Guest Post: Parental Responsibility

A couple of weeks ago, reader Jodi Stone contacted me and asked if I would share her story of how she feeds her family. Jodi is a “wellness-minded” mom to three kids, and has a B.S. in nutrition and fitness. Now that her kids are in school full-time, she’s going back to school too, to become a certified health coach. She also recently started her own health blog, Swellness.

I’d been waiting for the right time to share her story, and today’s the day. Why? Because yesterday the Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class action lawsuit against McDonald’s, trying to get them to stop using toys to market directly to children.

I posted a link to CSPI’s press release on Facebook, and my friend Caroline — an attorney — argued that the case is without legal merit (before you flame her in the comments, you should know that she’s not a fan of McD’s).  A couple of hours later another friend emailed me, asking me to discuss “Parental Responsibility” in the context of this case.

My take on it is simple: I’m a huge proponent of personal responsibility, but people need to be empowered with both tools and knowledge to be able to take responsibility. Parental responsibility is absolutely important — critical, even — but that can’t possibly be the end of the story. There needs to be a level playing field, and right now the odds are tipped far, far away from parents’ favor.

It’s not impossible, of course, to raise healthy, well-adjusted, and well-fed kids. Indeed, many parents, like Jodi, are successful (but remember that she has a degree in nutrition!).  It takes a heck of a lot of time, effort, patience, and knowledge, but it can be done.

– Andrew

She Asked for Salad

Yes, She Asked for Salad

“Wow, look at that!” the woman seated at the table behind us gasped.  “Your daughter eats salad?” she asked, shocked.  “That is amazing.”

Luci, my daughter, who was in the process of undertaking this other-worldly feat, looked over at me, confused.  She had no idea what the fuss was all about, but a proud little grin crept up on her face, shiny with dressing, nonetheless.  Even at age five, you don’t have to understand the compliment to know that you’re getting one!

Come to think of it, we get these comments quite a bit. At the grocery store the other day a woman did a triple-take at my oldest son, Keaton, when he burst my middle child’s bubble: “No, Linc. We can’t get those, they’re full of high fructose corn syrup.”  Linc frowned at the orange box of  Mini-Wheats in his hands and then looked back up at me with pleading eyes.

“Yes, we can.” I said as I took the box and placed it amongst the other things in our cart. My husband is holding fast to his mini-wheats and I leave the choice up to the kids at breakfast time. They know what’s in them and are able to choose if they would like to start their day with those or not. Lincoln treats himself a couple days a week, whereas the other two have not touched them since the big HFCS discovery.

The older my kids get, the more information I give them as to why we make the choices we do when it comes to our diet. They know what HFCS is and why we stay away from it, they understand where the blue M&M’s get their color, and they are starting to understand why we sacrifice on some things to enable us to buy more local, organic foods.

Since they were little we’ve exposed them to as many different fruits, nuts, vegetables, and grains as we could. Avocado is as likely a snack in our house as Goldfish may be in another.

In the past few years we’ve tried to make a shift to more local and organic food choices. We’re on our third (and favorite) CSA this year at Brookford Farm in Rollinsford, NH. We can actually see the cows that give us our milk, cheese, yogurt, and cream as we eat on our porch or play in the yard. They graze just across the river in lush, green pastures.  We feel privileged to have access to such fresh, natural food choices.

Since I am so often confronted with shock and amazement at their diet, I felt the need to address it. I choose their diet. It’s as simple as that. My children are probably like any others in that if  given the option of having a candy bar or an apple as a snack at school, they’d most likely choose the candy bar. Well, two out of my three kids would.

I am the gate-keeper of our kitchen, so to speak. I welcome healthy suggestions from the kids but I have the final say when it comes to what goes in our cart. I have never been one to cater to my child’s food preferences.  That may sound more harsh than it really is. If I were to call out, “What would you guys like for dinner tonight?” I would most likely hear “macaroni and cheese” or “pizza” on any given night, consecutive or not! There are nights that we have those, just not all the time.

