequences if he fails. It’s silly even to try.

  24. Tiffany March 9, 2009 at 3:32 am #

    I agree with Heather. The problem is not serving size, nutrients, sodium levels, etc. The problem is processed foods. Go with unprocessed, raw foods and you can’t go wrong. Processed foods are most times FAKE food. They have been chemically altered, gentically modified, and in many ways changed so much that they do not even resemble real food. That is a problem. As much as I can I will encourage my kids to eat REAL food. If it has a labelon it with serving size and sodium information then it is USUALLY not real food. Real food doesn’t come out of the ground with a label and if it does it will say raw, unprocessed, cold pressed, etc.

    Fake food will sustain life. Real food will create life and health and ward off disease. It is not very complicated.

  25. knutty knitter March 9, 2009 at 9:17 am #

    It’s simple really. If you don’t want them to eat crap – don’t buy it. But don’t worry what they eat when they’re out – thats their affair unless its every day of the week or something.

    My grandmother always believed in moderation and That I can live with.

    viv in nz

  26. SwamiMami March 9, 2009 at 10:11 am #

    I have been reading labels, but then due to job loss, and having a toddler, I have been forced to be more flexible… My mother in law reminded me that a little bit isn’t bad, remember we all grew up on it! And Velveeta cheese is now my friend after reading the labels of other processed cheeses…

  27. MarvinMerton March 9, 2009 at 10:38 am #

    I find this to be a bit of an overreaction in a world of crap food. Sure, there are people charged with teaching something they don’t understand who then go overboard. That’s what happens when you charge someone with teaching something they don’t understand. A little information can be quite dangerous.

    A little of everything, in terms of food, can be quite good, however. And if some parents prefer it to be organic, that’s not a horrific, “food police,” kind of thing. It’s a preference. In some ways, it’s a preference for food grown the “old-fashioned” way, if you will. Is that bad? I don’t think so. We do buy organic when we can, but we also buy hot dogs at the ballpark, hamburgers on the way to a weekend of backpacking, and offer modest treats on a regular basis. We don’t make food an issue with our three-year-old, however. He eats well, and he eats what we make, generally. I suspect that we got lucky in that respect, and that refusing to make food a point of contention didn’t hurt matters.

    At the same time, yes, nutrition as taught in schools is concerning. I worked in an eating disorders clinic for some time, and while there is a clear genetic component to anorexia, environmental triggers do play a part. I cannot tell you how many of the patients began their stories by identifying a nutrition class as the reason they began to restrict. Balance is missing all around. Balance. Thus, I find reacting to those who try to promote positive nutrition in a manner that swings the pendulum all the way to the other side to be a mistake.

  28. Tyro March 9, 2009 at 8:08 pm #

    I fear that the free range kids movement may be going extreme but in the opposite direction. I think you have to be careful not to go from being a helicopter parent to a reactionary, anything-goes parent.

    I have whole-heartedly agreed with most of what has appeared on this site. I want my kids to experience freedom. But I don’t want to set them up for heart disease.

    To say that a kids whose diet is mainly salami and oreos is not being affected long-term flies in the face of medical science. And to say that there are no long-term effects of the pesticides (which soak through the skin and into the produce in a lot of cases) that are being used on our non-organic produce is wishful thinking. Wanting something to be true does not make it so.

  29. JB March 9, 2009 at 8:45 pm #

    As someone else on here alluded, the problem with most kids isn’t the food, it’s the exercise. The demonization of carbs is ludicrous. You can eat just about anything you want if you can burn the calories off.

  30. Tiffany March 9, 2009 at 8:54 pm #

    JB, that only solves the weight issue. What about general lack of good health from eating processed junk? What about kids that get sick all the time, get cancer, have asthma, ADHD, allergies, etc. It goes way beyond issue of “weight” and exercise won’t fix those problems.

  31. Sandra March 9, 2009 at 9:09 pm #

    Tyro, and others: I don’t think Lenore or anyone else is advocating “ignore labels” and eat ho-ho’s for three meals a day altogether. If one hasn’t been around, let’s say, internet chat rooms where mothers gather, one may not see the complete and total obsession with ensuring a grain of sugar never passes the threshhold of their house. You think this is an exaggeration? It’s not. There are those who attack and belittle others for having a well-balanced (read: eat good dinner, have a sweet dessert that *gasp* has sugar) diet for their children. Maybe it’s insecurity, but I believe it’s ignorance spurred by the overreactive media.

