Don't Make Food a War Zone

Picture of Dr. Fuhrman's Children in House

Joel and I have four children, ages 8, 15, 18 and 22. So, we've had a lot of experience in dealing with childrens' food issues, particularly socially. In my house, my children love the way we eat, yet when they are in the Standard American Diet (SAD) world, they become different human beings. Depending on their age, they have reacted very similarly. Here is a recounting of what we've experienced:
Basically, when the kids are 6 and younger, they know of only what you feed them. They are dependent on their family, not friends and like and do what their parents and siblings do. This makes it very easy for all. One interesting example was when our son was 3 years old and he and I attended my daughter's school fair.  I was talking to my girlfriend (who knows how we eat) when my son started looking at a tray of chocolate chip cookies. If you can picture it, the tray is on a table that is the same height as my son's eyes. It is a huge tray and a huge amount of really big, soft chocolate chip cookies. It really caught my son's attention and just as quickly he grabbed a cookie and took a bite. I stopped talking, watching him and said to my girlfriend, "He's never had a cookie!". Well, as soon as he took the bite, he spit it out of his mouth and said, "Yuk!" Both my girlfriend and I were astounded, as we certainly did not expect that response.

The above event let me see how much children's preferences are dictated by what they are used to. My son never had a cookie, ice cream or processed sweet food in his life and once he tried it, he didn't like it.

As I've watched my girls grow up, particularly after the age of 6, I have not had such luck with them disliking such foods. They all did not like chocolate for the very longest time, but they enjoyed ice cream and certainly pizza once it was offered to them. The social events at school were the way my children were introduced to the many unhealthy foods we never had in our home. This has always infuriated me and I was looked at like a leper whenever I brought up the idea of no candy being allowed in school. I can now happily state that our school district has implemented a policy where no foods with sugar as the first ingredient can be brought in. However, when my daughters were younger this was not the case and is probably not the case where many of our nation's children go to school.

With the hope of keeping my children as psychologically healthy as possible, my philosophy has always been not to make my children feel guilty by the food choices they make. I recognize that food can become a big psychological issue if you let it. I also knew of people whose children rebelled and I certainly didn't want that. So, I rarely ask them about what they ate during their time in school or with their friends. I do know of instances where they have had candy and I know that they may eat what is offered at a friend's house that we may not approve of. I accept these times, with the knowledge that whatever they eat in our house is healthy and that has got to be at least 80% of what they take in that day. One of my daughters orders a "salad" pizzas (where it's only the pizza dough with lettuce, tomato, onion, garlic and italian dressing) when her friends are ordering regular pizza. It's her way of compromising both worlds. To be honest, I tried it and it was good.

Picture of Fuhrman children outside

This attitude has enabled my children to talk freely to me about their day and to acknowledge that while they have their SAD foods once in a while, they love our food at home. They also chose restaurants that offer salads and veggie dishes when they go out with their friends. All of my children prefer the food we serve at home and whenever they are away, they can't wait to get back to our house to get good tasting, healthy food. I have even overheard Joel speaking to one of my daughters telling her, "Don't worry about it, it is no big deal. Your overall excellent diet keeps you healthy and there is no reason your healthy body cannot tolerate an occasional stress. Just have a fun time."

We feel good that our children know how to take care of their bodies. They have the knowledge that what they eat has a large effect on their health. And that puts them way ahead of the game!

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Whole Family Nutrition - October 8, 2009 4:58 PM
I met Dr Fuhrman back in 2005 when he came to our town to give a talk about his new book, Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right. At the time, Isaac was two and Anika was a newborn, and I was curious to see what he had to say.  As a nutritionall...
Comments (30) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Emily Boller - October 1, 2009 4:18 PM

Thank you for so wonderfully expressing the balanced view of raising kids in a socially acceptable SAD culture. Great tips!

I love the story about your little boy at age 3 not liking the taste of chocolate chip cookies. That goes to prove that we get our taste buds accustomed to whatever we habitually put into our mouths.

Great post! Great information for raising kids!

carfree - October 1, 2009 5:12 PM

If only I had read this when my son was small. I must admit, neither he nor I ate healthy food. I always stayed slim no matter what I ate, but he's grown up overweight. Now he's in his 20s and out of my hands. He knows that I now eat only healthful food, and I just hope that he will learn something by example, but I do feel guilty about my earlier choices when I should have known better, but didn't.

Sally - October 1, 2009 5:24 PM

What a great way to deal with what our children are up against when they are eating outside the home.I know you have addressed this at the Getaways and I completely agree with the way you handle how your kids eat.My kids were raised vegetarians and my daughter who is now 26 briefly in college went the SAD route but went back to a healthy diet after realizing how much better it made her feel.My son at 18 is still buying into the meat/protein hype but is beginning to eat some healthier foods now that he is weight training...he has actually been eating beans after his oatmeal and fruit at breakfast very recently !
I've met your beautiful family at the office and Getaways...what great pictures! Thanks for sharing!

