Oh, Poor Me, No Junk Food in my Childhood?

Girl eating watermelon

While growing up, food is what set me apart from my peers. Naturally, being the daughter of Dr. Fuhrman is going to result in some pretty unconventional school lunches and after school snacks. As a young child, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my friends were being packed ham sandwiches and chips and I was not. My parents only packed me healthy stuff, never processed foods, white bread sandwiches or Lunchables, those highly processed convenience foods that children thought (due to commercials) were as cool as winning a game of dodgeball. I did not try a McDonald’s French Fry until I was in the fourth grade. I felt like a rebel buying chocolate chip cookies in middle school, a thought process never occurring to my friends. 

During my childhood, I chose to ignore the health consequences of what I ate and was a pleasure seeking eater, as any little one has a right to be. I was allowed to have pizza at lunch on some Fridays and I was never denied Carvel ice cream cake at my friend’s birthday parties. I looked forward to those Fridays and any other time my mom would let me eat something she deemed “unhealthy”. My parents were not completely rigid; they just only had healthy foods at home. They did not make me feel guilty or punish us if we strayed. They understood that kids need some flexibility and are going to want to explore the food culture in our society. Yet, while I had some occasional treats, I still wished I was like the other kids. I wanted a box of Brownie cookies when my Brownie troop sold them and I wanted my mom to buy me Lucky Charms like my friend Alyssa’s mom bought them for her. Don’t get me wrong, I liked, and even loved, many of the foods that were provided for me at home. Yet, as a young child, acceptance and pleasure trump health any day of the week.   

Then everything changed. It began in the seventh grade and became an unstoppable force in eighth. Instead of being rebellious, I wanted to be the epitome of a healthful eater. The phrase, “You are what you eat,” finally kicked in, a pride in my unconventional eating habits blossomed, and I became an unstoppable walking nutrition encyclopedia. I went so far as to criticize my friends for their poor eating choices. “Are you really going to eat that donut?” I would proclaim, and then begin a diatribe on the dangers of consuming partially hydrogenated oils and trans fatty acids. Understandably, my friends were annoyed and thought I was nuts. After having so many friends become angry with me that year, I learned my lesson to set a good example, yet not attempt to give others diet advice unless I was asked.

Since that time, I have continued to appreciate eating a natural, plant based diet, not only because it is delicious, but because it grants me the gift of health. I could not be more grateful for being raised on our unconventional diet and I am happy to report that I suffered no permanent damage from being allowed only three pieces of candy on Halloween and no other candy. Many of the foods I grew up eating have become my favorite foods and I realize how fortunate I am to never have to transition to eating healthier foods, as I was already there from the get-go. 

Let my previous words be words of encouragement to all mothers who are having difficulties raising nutritious eaters in our junk food world. Even if your child or children don’t appreciate the foods you are feeding them now or resent the denial of junk foods, they will in later years. Years that will be filled with good health, rather than debilitating health problems. Eating well is a lifestyle that should be embraced by the entire family and every child deserves to have the best start in life and can learn to love being “different,” just like I did.    


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Comments (26) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Natalie - August 2, 2010 11:02 AM

Great article Talia.

I think most people who worry that kids will be 'missing out' are very short sighted - what is more important to a child, the 30 seconds of pleasure whilst eating candy or a childhood free of illness, diabetes... or especially in teenage years, free of acne and weight problems.

I often read that people won't feed kids properly because they don't want them to be different. What a terrible lesson to teach your kids. We shouldn't be teaching kids to be little sheep and to do and eat unhealthy things to gain social acceptance. Teach kids to be proud of who they are no matter what.

As for me... I spent my teen years eating crap and had horrible health problems. Giving kids a choice of what to eat is just as stupid as letting them choose any movie they want. If you bring a kid into the world your job is to parent it, not be a friend.

