Here’s a glimpse into real life in our home. I mostly want to share this to encourage you. I could pretend that my family follows all my advice and eats every healthy recipe I make with a smile and offer a thanks for providing a wholesome, organic cooked meal from scratch. And I would be lying if I told you we snacked on organic foods, dates, yogurt and dried fruit all the time. Actually I do, but I also have teenagers. And they eat white bread (unbleached).
Though I write about healthy living, the reality is our culture makes it a challenge to live a pure, green organic life 100% of the time. That is, unless you have few or no kids (or spouse), unlimited income and plenty of time on your hands to search out all the options, buy them already made or prepare them yourself. Granted, there are some cities and communities that make healthy living more accessible, but for most of the middle class it is not. This is one reason I hope I emphasize choices, making the best choices in all circumstances with what you’ve got. This is also the main reason I allow junk food in my home. Just like my faith, I cannot nor do I want to force my beliefs or values onto my kids or anyone else. My relationship with them is more important than personal choices they make in the kitchen as they get older.
Responsibility Yes, I do protect them and surround them with the best I can for as long as possible, I try my best to model healthy choices. But there comes a time when I have to pass on responsibility and empower them to make good choices. Though our culture is filled with junk food, I hope they build discernment to live in the world but not of the world and feast on what the majority of our culture beckons them to.
I want to raise kids who can learn to make more healthful choices in any situation. I want them to feel comfortable being around junk food so it’s not seen as some “forbidden fruit” that they binge on when I’m not around or hide behind my back. I don’t want them to live in a bubble so that when they are out on their own they have no idea how to navigate through the sea of choices. All that said, I do allow the older kids to eat junk food. We’ve had pop tarts in our home, Snyders cheesy pretzels and the latest is Tostitos cheese dip. Some might argue that they won’t develop a taste for the good stuff, but I know that taste buds change with age and we always have plenty of fruits, veggies, dates, nuts, etc on hand that are offered and often taken with meals. I also know in short time (it’s already happened plenty of times) they discover the consequences of poor choices, and in time will see the benefit of eating healthy. And I’m pleased when they make the good choices as I silently cheer from the sidelines. I believe these natural consequences are more powerful than any lecturing I could do on healthy living. I know they need to exert their independence somehow, and I’d rather have it be with food than with sex.
Boundaries In this process of including kids into our green, organic lifestyle, I have set some boundaries that are very clear. Everyone needs to have boundaries, only you will know what’s most important to you. Allow yourself some grace as you’re transitioning to a more natural lifestyle and the process is more likely result in many healthy habits in the long run. Here are my boundaries and principles for finding balance between the checkbook, health & relationships in our home:
Vote with your dollar Every choice you make that is organic, natural or healthy will make organic options more accessible and affordable.
Go for whole foods, fresh & frozen foods with one ingredient: hash browns that contain just potatoes, for example. Raw food bars are a great “fast food” option that don’t have the sugars and chemicals some snack or breakfast bars do. Annies is a brand that makes some nice kid’s snacks without the artificial colorings and flavorings of conventional goods. Read labels and make sure it doesn’t contain any ingredients that are “no’s” to you.
Grace Don’t get discouraged when you fail, or your kids choose junk food or cake at your next family gathering. Find balance and allow yourself time to explore healthier options. If your life has a lot of junk food in it right now, you can quit cold turkey or wean yourself off by searching for healthy options that are similar to what you are already eating. A good start is to change out white sugars for natural sugars like coconut sap, beet, raw sugar or stevia. Become familiar with the healthy foods aisle at your grocery store and see what “junk foods” you can trade out for natural options in the mean time.
Think gray instead of black & white If you put your life choices into categories of right & wrong, black & white, you’ll ultimately fail or find yourself in situations where there are shades of gray, no options in your healthy category and you won’t know how to respond because you’ve been legalistic about health goals and choices. There is a learning curve of finding habits, foods and lifestyle choices that melds into the new you (family often included), and it continues to change and grow depending on the seasons and your maturity in all aspects of life. Looking in the gray zone does not mean abandoning the principles and values that are important to you, it’s about being flexible without compromising your integrity and what really matters.
Look for healthy alternatives: Find healthy things that satisfy your true cravings. Are you really hungry or just bored? Hungry or angry? Hungry or sad? Our culture makes it easy to eat with our emotions and advertising portrays food as an option for making us happy. The other day my four year old came to me exclaiming very quickly: I’m hungry, I’m thirsty, I’m tired. I just about cracked up laughing, realizing how many of us do the same thing? We’re grown up and look to food for entertainment, comfort and filling our basic needs beyond hunger. If you suspect you eat with your emotions, keep a journal and write what you eat for 7 days, include a short description of your feelings surrounding those moments. It doesn’t have to be much, just one or two word description: happy, sad, content, angry, tired, thirsty, etc :). The main point is to start understanding your habits so you can be prepared to make changes going forward. As parents we are trying to help our kids understand the same things so they won’t grow up into adults who overeat and make choices that will cause disease.
Choose the best junk food you can: plain sea salt potato chips instead of MSG loaded snack chips (any special flavor chip is made with MSG, I know I’ve read every label), homemade pizza instead of frozen, homemade popcorn (with coconut oil and sea salt) instead of microwave popcorn. Simple snacks: cheese, nuts, granola.
Always offer healthy options. It doesn’t have to be a smorgasbord of food. In our home we always have a bowl of fresh fruit available and on the counter where it is easily seen. Make the good stuff accessible so it’s easier to choose. Presentation is really important, that’s why packaged foods are appealing. Make the good stuff appealing and pleasing to the eye. If you don’t have the junk food around, it won’t be an option. Out of sight, out of mind is a great strategy.
Are you shocked by any of this? What choices have you made on your journey to healthier living? What successes have you had in sharing good food with your family? Please share :).