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Does Being Too Strict on Food Take the Joy out of Family Life?

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“I don’t even want to go to a barbecue at my boss’s house this summer, because it might not be any fun with all our food restrictions,” my husband admitted to me last week. “What if they offer the kids a juice pouch, or the dreaded freezer pops with artificial colors? And then there’s the hot dogs with nitrates and the buns with gluten…there’s just too much to say no to.”

My heart fell. Just when I’m trying to convince the world of the Internet that real food eating is totally doable and elimination diet meal planners work, my husband is overwhelmed by what he’s learning about, and by our own diet.

My response was eloquent and poignant and made the whole situation dissipate: “But…hamburgers are okay though!” Can you hear the desperation and lack of foresight in the question?


He also voiced concerns over our hosting Easter brunch, since I have a bit of a track record of getting stressed out when trying to make food from scratch to serve to a crowd. He would have rather gone out to a restaurant to eat, but I had vied for hosting, desiring to have a healthy meal instead of that heavy “I ate too much” feeling and the temptation of toast, HFCS pancake syrup and chocolate milk for my kids.

As a pretty intense conversation ensued, I couldn’t help thinking that it was interesting that the previous Sunday on the way home from church, I had drafted a partial post in response to some reader comments. It was about how having food rules certainly didn’t have to take the joy out of family life. It seemed that, in fact, here was my response, and God wanted a broader perspective.

I’m not exactly sure where this topic is going to take us, but let’s go along for the ride and see where we end up…

The Polite Dissenter

Multi-colored candy sprinkles - My food is not a Number! A challenge at Kitchen Stewardship.

I discussed artificial colors a few times this Lent since we were experimenting with giving them up as a family, mostly to see if they had any impact on my children, and I received a comment on both posts with a gentle warning about balancing our quest for healthy food with our family relationships.

Nicole said:

Hello to all, just offering a dissenting opinion. I understand that there may be some instances of allergies and adverse reactions to specific food additives, but I don’t believe they are very common. The danger in seeking a nutritional cause for so many of the problems we encounter is that we take the joy out of eating. And we and our children suffer as a result.

I certainly advocate wholesome meals, but there needs to be wiggle room. If not, we run the risk of making our food rules more important than the people in our lives. Certainly NOT what God intended.

I speak from the perspective of one who has long been an advocate for real, whole foods, but has seen relationships suffer as a result of my desire to do the “right” thing. Relaxing my standards a bit has allowed me to enjoy myself, my children, our extended families, and our meals together much more.

Research is just beginning to uncover all the variables related to eating and health, and some of the most interesting involves how our feelings and attitudes toward eating impact the manner in which our bodies process the food we eat. May I humbly recommend the resources available at for anyone interested in relaxing about their food a bit? Blessings to all as we try to find balance and do our best.

And my response:

Believe me, on a site dedicated to “finding the balance,” I do appreciate your dissent. However, I find just as many readers pick on me for letting my kids have too many bad foods, so do know that, outside of this experiment, my kids have PLENTY of wiggle room for junk food. We put very few restrictions on them at family parties, other than that they should eat some good foods before they get dessert, and they are allowed to eat out (usually with grandparents) more than most people expect from me.


Do we need balance? Sure. But like a few other commenters have pointed out, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that although we are being counter-cultural, it’s the culture that is so messed up, feeding our children things are are not food.

Thanks, Katie

A few other reader responses:

hi nicole, i’m wondering if you’ve read the material at the link that you suggested? her division of responsibility for eating clearly states that parents decide the ‘what’. so, katie is following her responsibility according to the link you cited. i’m not sure what you’re disagreeing with.

also, regarding ‘joy of eating’, that’s why we are so obese and sick. we should find joy in life and eat to live not live to eat. having said that, we are on the GAPS diet now and i can honestly say that my children enjoy their food much more now than they did before. and hopefully it’s not making them sick while they’re enjoying it.

I have to chime in here: there are some things that are not meant to be eaten. For example, the famous Red 40 is “Red AC was originally manufactured from coal tar, but is now mostly made from petroleum.”

Thank you, Nichole, for your gentle dissent. While the majority (meaning over 50%) of people do not have known food allergies/intolerances, for those who do, it can be quite serious. Sometimes those intolerances go away as the body is given a break from the problem food and allowed to heal. Our own family is an example of this. We’ve seen healing from gluten and egg allergies/intolerance (non-anaphylactic)

We found my parents to be very supportive and helpful during our times of diet restriction. Others would invite us for a meal with only 1 or 2 items we could eat. I learned to take food with us and to teach the boys to just say “no thank you.”

We are talking about something much more than “I don’t like lima beans”–which I do detest. Or greater than not eating pork for religious reasons.