Most nights I turn to my great friend, Mac, my computer. It’s my new cookbook and recipe book! I just type in what ever fresh vegetables we have on hand from our farm share, and select a grain or legume and viola… one second later I have a screen full of recipes.

The tough part comes when we all sit down to eat. Is everyone going to like it? Maybe, maybe not. The deal at our house is this: You need to try it. You may choose not to eat it, but that’s all you’re getting. I do not prepare five separate meals, or four or even three. What we set on the table is what we are fortunate enough to have. They have the option of eating something else in the refrigerator, but they need to prepare it themselves.If they would rather go to bed hungry, so be it. I think they’ve each chosen this option just once; that’s all it took for them to realize something is so much better than nothing.

I secretly think it’s much harder on us, the parents. Is there pleading, whining, bargaining, tantrums even? Yes. Some nights it’s not pretty, some nights they grin and bear it, and some nights we have a resounding success and everybody’s happy.

My point is this: I believe it is our job, as parents, to teach our children how important healthy eating is. We need to be willing to be the “bad guy” sometimes. My husband and I have taught them that our bodies are the most amazing gifts that we’ve been given and it’s our job to take care of them. They grasp, even at their young ages (5,6,8), the deep importance of feeding ourselves with whole, healthy food. They also understand that having a “treat” now and then is okay too.

Halloween just passed us by. My kids were over the moon with their haul from two nights of trick-or-treating.  They were asked to pick three candies and those were the ones they could eat. A friend of mine introduced us to the idea of a candy swap a few years ago and we’ve done it ever since. They have the option of keeping their candy and having one piece each day, or they can pick three to keep and trade the rest in for $10 towards a toy. Every year so far it’s been the same: My boys take the trade and my daughter holds fast to her booty and remembers it for about two weeks. Yes, that same daughter who asked if I would share some of my salad with her at the restaurant.

There are lots of things we compromise on at our house, but we don’t back down when it comes to how we feed our growing bodies. If you tow the line when it comes to the foods that your children can choose from, way to go!

If you’re ready to start making healthier choices for you and your family it’s never too late to start! There are plenty of resources out there to help you. Your pediatrician, books, the internet, and friends are just a few. Once you feel comfortable with the direction you want your family’s diet to go, sit down and  explain to them what’s going to change and why. See if your children can think of some things that need changing and let them come up with some healthy alternatives. Your healthy bodies will thank you in immeasurable ways!

A photo of Andrew Wilder leaning into the frame and smiling, hovering over mixing bowls in the kitchen.

Welcome to Eating Rules!

Hi! My name is Andrew Wilder, and I think healthy eating doesn’t have to suck. With just three simple eating rules, we'll kickstart your journey into the delicious and vibrant world of unprocessed food.

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Jodi Stone
December 16, 2010 6:22 pm

You are right! At least they won’t find themselves in the predicament that my brother-in-law did. He was having dinner at my family’s house for the fist time back when he and my sister were dating… He asked my Mom to “pass the little trees please”, referring to the bowl of broccoli. He had never eaten BROCCOLI!! See, you are doing your kids a big favor in lots of ways 🙂

December 16, 2010 6:21 pm

Thank you for sharing! I only experienced my food enlightenment less than 1 year ago. Sometimes my family (husband and kids, ages 6 and 12) make me feel like a bad/mean/crazy person. I’m in information overload, so I don’t think I communicate the reasons for all of our drastic food changes very well. That is something I will have to work on. We joined (and enjoyed) a CSA this year and I recently took my 12 y/o to see Fresh and will be giving the kids What’s on Your Plate for xmas. Any other recommendations?

Jodi Stone
Reply to  KathieW
December 16, 2010 6:32 pm

Congrats to you for changing directions. We are all learning things every day. I feel the most important part is communicating to your children why you are making the changes and choices that you are. Knowledge is power. Give your children the strength they will need to make enlightened, healthy choices so they can feed their growing bodies the best possible way. There is a post on my that talks about Whole foods that you may want to take a peek at. It boils things down pretty simply. Carry on being the good/kind/caring mother that you are!