    I don’t believe anyone here doesn’t acknowledge that “everything in moderation” is the key. That’s common sense, regardless of education or income level. But the original point was that a child shouldn’t have to obsess – a kid gets a little more leeway because they ARE active and have a great metabolism, etc. etc. etc.

    And frankly, the obesity stats are seriously flawed. The media scaremongering about how many children are obese is, well, incorrect. The BMI stats used aren’t accurate. They state that Brad Pitt is overweight and muscular lean football players are obese. I won’t deny there are issues out there with weight and children, but I believe that stems from sitting on a couch eating a BAG (read: not a normal *serving*) of Doritos watching Dora for three hours. Period. Okay, I’m off my soapbox now – that’s Lenore’s job! 😀

  32. MarvinMerton March 9, 2009 at 9:36 pm #


    I am very much with you in regard to processed foods. Our diets have undergone a wholesale change over the last 30 years, and our bodies are not likely to catch up to such a change in terms of evolution, any time soon. On the other hand, a recent study does seem to indicate that a lack of exercise may increase the likelihood that a child develops asthma.


  33. MarvinMerton March 9, 2009 at 9:47 pm #


    While BMI may be a questionable medical tool. The obesity issue is not about scaremongering. The data is in comparison to previous generations, and it’s quite clear that obesity rose dramatically for some time. It has plateaued, luckily.


  34. MarvinMerton March 9, 2009 at 9:55 pm #


    Your point is very well taken. While this article may or may not be in support of balance, it makes no attempt to clarify that. Many posts follow in a similar vein. What’s interesting to me about this piece, in regard to the “Free-Range Kids movement,” is that this is in response to something practiced by a very small minority, as any pediatrician will tell you. In general, Skenazy and others previously responded to parenting as practiced by the majority, and in regard to changes that have occurred over the past 30 or so years.

    Interestingly, it is a downward trend in food quality and the downsized importance of the family dinner that have gone along with the changes that Skenazy typically writes about. It is not a wholesale concern about diet by a majority of parents, not on any level.

  35. beanie March 9, 2009 at 10:07 pm #

    Gosh; haven’t scrolled here.

    Just 2 thoughts:

    1) If you make a wide variety of foods available to your kids from the start (and don’t prejudice them), they generally choose a remarkably healthy and balanced diet. Ice-cold celery sticks make great teethers. 😉

    2) My grandfather always said you have to eat a peck of dirt before you die. Just doing my part.

  36. ebohlman March 10, 2009 at 12:14 am #

    For a take on food prejudices and fears that’s both amusing and informative, read Junk-Food and Empty Words by Johan H Koeslag

  37. BMS March 10, 2009 at 2:40 am #

    My family eats vegetarian at home. So people tend to assume that I am some sort of organic food nazi who freaks if my kid looks at sugar.

    But last I checked, Ben and Jerry’s Phish Food does not contain any steak 🙂

    I want my kids to eat healthy. But I don’t want them to fear food, or see eating as this regimented chore. I want them to enjoy food. I want them to go “Man, this is so GOOD” when we eat homemade baked macaroni and cheese. I want them to know that Indian food is one of god’s great gifts to man. There is some stuff I won’t buy because it tastes like dirt, IMHO. But I don’t do it in the spirit of “Chemicals! Eeee! Run for the hills kids!”. I do it in the spirit of “I have only so many meals while I am on this planet, and I’m dammed if I am going to spend them eating McDonalds when QDoba’s vegi burritos are sublime taste sensations”

  38. Jennifer March 10, 2009 at 4:50 am #

    It’s funny; we’re more knowledgable about foods now more than ever, but obesity is a bigger problem than ever before. I disagree that it is only about “junk” food, there has to be another reason.
    I think this ties in very nicely with the Free Range “go outside and play” mantra. Because of fear, parents aren’t letting their kids out. But trapped kids are unhappy kids, what to do?? Why, give them constant snacks and electronic entertainment. At least they are safe, in the house, right? Plus, kids don’t walk anywhere anymore. We spend so much time in cars.
    When I was a kid even as recently as the 80s, we ate much worse than my son and his peers. There was no “organic” anything, and most of the neighborhood kids spent their small allowances on candy necklaces and chips. A PB&J on white bread with a box of Five Alive was considered nutritious. BUT, we also spent most nice days outdoors. I really believe that lack of activity is huge.
    I respect parents’ decisions to cut back on the processed junk. I also try not to have too much of it, simply because I FEEL so much better eating non-processed stuff, plus the sodium in processed foods makes me thirsty as heck,

  39. Calin March 10, 2009 at 5:51 am #

    Came here via V of violentacres.com. Great site, very inspiring. I’m going to try to let my kids walk around the mall alone like you suggested. Here’s hoping I don’t have a heart attack!