It is okay to refuse food that causes harm. Once children are old enough to understand how certain foods are detrimental to their well being, parents do need allow the child more decision making power. But a child under the age of 4 or 5? Parents should speak up for the child’s well being!

Not dissuaded, Nicole commented again on the next My Food is not a Number! reflection, again very politely:

Chiming in again with my respectful dissent, if I may…certainly, avoiding foods with additives is a choice you can make for your family. One with which I will not argue when you are discussing life threatening issues.

However, let’s be honest that there is a cost associated with this decision, and perhaps a higher one than we may realize. It is this: we put much credence in a “clean” diet and do our level best to accomplish this, and for our efforts, our children throw tantrums; our extended families are afraid to eat with our kids; we are so stressed about food choices that our kids hoard and sneak to get the foods that taste good to them; and WE suffer real, physical consequences from all the stress.

On the other hand, if we are truly willing to extend grace to ourselves, our children, and our families regarding food choices, we do better – both emotionally AND nutritionally. Fear and avoidance do not generally last as motivators for eating in a certain way, and they have the potential for seriously distorting our children’s eating attitudes and behaviors.

I thought quite a bit about her basic point – do we compromise on what we know is best for our kids just to reduce the stress of interacting with others around food? Is it possible to eat a strict, whole foods diet and still enjoy eating, even eating with others? And what would that look like?

Clearly, now that you’ve observed part of my conversation with my husband, you know that our family is not hitting the bullseye in this game, but I’m sure hoping we can get a little closer to the target, meaning achieving the balance of a proper diet without stress or fear of food weighing us down.

What You Don’t Know Can’t Hurt You

Grandparent and grandchild with red candy sucker

I’ve always said when my babies were little that for them, ignorance is bliss. If they haven’t a clue what is in the crinkly wrapper or how sweet the blue frosting is, if they’ve never tasted juice and don’t expect dessert after a meal, they truly don’t know what they’re missing.

Withholding junk food – “fun food” – from them doesn’t hurt them in the least. They are not deprived. They are not being shorted anything. Their life is not less full for lack of sugar of food coloring. They are perfectly happy and content, sometimes even blissful, with the healthy (and delicious) food offered to them.

Similarly, kids who watch little TV (especially if it’s without commercials) don’t beg for things at the grocery store, whether cartoon-infused food-like substances or licensed character toys that will break before the year is out. (More on that later this week.)

Are they missing joy? Are they stressed? No, and neither are the parents who don’t have to say “no” at every turn, simply because they planned ahead and filtered the child’s experience up front.

Things only get hairy and complicated when the children are out of the parents’ control for a moment, perhaps with a grandparent or loved one. Should other family members be expected to abide by “the rules?”

In many ways, it’s the loving thing for those grandparents, aunts, uncles, or friends to play the same game as the parents. Don’t offer children things they shouldn’t have according to whatever diet their parents have chosen for them. If you do, you’re causing them to want it, which makes them sad. It’s only the knowledge of what they’re missing that creates a problem. Rather than making a child happy by introducing them to a certain off-limits treat, the well-meaning relative actually causes a problem and creates opportunities for the child to be disappointed.

Of course, as my husband pointed out, visiting acquaintances can be a tricky situation. How much do we need to discuss food choices  with hosts before accepting a dinner invite, especially since we don’t actually have any medically based dietary restrictions in the family? Is it okay to simply throw caution to the wind for a day? And can Katie manage to do that without getting grumpy watching everyone eat junk? (I struggle a lot with getting into a funk when I know the kids are eating things to which I have acquiesced, but still wish they wouldn’t.)

What is Joyful Eating?

I do joke that with all I learn about food and the environment, with all the thousands of tiny changes we’ve made in our family to protect them from the crap in the world, I’ll still probably die early from the stress of managing it all and worrying about the elements that are out of my control that might still cause cancer or IBD or something.

Some days that joke is not very funny. Nicole’s comments made me think about the joy of eating and how we achieve that because of and in spite of the foods we eat and don’t eat.

Finding the joy in food has many facets:

  • the attitude with which the food is served
  • the company with whom you eat the food
  • one’s participation in the food preparation
  • the routine or break from routine around the meal
  • and finally, savoring the food itself

Does food have to be filled with sugar and bright blue to be “fun”? Does it have to be deep-fried and dipped in ketchup to be “kid-friendly”?

I’d certainly like to think not. The food itself is only one part of the meal.


My attitude when serving food is one area I am sorely lacking. I do allow myself to get stressed out while making dinner, especially if (a) something goes wrong, (b) I’m running behind schedule, or (c) my husband doesn’t enjoy the meal as much as I hope. Often I am hit with all of the above, but it’s still no excuse to be grumpy or slam down a spoon or rush everyone to the table without a smile on my face. It’s no excuse to be sullen about a compromise food or equally sullen about healthy food that doesn’t end up being well-received by the peanut gallery.