Eco Mama - October 1, 2009 7:37 PM

My four year old loves healthy foods like salads, vegetables and fruit. He also loves the occasional cookie (vegan, made with organic whole grains) but is just as willing to drink green smoothies. One of the biggest obstacles to kids eating healthy foods is the limiting belief that they "won't." Thanks for putting more positive influence out there! Love what you're doing!
xo
Eco Mama

Patricia - October 1, 2009 8:14 PM

Thanks for posting about your experiences as a mother trying to help her children be as healthy as possible. I am trying to do the same for my daughter, and this was both informative and inspirational.

Hanlie - October 2, 2009 6:46 AM

I really enjoyed reading this article and your perspective. My husband and I are changing our eating habits before we have kids, so that we can teach them well from the beginning. So many people tell me that it's unrealistic to think that I can keep them away from sweets and junk, but you've just given me the confirmation that it is possible. Thanks!

Cindy - October 2, 2009 4:33 PM

Hi Lisa,

What do you send to school for lunches? And here is a clue for anyone else whose teens want to fit in: The chocolate brownie popems you sell look just like donuts. My son eats them before sports practices and feels "cool" while eating healthfully. They are worth the $$ to us! Thanks for the post!

Still Battling - October 5, 2009 12:21 PM

Wow, I wish your story could be ours. Unfortunately, we've got quite a few barriers to an entirely healthy, kid-friendly menu. As severely neglected toddlers, our kiddos had major food issues when we adopted them 5 years ago. They are only now beginning to slow down when they eat and "taste" their food. One still scarfs it down the moment she begins, afraid it will disappear. She tends to gorge and will "find" candies in classmates' bags, in teachers desks, etc., hiding/saving them for a time when the food may not be there again. (So sad!) I look forward to the day when I can let her pick 2 or 3 treats and just toss the rest. For the past 5 years, we've let them pick 1 or 2 each day for about a week, then toss. All of my kiddos count and re-count their candies and have a difficult time parting with them. They also know exactly which candy Mom and/or Dad snuck from their bags! ;)

Cindy - October 5, 2009 2:50 PM

Lisa, I have another question which you might be able to address. I assume at least one of your older daughters is away at college and dealing with a meal plan there. How has that gone and do you have any tips?

I also really appreciated the Halloween ideas and will be placing a glow stick order this week.

Thank you!

Lisa Fuhrman - October 6, 2009 11:21 AM

Cindy, It definitely is challenging at college. I have two daughters in college with very differing situations. My oldest daughter lives in a college town, that is like a small Greenwich Village, so she has wonderful places to buy food and to eat. Her biggest problem is not to overeat. My other daughter, a freshman, is having a very hard time eating as healthy as she would like, as the same nutrient rich foods are offered every day with very limited variety so it becomes very boring. She definitely misses our home-cooked meals, but she is doing the best she can.

Wendy - October 7, 2009 8:49 PM

Thanks for your thoughts on this. I would love to hear more of people's thoughts on this topic. Sometimes I think keeping a balanced view is much harder. I.e. If children can never, ever have junk food, processed food, fast food, etc, then there is no debate. If other parents and family members know that your children can have it only rarely, they may think that their one time is the exception. . . one sleepover at Grandma's house, one birthday party, one dinner at a friend's house, one indulgence with friends at a school event. . . it can add up to eating junk a couple of days a week! It's a slippery slope. I notice that if I do let my children eat what their friends eat, they tend to overindulge. I know that it's because I must be too restrictive normally, but it's hard not to when you know all of the crap that they put in the SAD food!

Michelle - October 7, 2009 11:05 PM

Thanks so much! What a wonderful post! I barely have a second to write, but just couldn't resist at least letting you know how much this resonates... I believe you could teach highly-effective seminars for parents pursuing nutritional excellence for their children. We appreciate all you and Dr. Fuhrman do!

Thomas Valdriz - October 7, 2009 11:54 PM

One thing I found recently that is helpful for teens and
young adults at college is Dr Fuhrman's video clip of he and Lisa making "Green Smoothies". Its a great way for kids
off at school to supplement thier diets with nutrient dense
greens in a way that is easy and tasty. No cooking required,
clean-up is a snap, and they are portable (put in a wide-mouth thermos) for a nutritious snack or mini-meal, supplemented with a salad and fruit.

The key is finding simple ways to get the nutrients, that
don't require alot of prep.


eileen - October 8, 2009 1:45 AM

Dear Lisa,
Thanks for posting about your experiences as a mother i found it to be both informative and inspirational. I have purchased and read all your husbands books but would GREATLY APPRECIATE if you could blog some of your recipes to help me transition my family to your lifestyle.