  40. KateNonymous March 10, 2009 at 6:35 am #

    Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend who expressed her surprise and dismay that Girl Scout cookies still contain trans fats. I said, “So what? I only eat them at one time of the year. As long as I try to be healthy the rest of the time, I figure I can eat some Girl Scout cookies and move along with my life.”

  41. Aaron Klenke March 10, 2009 at 8:59 am #

    Instances of vitamin deficiency are on the rise in the US; things like Beri-beri and Scurvy. These are being reported in kids that are obese.


    Because they are not eating “real” food.

    A goal could be to eat close to natural often and eat crap once in a while and not scare the hell out of kids either way on the way.

  42. ValkRaider March 10, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    Here is where I break from most of the posts on this blog.

    It is funny that the blog is called “free range” kids – free range implying “more like the natural order of things” – yet this post claims it is bad to want food to be natural for our kids.

    We don’t count calories at all. We eat until we are not hungry. We don’t pick only healthy food – we eat lots of cake and candy and stuff.

    But come on, High Fructose Corn Syrup is TOXIC. Hydrogenated oils are TOXIC. And this crap is in everything it seems like.

    These things didn’t even exist 50 years ago, and didn’t make their ways into mainstream food until the 70s and 80s. (I remember when soda switched).

    Things taste so much better with real sugar and real fat.

    Eat what you want – but chose the versions that are not made from toxic waste. We have found “natural” alternatives to everything we want (loose definition of natural, since I am sure there is no Oreo growing naturally in the wild – natural meaning made with no chemicals).

    Funny you mention M&Ms – because they are one of the candy’s that is actually not all that bad – read the ingredients. Pretty basic…

    Seriously – ditch the High Fructose Corn Syrup. Sugar is better tasting and doesn’t kill you as fast as HFCS.

  43. Lola March 10, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Wow. Fortunately, here in the land of Ferran Adria´s nouvelle cuisine we don´t have that problem. In fact, it is really shameful if you don´t cook at least as well as your mother-in-law does. Plus, we have excellent fruit and veggies available the whole year long, and much cheaper than processed foods.
    However, if I told you exactly what parts of plants and animals we normally eat, you would probably be revolted. But remember, just two generations ago, my country was surviving through a post civil war while the rest of the world was engaged in WWII, so the things our grannies learned to cook are what passed on and nowadays considered exquisit by our gourmets.
    Talk about eating dirt…

  44. SheWhoPicksUpToys March 11, 2009 at 3:20 am #

    ValkRaider, I don’t think anyone thinks it’s bad to want food to be natural for our kids. I think some people (including me) are concerned that it’s unnatural to make kids scared of food. I wholeheartedly agree with your advice; I wholeheartedly reject the idea of making kids afraid to eat, which is what telling them how bad certain things are during storytime, does, at the ages we’re talking about. They can learn healthy eating habits in much more sensible ways than scare tactics and burdening them with responsibilities they can’t handle and aren’t able to do anything about.

  45. KateNonymous March 11, 2009 at 6:08 am #

    I think “it tastes better” is a much more compelling case for sugar v. corn syrup than “it’s toxic!” My favorite soft drink uses sugar instead of corn syrup. I didn’t know that until I read the label. All I noticed when I drank it was that it tasted great–much better than what I had been drinking. But nutritionally I don’t much care. Why? Because I drink very little soda anyhow.

    Chemically, they’re both sugars. Both should be reduced in our diets as a whole. The problem isn’t the corn syrup–it’s that the corn syrup is in EVERYTHING.

    And is a diet of salami and Oreos going to blight a child forever? It depends. For how long is he only eating salami and Oreos? A month? Three years? It matters.

    Our society is geared toward an all-or-nothing philosophy. But all-or-nothing is usually wrong too much of the time for my comfort. Some perspective and the middle ground work much better for me, and bring me more peace of mind.

  46. Jennifer March 11, 2009 at 6:24 am #

    Wonderbread and Salami. Yum! Oh, sorry. I got distracted.

