Tuesday, February 21, 2012

the way they eat

An interesting topic came up in our house this past weekend. Jude mentioned that his friends at school "look at him weird" when he eats his lunch. He doesn't always express himself clearly, so gentle probing and questions directed at getting him to clarify are par for the course in a conversation with Jude. He has mentioned in the past that he feels shy about his lunch, so after the subsequent conversation on Saturday, I brought it up again as we drove out to the goat farm.

We make an effort to create school lunches that are as "normal" as possible when feeding a child with food sensitivities. We don't go in for lots of treats, but I do try to include homemade cookies or muffins when I can. His little containers are full of berries, cut-up fruit and veggies, hummus, rice crackers, gluten-free salami, etc. The main course is usually leftovers from dinner: meat and potatoes, soup, pizza. 

While we drove, we had a conversation:

"What is it that the other kids have that's different from your lunch?"
"Fruit loops and stuff like that. In shiny plastic".
(long pause while I thought out my next words)
"Do you know why we don't buy stuff like that?"
"Because we don't have enough money?"

Wow. Little ears pick up every conversation their parents have, don't they?

I explained to him that packaged foods actually cost less than good whole foods, but that we buy those healthy things because we want his body to be healthy. I tried to explain in terms he'd understand. I talked about the cells in our bodies, and how certain things can change our cells so they can't do their jobs anymore. We talked about smoking, chemicals, dye and additives in food. I reassured him that his lunch was full of FOOD: things that had grown on trees or walked on the earth, and that his body would be healthier because of it.

I reassured him that the way we eat is a CHOICE we've made as parents.

It pains me to think of him growing up feeling self-conscious or "different". I worry that it will all backfire when he's an adult and can finally make his own choices about what to eat, and decides he wants the packaged stuff. I worry that he doesn't understand my motivation or the effort it takes to make a lunch from scratch every evening instead of just throwing in a bunch of pre-packaged crap.

We arrived at the goat farm, and we each learned to milk.

As we were leaving, I said, "Jude, your lunch may be different from your friends' lunches. But I'll bet none of them have milked a goat before!"

His face shone with pride, and I knew that, for now, it's all good.


  1. Even without food allergies, it can be a tough battle. My oldest kids mostly understand why we eat the way we eat but watching their friends eat candy and junk food on a daily basis is hard. I do occasionally slip in an oatmeal cookie or square of dark chocolate. They really like the surprise treats.

  2. I'm so glad there are moms like you. In our country parents don't give children lunch to school - they eat at school (possibly with the exception of kids with allergies). I kept up the good work all the way through kindergarten, but now I find my eldest son alienated from the other kids because he comes from a "weird" family that doesn't watch TV, eats wholesome food and does not buy the trendy toys. And seeing him so miserable and without friends I'm gradually giving up and giving in to store-bought crap, to Bakugans, bayblades and whatnot and have even bought an antenna and a decoder so that they can watch TV. They watch all that rubbish that the other kids watch, and though I cringe every time I hear them tell me about some commercials, I take the easy way for now. I'm glad you don't.

  3. I know how you feel. I too struggle with the school lunch. What I struggle with is that it can't be something that needs to be heated up, or something that has to stay cool or something that will go mushy in a lunch kit, in a backpack, in a cloakroom! I usually try to pack a healthy lunch with one treat aka crap. I also use to give her a drinking box for a drink instead of buying the milk everyday (which we couldn't afford) and then she surprised me by saying that she wanted her thermos with water in it instead of the drinking box! She said, 'well water is healthy for you right?' WOW, sometimes it takes the little ones to make a good point. Maybe you could try having Jude help make his lunch to see what choices he makes, it might surprise you too :)

  4. I was in Jude's place as a child, although I didn't have any food sensitivities, and was sent to school with healthy lunches (multigrain bread, "real" peanut butter, fruit, rice crackers etc. and white milk to drink). I do remember not really understanding and at times begging for whatever packaged goodie was popular with my friends at the time. Now, at almost 25, I'm packing the same healthy lunches for myself - and can't imagine eating those "treats" the other students ate back then. I was even able to survive university without relying prepared meals having gained some real cooking skills from growing up cooking from scratch (unlike many of my fellow students continued to buy only frozen or ready made meals well into their university years). I'm glad my parents stuck with it and I expect I'll do the same when packing kids lunches!