Martin Wenger - October 8, 2009 2:43 AM

Thanks for the article. My daughters are now 28 (twins) and they both continue healthy foods daily. It was work when they were in school, but our continually providing them with support and healthy choices as their parent to eat healthy has paid off with their excellent health and disposition. One of my daughters, who is now working in the Dominican Republic has been challenged with the choices that are available to her, but makes the best choices possible.

Become part of your own personal health insurance solution. EAT HEALTHY EVERY DAY!!!

Nina - October 8, 2009 9:25 AM

Hi Lisa,

My son is 3 and a very picky eater. All he will eat is chicken nuggets, cheese burger, pasta, rice and some fruit and cereal. I'm feeling very guilty feeding him these foods while I eat healthy. Any suggestions? He is very stubborn. He'd rather go hungry than try something new.

Nina

Ruth and Matthew Gervase - October 8, 2009 10:41 AM

Thank you very much for this post. We plan to share it with our families and friends with children who sometimes feel isolated in feeding their children nutrient dense foods. I must say I also feel a bit of relief, myself, having read this as my husband and I changed our diet over a year ago and I sometimes, more than he, feel as though I think too much about the food and meals whereas before, I rarely gave a thought to what I put in my mouth. My small struggle with food freedom has led me into some battles with myself :) and small rebellions :) from time to time but I'm beginning to learn balance and reap the many rewards of a nutritarian lifestyle - In France, no less!! :)
Thank you again,
We think you're all fantastic.
Sincerely,
Ruth

Carrie - October 8, 2009 6:47 PM

Lisa, thank you for your post. I would love to hear more from you on this topic. I often wonder how I will enable my young son to make good choices once he is older and in the SAD world where all the "normal" choices are bad ones. I am also all ears for any advice on how to effect changes in the schools.

Linda - October 8, 2009 9:39 PM

I was having lots of trouble getting my 2 and 4 year old to eat any veggie other than broccoli, until I made the "Eat Your Greens Smoothie" with spinach (recipe from Dr. Fuhrman's Eat for Health book.) They love it and I'm so glad they're eating more greens.

They love cheese, and my husband keeps reminding me not to keep unhealthy food in the house, so I stopped buying it. They rarely ask for it anymore. They ask for what they know. Now they ask for apples.

Lisa Fuhrman - October 9, 2009 9:44 AM

Nina,

I'm so glad you were so honest in what you are doing and the guilt you feel. I would offer your son only the healthy foods he does like. Keep offering those foods for a while. If he truly does not like any healthy foods, I would make him make new choices. In other words, I would let him go hungry until he was so hungry he would eat the healthy foods you offered him. I would not keep any unhealthy foods in the house.

A suggestion for you to do, what we did with our own son, was to make a very big deal about how strong he is after he ate a healthy green, like broccoli. For our Sean, he kind of liked the California Kale dish we serve, but he would devour it after we put on a show of how strong he was. We did that until he was 6 years old and it always worked. He always wanted to be stronger than his mom or dad. It was a lot of fun to dramatically let him be "So Strong!" Sometimes, we would fall down on the couch and say. "You got me; you are so strong!" He would laugh and put more in his mouth. It worked like a charm and now, at 8 years old, the Kale dish is one of his favorites!

You've got to stop feeding the unhealthy foods to your son immediately. You are making a precedent that it is OK for him to eat unhealthy and for you to eat healthy. This is setting him up for a lifetime of poor choices and possibly poor health. And, he is only 3.

Part of loving someone, is to do the right thing by them, no matter how difficult.

I applaud you in speaking up about this and wanting to change.

Let me know how it goes!

Charles Rosenbloom - October 9, 2009 11:32 AM

This problem has been much easier to avoid in my family.We are healthy vegans,not only for health reasons but also for ethical ones[animal rights].If not for the latter,I'm sure all of us would have cheated,but it is easy for us not to eat that delicious looking cookie,ice cream,etc,as we are cognizant of the animal suffering involved in the production of milk,eggs,etc.My children and grandchildren won't touch them even if nobody is watching them.

maggie - October 9, 2009 1:56 PM

I am reminded about the time that my son at age 3 or 4 looked at a hamburger someone set on a plate in front of him and asked, "Who put this dirty thing on my plate?" My mother was not pleased.
I thought I had started my children off on healthy foods, but we ate too many grains, too much honey and cheese. I have given my two sons Dr. Fuhrman's books and told them I would have followed his plan with them, if I had known then what I know know.

Elijah - October 9, 2009 5:36 PM

@Maggie - "I am reminded about the time that my son at age 3 or 4 looked at a hamburger someone set on a plate in front of him and asked, "Who put this dirty thing on my plate?" My mother was not pleased."