The best point is that you were allowed pizza once a week. That's how I eat now and I have amazing health and can still eat my favorite foods in small doses. The best thing about the Fuhrman diet is it's not about avoiding foods, it's about maximizing nutrition and vitamins. Since I started the diet despite drinking a lot and even smoking, I haven't gotten sick in months, my wounds heal in days and I no longer suffer from sunburn. I don't get headaches and rarely get hangovers. My skin is radiant and my weight is dropping. I truly believe it is because my system finally has the correct nutrition to run better. Eating the SAD can only be compared to putting sugar in a gas tank.

Emily Boller - August 2, 2010 11:43 AM

Thank you Talia. I needed to read your post this morning as my youngest just returned from a weekend camping outing where he ate high salt, fat, sugar processed food for three days.

He was complaining this morning that there was "nothing *good* to eat" (at home) . . . . his way of saying, "there's no junk food to eat."

We Moms need this kind of reminder from young adults your age! Thanks, and keep it up!

Susan - August 2, 2010 1:23 PM

Talia, It makes me so happy to hear that you already see the wisdom in eating such a healthy diet. Once a person develops the taste for junky, processed foods, it is so hard to make changes and then to continue eating healthily. I am in my 60s and still have trouble falling back into a "normal" (unhealthy) diet. Because you were raised the way you were, "normal" will always mean healthy. Thanks for sharing!

Kat - August 2, 2010 2:00 PM

Fantastic, Talia.

My family also never had junk food in the house and I don't remember feeling deprived at all.

I do remember getting stomach aches after eating at my friends' houses, though.

Can boil-in-bag chicken ala king really be considered a food?

CACC - August 2, 2010 2:26 PM

Thanks, Talia, I always appreciate your posts. As a mom, it's great to hear what it was like for you as a kid, since I don't know anyone else in person who is trying to raise their kids on a healthy diet. What occurs to me is that you went through the same evolution that a lot of us nutritarians have gone through -- eating junk, then embracing health and trying to convert everyone else, then embracing your health while respecting others' right to choose what they eat -- you just went through the evolution at a much younger age, and therefore spent many fewer years wanting to eat junk. Lucky you!

Andrea - August 2, 2010 2:52 PM

Thanks Talia! I've been so curious about your family. Thanks for giving us all an insight about what it was like to be raised on a plant based diet (in Dr. Furhman's home!!!). I have two young toddlers, and I'm hoping to raise them as healthy as I've learned how from all of your dad's books. Your article helped me not feel so worried about the road ahead.

Nigel Puerasch - August 2, 2010 3:23 PM

We used to feed our kids lost of vegetables, and they would say "Yay! It's broccoli for dinner!"

You can learn different tastes.

Sophia - August 2, 2010 5:06 PM

Thank you Talia,
So interesting, helpful, and encouraging. As a mom of four little ones it is so good to be reminded of the joy of health that lies before them. And it was very interesting to see the timeline of your 'food-phases'. 7th grade does not seem so very far off, knowing that the rest of their little lives hang in the balance.
Thank you again.

Dawn Kimble - August 2, 2010 5:08 PM

Talia, I've enjoyed your writing here on Diseaseproof. I share them with my two younger children, Kiley and Simon, ages 13 and 11, who have been raised vegan/nutritarian. They know that their older siblings, Casey and Salem,(28 and 26) were raised this way and still embrace the diet, but none of their friends eat the way we do, even though we live in Boulder! (You may remember Salem from the National Health Association conferences.) Thank you for sharing your perspective and reminding us that it's okay to be different, especially when the cultural norms are insane!

Monica - August 2, 2010 6:08 PM

I love this article and thank you for writing it from a child's perspective. I am raising an 11 yr old daughter and just recently (4 months) transitioned into a plant based diet. The transition was a little trying but she has fully embraced this lifestyle now.