    Really, isn’t it all about moderation? I agree with the last commenter who says we’ve become an all or nothing society. Moderation people.

    A wise pediatrician I know said that it’s our job as parents to offer our kids a variety of foods but when they scream because all they want is the cottage cheese or banana and not the dinner you just slaved to make, it’s better to let them have it then to start making a huge issue out of food. I had never thought about it this way before, but, it makes sense.

  47. KateNonymous March 11, 2009 at 7:14 am #

    @Jennifer, there was a time when my little brother would eat nothing but hot dogs, orange juice, and Hershey bars. My mother started to worry about it, and then our pediatrician said, “Kids do that. Don’t let him have more than one candy bar a day, and make sure he runs around outdoors. His tastes will change faster if you don’t make a big deal about it.”

    And today he eats nearly anything and loves cooking from scratch. Sure enough, the hot-dog-diet was a phase.

  48. Sandra March 11, 2009 at 7:45 am #

    (I’m serial posting here… lol): All three of my older children went thru a “uni-food” stage, and it’s absolutely normal. My fourth and youngest will too. Days, weeks, sometimes a month or more of eating only one food, or one color food, three meals a day. It’s a normal thing, it’s control, it’s growth, it’s learning.

    And they all balance out. Then you hit the “eat everything in sight”. Then another phase. And I frankly think mealtime fights with toddlers are a waste of energy, at a time when family should be gathering together. If that meant I made three different “meals” (i.e., a sandwich for #1, Mac & Cheese for #2, and a hotdog for #3), while the rest of the family enjoyed the main meal, then so be it. We were happy, everyone ate, and in the grand scheme of things it just doesn’t matter.

  49. Kevin O'Boyle March 13, 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    I think that this article is incredibly short sited. Of course on occasion, we as parrents do what it takes to get some food into our kids but clearly eating healthy isn’t prudish behavior it is our responsibility. You say you survived on less holsum foods then your children, well survival is not my goal for my kids, i wan’t them to thrive and flourish. Perhaps if our parents would have been more responible we wouldn’t have the highest rates of obesity in the world, not to mention soaring health care costs. My Dad sat on the couch and smoked cigerettes, not a good role model. I will not be back to this site, clearly the auther is brain dead from all the wonder bread she ate. Disapointed Dad.

  50. AnnMarie March 15, 2009 at 6:48 am #

    But maybe if processed bread hadn’t taken out the nutritious parts of whole grain bread (plus other processed foods doing similar things), Wonderbread needn’t have had all those minerals put back in.

    Just because a product solved a problem doesn’t mean something better couldn’t have solved the same problem, or perhaps prevented it in the first place.

  51. Catherine March 16, 2009 at 11:19 am #

    One upside of the healthy eating focus is that it is really easy to give kids a thrill with someone not quite so healthy these days. I had a very simple birthday party for my daughter and some of the kids from our neighbourhood yesterday and didn’t have to spring for things like Coca Cola because the kids were all so thrilled to be drinking lime cordial rather than the water or milk they normally get. We also served fruit (but not the boring old oranges and apples), pizzas, birthday cake and fairy bread (which is an Australian party staple made from white bread and candy sprinkles). There was also candy in the pinata and the treat bags. It wasn’t excessive but a big treat for the kids. I think these things lose their appeal if kids have them every day. My kids regard white bread as being like cake which I don’t think they would if they had it all the time.

  52. Billie March 24, 2009 at 1:39 am #

    My stepson is skinny as a rail and has been ever since he showed up in my life. His physical last year had him underweight although not dangerously so. I always thought he was very thin and didn’t eat a whole bunch but chalked it up to it ‘just the way he is’

    The other morning we sat down for a serious discussion about something else that had absolutely nothing to do with food or meals and he brought up that he was scared of becoming fat and that is why he didn’t eat much at meal times. This child is 6 for crying out loud! All I said was that he didn’t need to worry about being fat from eating good food. If he wanted to worry about food then worry about junk food… but worrying about lasagna, cereal or rice or whatever was not necessary.

    He then came by later in the day to inform me he was fat because look at his stomach. It was his posture and not fat! I told him that if I could see his ribs, he was not fat.

    After he left to go home to his mothers, I sat down with his father to talk to him about our discussion. I am really super worried that he might have the beginnings of an eating disorder at 6 years old. His father spoke to his mother over the phone. I hope I didn’t do the wrong thing about spilling the beans about our private conversation but I thought it was serious enough to warrant it.