That made me laugh out loud! That is hilarious and I would have busted up laughing in front of your mother if I had seen that! The look on her face must have been priceless!

Nina - October 12, 2009 1:41 PM

Lisa,

Thanks for the encouragement. I'll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Lorrie - October 12, 2009 5:05 PM

I wish I had known what I know now when my children were younger. I also wish my grandson would be raised as you are raising your children. It bothered me at his first birthday party to see another mother try to force him to eat a hot dog and cake, which he didn't want. You and Dr. Fuhrman are to be commended for your commitment to a healthy lifestyle and for raising physically and psychologically healthy children as well. Your story is very inspiring. Would love to hear more.

Lorrie

Lorrie - October 12, 2009 5:10 PM

Almost forgot! There are some school districts in DE that prohibit the traditional cupcakes and are substituting fresh fruits and veggies. One Superintendent of Schools started reform three years ago when he removed sugary sodas, lemonade, and sports drinks from vending machines. Next, he replaced the machines' candy and potato chips with granola bars, pretzels, and whole wheat crackers. The football stands now offer baked potato chips, diet soda, bottled water, grilled chicken sandwiches, ground turkey tacos and carrots and dip. It can be done!

Lorrie

Charlotte - February 10, 2010 11:23 PM

I would really like to hear how you handled kids' friends' birthday parties. We just received an invitation to a b-day party at Chuck E Cheese, where pizza and drink (wouldn't be surprised if it's soda) would be served. Ugh! My kid is a good friend with the girl, so can't just ignore the invitation...

gemi - March 19, 2010 1:37 AM

you know, i keep reading all the tips and advice on getting 'picky eaters' to eat better, but they just never help me. unfortunately, i went wrong somewhere early in my now 10 year old daughter's life, and she has NEVER eaten a fruit or vegetable (except in her babyfood, unless you want to count potatoes or tomatoes (in marinara sauce and catsup). or corn, in cereal. you get the picture-these are NOT vegetables. maybe 5 times a year i can get her to eat part of an apple (NO PEEL) and she did eat a pomegranate once. she will drink 100% fruit juice, and she will eat veggies hidden in food (like spaghetti sauce). i promise, i have tried EVERY SINGLE TIP in the book. 3 times in her life she has gone 3-4 days w/out eating rather than eat a bite of a vegetable or fruit. she has a mental issue with it, no matter what i say. she's old enough that i have explained to her what i read about diet and health in dr furhman's book (EFH), and how her grandad's MS and my fibromyalgia could be lurkiing around the corner for her if she doesn't change her ways, but it just doesn't work.

the girl would rather not eat than eat fruits and veggies. i do what i can and make sure the bread she eats is whole grain, and usually homemade, and most of our dinners are homemade w/o too many preservatives, but she still drinks milk at school (and is lactose intolerant), eats ice cream and candy any chance she gets (which is at school and at her dad's-we're divorced), and in general makes poor food choices daily. she KNOWS what is healthy-she is not ignorant about the choices she makes.

i feel so hopeless.

jaime - April 1, 2010 3:47 PM

This is the first article I've read by you, Lisa. My friend referred me here because I have the exact same philosophy you expressed in this post... but with the exact opposite results! I have four small children (7, 5, 4, 3) and I be missing some key things because my children hate eating at home but LOOOVE eating everywhere else, especially at church where they get unmitigated junk every week. If I were a more ridiculous person, I would change churches, but unfortunately the rest of church is great. But really everywhere they go in life is all SAD and so they crave these things and that's all they talk about. (Like, "we can get hotdogs and ice cream at the zoo!") I get so mad! Why doesn't the 80% of the healthy time win them over? What can compete with sugar and fat?

Flad - October 31, 2010 7:25 AM

Wow - great ideas! I have a few more that will come in handy at Christmas time. Don't do damage to the environment by chopping down any Christmas trees this year. Instead,find some fun stickers and decorate one of your mop handles and place it in an area of prominence in your home.

Don't give out any wrapped gifts this year (the wrapping paper can result in way too many paper cuts). Instead, why not make several photocopies of the story of Christmas and simply leave those around the base of the mop handle. Kids especially will appreciate the thought.

Lastly, don't hang any flammable stockings from the fireplace this year. Instead, get the kids excited about a new tradition: the festive placing of soup bowls by the fireplace. Each child can decorate their own soup bowl. Imagine their excitement when, on Christmas morning, they wake to discover exactly what kind of yummy (and good for you!) soup they got from Santa. "I got tomato!" "I got navy bean!" "I got plain broth!" Mmmmmmm good!

Keep the great ideas coming! Can't' wait to read your articles on making birthdays a misdemeanor and how bike riding can cause cancer.

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