The most difficult part has been finding sweet treats that are healthier. That is where we get a little frustrated since a lot of yummy treats contain refined sugar and oil (which are not a part of our diet). Although I let her indulge in the occasional naughty treat she doesn't enjoy it. She mentions how she feels her body respond to unhealthy treats and she doesn't like it. I think it is important to let her feel that so she can experience it for herself instead of me lecturing her about it. It is important that she learns this lifestyle just as I had to.

She also tries to tell her friends about their unhealthy diets and I have to tell her to stop. We don't want to make them feel bad. She also likes to brag about her moms yummy healthy meals. I love it!

Jody - August 2, 2010 11:29 PM

Talia, thank you so much for sharing your insights on healthy eating as a kid. My kids would sometimes have me believe that the world will stop spinning without Halloween candy, free cookies from the store bakery, and lunchables for a quick snack. I am glad to hear that at your age you don't have resentment or feelings of deprivation. That is an encouragement to me to keep on going with the nutritious food, even when my children aren't happy with it.

tina - August 3, 2010 1:23 AM

new to the site, new to this way of eating. my daughter is having kind of a hard time with he changes we've made. i've tried to feed her healthy since birth, but she'd prefer to eat carbs all day every day with some fruit and veg for variety. my prob actually is just getting her to eat at all, she's naturally thin like her dad. anyway, my extended family is very against this way of eating, because we had a family friend (when we were growing up) who only had healthy food at home and always came to our house and gorged on junk food. now she's very overweight and eats terrible. so, my family thinks if you don't allow kids to eat what they want, it will backfire and they will be even unhealthier as adults. any thoughts??

Pat - August 3, 2010 9:30 AM

Thanks, Talia! This was such a helpful entry. Trying to encourage parents to continue making changes in the kinds of food they provide their children when their kids are fighting it has been an uphill battle, but your entry just made it easier. Your words will be such an encouragement to many parents and kids alike. THANK YOU!

Mike - August 4, 2010 12:26 PM

Great article. Thank you!

It's funny... most parents worry about thier child getting bullied or, gawd forbid, trying drugs. But with you: your folks probably worried about the junk food at the school cafe or vending machines getting their hooks into you :)


Emily Boller - August 4, 2010 1:23 PM


Most likely that family friend would have gorged on junk food at her home also; it's just she didn't have access to it.

I'm by no means an expert on raising kids on healthy food, because up until two years ago, I was a junk food addict myself. If Mom is a junk food addict; the kids will be junk food addicts. If Mom is a nutrititarian, the kids will follow, because Mom buys and prepares the food. I do know that when my kids have healthy food choices provided for them in the refrigerator like grapes, carrots and slices of cucumbers, etc., AND chips and processed cereals are no longer in the cupboards, the healthy food gets eaten!

Will healthy food choices at home backfire? If we respectfully educate our children about the dangers of cigarette smoking, and don't stock our homes with packs of cigarettes, most likely they will grow up without the desire to smoke. I grew up in a home that did not promote cigarette smoking, and to this day, I have no desire whatsoever to smoke packs of cigarettes. It stuck with me for life. It didn't backfire.

Peer pressure has a large impact on our choices also. My friends never smoked either which helped.

I'd say if my ONLY friends today were SAD addicts, that might be difficult to enjoy social events, etc., but that's no longer the case. I'm discovering more and more who are committed to optimal health; plus, the member center provides a great network of support. With that being said, the more I've learned about nutrition, and the way I now feel with lots of high nutrient foods in my body, the more I don't care if I'm the only one in the world eating this way, I'll eat this way for the rest of my life because I feel so great!

I don't think backfiring is an issue to be concerned about.