    I have no idea where he is getting these ideas from because I am sure they aren’t coming from us. The kids are allowed junk food within limits and we do emphasize that real food comes before junk food but I don’t think the phrase ‘getting fat’ has ever crossed our lips. I am not sure we have ever explained the reasoning behind the rule.

    Hopefully we can somehow nip this in the bug before it gets out of hand.

  53. Sam Brethauer March 28, 2009 at 12:47 pm #

    This may just be an extension of a modern parent’s overall fear that their children might fail! We protect our children, personally and as a community, from “harmful” stimuli for their own good. No matter what stance you take on food and nutrition, demonstrating obsessive behavior as a parent only teaches your children to act in such a manner. There are too many changes to the typical lifestyle of todays youth – they don’t walk or ride their bikes to school anymore, they don’t climb trees, parents are afraid to let them play outside for fear of sexual predators, we no longer have compulsory military service so we no longer “need” PE, kids spend too much time in side interacting with other human beings through a computer – the list goes on and on, but we focus on diet and exercise. As a parent if you want to teach your child, and reinforce, healthy behaviors you have to exhibit healthy behaviors. By the way, because childhood obesity is becoming a problem, public school systems have been asked to incorporate “stop-loss” programs in an attempt to reverse this trend. Do you want your school system to have to teach your child what to eat? Chemistry fine, algebra sure. Let me feed my child.

  54. Vintage Seamed Stockings April 22, 2009 at 8:34 pm #

    I agree with you but just two generations ago, my country was surviving through a post civil war while the rest of the world was engaged in WWII, so the things our grannies learned to cook are what passed on and nowadays considered exquisit by our gourmets.
    RHT Seamed Stockings

  55. Sammi May 14, 2009 at 4:11 am #

    Ok, you guys want an example of helicopter parenting in regards to food? I decided to be a vegetarian, but my mother was concerned about my nutrition, so she made me eat meat. As in, “you can’t leave the table until your meat is eaten.” You know how old I was?


    That is not a typo. That is not a joke.

    I moved out as soon as I financially could.

  56. car review September 9, 2010 at 6:03 pm #

    Sure, we don’t need to be hideously overprotective, but fruits/vegetables instead of Oreos every once and a while isn’t a bad idea.

  57. Janice October 28, 2010 at 4:03 am #

    I know this is an old thread, but I’d like to inject a comment here anyway. As a child, I was terribly picky about food. It wasn’t that I was trying to be skinny, but I just didn’t like to eat most things. My mom was so thrilled when I started having a little more variety, “more normal” eating habits. That was about the time I started feeling fairly bad most of the time. Been to a lot of doctors since then (I’m now 60), and most started out by asking me if I was under a lot of stress. Nobody did any testing other than normal blood tests. Nobody asked about diet.

    Within the last five years, I have found that I am sensitive to, or have malabsorption problems with, gluten, fructose, lactose, and sulfites. I pretty much eat beef and potatoes. All fruits and most vegetables make me sick. Anything that is whole grain, wheat, rye or barley makes me sick. All sugar (natural or artificial) make me sick. Anything treated with sulfites makes me sick. Probiotics, prebiotics, are all bad for me.

    But it all started with people wanting me to have a normal diet so I would stay healthy. And, as a kid, I tried to please them.

    Parents, first do no harm. That is the hardest part of being a parent.

  58. Kristina August 29, 2011 at 11:36 am #

    I’m not a parent, but I am a free range older sister. My parents and I don’t agree, but I feel fine with letting my younger sister walk to the corner store for chips and powerade. Of course I worried at first: running upstairs as soon as she left so I could watch her get across the street and, 15 minutes later, come back across that street safe and sound.

    But I have a hard time letting her run wild food wise. I started recovery from an eating disorder one year ago. It bugs me when she blots the grease off her pizza, her hot pocket, her hash browns even. She didn’t used to, until her health teacher told her that the pizza grease was ‘bad’.

    I had a few choice words for this teacher, but as a non-parent, I could only tell my sister to trust herself when it comes to food. Either way, the pizza will taste good.

    By the way: any advice for me? It may be too late to save my twelve tear old sister, but thanks to my parents’ overreactions, she said she’s scared to load the dishwasher–or even touch it, “in case it blows up or breaks”.