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  6. Being the mother of 4 (almost 5) I can totally understand as we've been there, too! My oldest daughter actually went as far as NOT eating her lunch from home because she was made fun of for having dark bread (not white store bought but homemade wholegrain bread which she adores!!!) her favorite fresh fruits, homemade yogurt,whatever homemade goodie we'd made for the week, or leftovers from dinner. She would spend 6 hours away from home and not eat anything for fear of being made fun of. It was such a heartbreaking moment. So, we had the same discussion with our children about why we make the choices we make about food. My daughter was 6 when the questions began and now, at 10 years old, she's strong enough within herself and with our reasons for making healthy choices to answer the fun making with responses that make it clear and nip the hurtful comments in the bud. She doesn't make fun of the other childrens lunch, but often states that we choose to eat healthier foods so that she can feel and be the best that she can! I thought about giving in many times, I just couldn't do it knowing that I would then be choosing to give my children food that would not nourish their bodies, I couldn't make that an option! I figured we'd all muddle through it together and find ways to make her feel less like a stranger but still use our principles for healthy living. Nowadays, the ridicule isn't nearly as frequent and since we're at an age now where those same friends who questioned her lunches are now coming over to our home and can now see how we live, have eaten our food and see how we make (and grow) everything from scratch, even the sweet treats, they're growing too, and are asking for Bella to share with them! Stay strong, Mama! You're making a choices that will effect the relationship your child has with food for the rest of his life. As he grows, there may be moments when they'll want to experiment with other foods, like anything else, it's about trust and moderation! I see my kids go for the fruit and veggies before chips and cookies. That's all the validation I need to know we're making the right choices and building healthy relationships with food!

  7. Not sure you mentioned (or whether anyone else has mentioned in comments)... Not only are the packaged foods bad for our bodies, they're bad for the earth. The packaging is not re-usable or compostable and the chemicals used to produce the so-called "food" are atrocious for the environment.

    Amen, mama!

  8. He will understand someday and even admire the choices you are making for him now. My children were raised vegetarian and often vegan. I grew a lot of our food and when they were younger ran an organic food co-op to obtain items hard to find( 20 years ago!).Although we homeschooled when they finally did attend highschool they spent a few awkward years before their peers started to make dietary decisions of their own. Suddenly they were bringing home friends who were very impressed by a household that was vegetarian, knew what almond butter was and could make a delectable vegan " cheesecake". My two eldest still send friends my way who need recipe advise or have questions about where to source what.I know they are very happy to have been offered a different way of eating than most of their peers

  9. As a nurse practitioner I have many children in my roster as patients. When I attempt to broach the subject of food I generally get a reply "we eat very healthy". Instead I now ask what their child's typical packed lunch contains -- pizza pockets, lunchables, dora pasta, pogos, pudding, jello fruit-cups. I hear it all. It is frightening. I am seeing four and five year old that are morbidly obese and I am attempting to, gently but firmly, discuss serious topics with their parents like preventing diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.

    One of the main highlights I attempt to teach parents is that it is important for children to eat FOOD. That many of the things we think are healthy or that are labelled healthy on PACKAGES aren't. Luckily the CHC (Community Health Center) where I work has a dietician on staff and I try very hard to get them to speak to her about making affordable healthy choices for their children and themselves.

    I think you handled the situation very well. I have a feeling I may be asked that very same question down the road. Being "different" is always tough...here is hoping the different down the road will be the fruit loops, rollups and other crappy packaged stuff.

  10. Great to have a child who wants to talk about how he's feeling. You handled it perfectly mama!
    I know my children would be ridiculed for their lunches...
    If it does "backfire" when they're older. They'll just get sick and go back to how you fed them. That's what I'm telling myself anyways...

  11. As the mother of "different" children, by virtue of their being homeschooled, I am delighted that my Eldest is truly relieved that the high school caf is now required to serve real-ish food. And it's not like we eat all that great at home. But she KNOWS, and makes sensible choices. J will too, because you are teaching him. And if there are lapses down the road, he will come to recognize what serves his body well.

  12. Kids will always look to seek out another child who may seem a breed apart, even if they are not. I think it's part of our human mentality.

    What's interesting is that Jude is eating ''clean'', and eating right. Yet other children will perhaps not understand why he's not pouring down the chemical based mass produced processed food which they so love to eat.

    I tell my children that no food is 'off limits', however we make our own. So whether it's bread, biscuits or pizza I take comfort in the fact that I control what goes into it, and therefore eliminate any 'junk'.

    My father grew up on a farm in Ireland, so he had a healthy sensible understanding of what good food was, and thus his wisdom was imparted to his children.

    One day he'll thank you for showing him to correct path, whilst those other children may actually resent their parents for their lack of sense.

  13. Expressing feelings about this topic was challenging. I know intuitively what is right, and in many ways I was "different" as a child/teen/adult. The inner struggle is that you don't want your child to feel left out! Yesterday was Shrove Tuesday; my kids go to Catholic school, and so they had a big pancake lunch. I prepared gluten-and-dairy free pancakes from scratch the night before, and they look just like regular pancakes. Still, one of his classmates said, "Ewww, those look gross!" Jude just told her they tasted good; I resisted the urge to tell him to say, next time, "Well, at least they won't destroy my brain and digestive system like yours will"...haha.
    Thanks for your support and input, all.


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