Juliette - August 5, 2010 1:00 AM

Fantastic article! I really enjoyed reading this. I grew up with healthy food being packed in my lunches too, and I always felt like I was left out, until I was in my teens. Then I became a vegan and was preachy to my peers about it (and my parents!)
I think it is great to give kids some flexibility and let them figure it out for themselves. Good point. It seems that your parents were careful to lead by positive example and practiced what they preached.
I am not ready to have children now, but I have been thinking you know, maybe in seven years I'll have children, but how will I raise them on a mostly raw, vegan diet? (Because I definitely would) Now I have a better understanding. I will just lead by example! Leading by example truly is the best way. Like right now, I don't preach to people about leading a healthier lifestyle. People notice my health, and ask me themselves! They are usually dying to know. No pun intended. :)

Sachem - August 6, 2010 8:03 AM

Thank you Talia - I printed this to keep and reread. I am just beginning my journey as a healthy parent, my daughter is one. I have already had to explain what she "can" eat to the day care center at least 3 times and she has only been there the two months since her first birthday.

Lilly - August 13, 2010 1:48 PM

Thank you for sharing your experiences. This article is a great reinforcer for those families dealing with the lure of junk food conformity. Your story is very encouraging.

What you've learned growing up in a health promoting family will be passed on through generations. What a wonderful legacy.

Chris Osmon - August 18, 2010 2:46 PM

I read thius article and this is exactly how we treat ur children. They ay welook at it is when we ca control our children's food intake we control it...when wecant we dont worry about it.

Now here is the issue.

Our 7 year old daughter is overweight (70 lbs) and has a big gut, big legs, and big butt.

She is involved in lots of after school activities including swimming. She probably watches between 30 to 45 minutes of TV and computer each day.

We dont eat fast foods, fried foods, or drink sugary drinks.

I am at a loss of what to do. We are pretty good at diet and portion control but she flat out likes to eat where as most of her peers just pick. We have even gone to not cutting her food up to make her do it and spend longer time eating.

Any suggesstions ?

Peter - October 24, 2011 5:41 AM

I was like you at first. Healthy and plant-based. But after seeing a dietitian one day, I became unhealthy and junk-fooded. Now I will rebuilt what doctors and dietitians have destroyed.

Seema - January 18, 2012 2:00 AM

Loved this post! I grew up in a super healthy home too and loved reading this! Thanks for posting it! Xx

Adelheid Fletcher - June 8, 2012 2:44 PM

Good afternoon dr,

Congratulations you are making a big difference in the world..! I also did rise my dear daughter this way, but unfortunately, my daughter's father convinced her that I was wrong, and should't be listened because I am not American. Now she experiences a few health easues..
If any support with holistic odontology, kindly let me know. I am a dental advocate as well. My fundation HOH (Holistic Oral Health) is 100% prevention.

May peace always be in your heart.

Fr. A

Heidi - September 12, 2013 12:32 AM

Thank you for this article! It's so nice to hear how Talia feels (and a little about how her parents did things). We live similarly with our kids, so I'm happy about that:), doing something right! I appreciate your work, Talia, and all your wonderful recipes. And of course, the work of your dad! Thank you!

Stephanie Butler - September 12, 2013 8:01 PM

Thank you Talia for sharing your point of view! The thing I love about being a Nutritarian is, it's not a religion. You don't have to be a "health food nut." Dr. Fuhrman's food triangle still includes a few unhealthy foods as long as they are consumed "rarely." I can go to a potluck and not have to worry about "what's in this", just enjoy myself. My only restrictions are due to my faith. Thanks for a new perspective!

Sharon - September 13, 2013 7:58 AM

Thank you for sharing! It's been very difficult in my home to get my children to eat healthy since my husband is not in agreement of the children eating the nutritarian way. When he shops for food, it's only processed and junk foods for snacks and lunches. He says it's quick, easy and cheap. I try to incorporate healthy smoothies and fruits to my children, but it's difficult to compete with sugar cereals and pizza for lunch. Thanks again for sharing!!

Marie Roxanne - September 14, 2013 7:55 AM

Although I do not have children at home, I read this with my adult self in mind, I still need to be a little stricter on the health aspect of the diet instead of thinking I am missing out on sugary, oily, and salty foods. I am alone in this journey as my family is not joining me in the vegan way of eating. I am so glad I live alone and my home does not have any junk in it!

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