It pains me to write it, but I often serve my real food meals with a side of negativity, which exudes from my countenance and drips onto the food, cross-contaminating my good intentions.

Food as a social endeavor

In our culture, food surrounds every social event. Food is often the center of family and holiday gatherings, and without it, people wonder why they would even get together. Those food traditions make any changes challenging, but it’s definitely possible to get together, have a great time enjoying family, and enjoy the wholesome food without compromise.

I did manage to successfully plan ahead for Easter brunch, working very hard to have a lot of prep work done before even going to bed Saturday night. I was uber prepared and knew exactly what needed to be done Sunday, and I knew it could be a leisurely pace while people enjoyed playing with the kids.

We had a lovely, grain-free, real food brunch, and everyone enjoyed the food.

My mother-in-law brought frozen glazed cinnamon rolls, and even though I was finished giving up sugar and my husband was no longer officially giving up gluten and my kids would have gotten one if they asked, not one of us had any. Our lives were no less full without them, and I’m guessing that no one would have gone away hungry if they hadn’t even been available.

(In fact, my kids were having so much fun with their grandparents, aunt and uncle, that they neglected to even ask for dessert after getting full on fruit!)

Eating as a Family

Keeping true to a family dinner is another important facet of joyful eating. Inspired by this post about family dinner conversation, we started sharing our “high/low” moment of the day at dinnertime.

I think it’s pretty awesome that it’s my 3-year-old, the youngest (who can talk) of the family, who more often than not reminds us and asks the question around the table. Her budding leadership skills give me joy, that’s for sure!

Kids Participating

I’m not always joyfully accepting of offers of help from my kids in the kitchen. There are days I’m just ready to be alone in there, preparing food, and other days when we’re rushing and I really can’t afford the slow-down of the novice, clumsy-handed chef’s helper. I’m trying hard to remind myself that if I turn down too many requests of “Can I help make dinner?” they will stop coming, and then I’ll be all alone with my missed opportunities.

Any time I can involve my kids in the cooking, joyfully, I know I should. I try to celebrate their efforts by announcing to anyone eating what they did to help and how wonderful it all tastes. For that brunch, they both helped shred cheese for crustless quiches and slice potatoes (in the food processor). We’ve often team worked to cut a whole pineapple, and they know it will be served as dessert, but they’re happy they got to help prepare it. Here are some amazing ideas, for every age, about how to get kids in the kitchen.

A little spice of children goes a long way in bringing joy to a dish.

Keeping Treats Part of Eating

Food should be fun sometimes, but that doesn’t have to mean super-processed, brightly colored, or full of sugar.

We saw baby pigs, cows, turkeys and ducks at the farm this morning. How can you imagine any more joy and connection to your food? Opening up their world to nature is just one of the many ways I try to keep the “fun” in our food. I also like to present them with things like mashed potato ghosts on Halloween, and I surprised Leah by saying at 10 a.m. yesterday, “I think we should have a candy from our Easter baskets, don’t you?” Because it’s a break from routine, it’s fun. If they had Gogurts every day at lunch, those wouldn’t be fun either – in our family, adding a squirt of raw honey (use the code Katie15 for 15% off at that site!) becomes a treat!

Let’s also remember that “treat” need not be something sweet. I used to treat my kids to nitrite-free meat sticks from a local butcher – pricey, but no more than an ice cream cone. And they loved those meat sticks! The Easter Bunny even put some in their baskets two years ago, and believe me, it was as good as candy. (I’ll show you their real food Easter baskets later this week.)

Any parent can figure out creative, non-sweet, non-processed, non-junky ways to treat kids, with and without food. Grandparents can too – my in-laws are awesome at buying in-season fruit and always have crafts for the kids to do at their house. I love that!

Are Food Rules Oppressive?

Like with strict diets, many say about the Catholic Church, “Don’t all these rules take the joy and spontaneity out of faith, don’t they hamper your relationship with God?” On the contrary: the rules give us the freedom to know what is right, thereby escaping the worry and pain that comes with making mistakes and being separated from God’s love. Rules allow us to be joyful in our salvation.

Similarly, good food gives us freedom from chronic illness, pain, and digestive distress. Food rules and the knowledge about why we eat what we do allow us to explore God’s creation and eat foods as they were meant to be enjoyed, to seek creativity in food preparation and to know that we are doing a good thing for our bodies when we eat. We are more conscious of what we put in our mouths, and with the right attitude, we can make dinnertime – and any eating time – a joyful and wholesome experience.

As with nearly anything worthwhile – doing chores, going to church, writing a thank you note, learning to tie one’s own shoes – the process of eating good food could be drudgery or joy, depending on how it’s presented. Our kids, all three of them, attended Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday services for a total of over 6 hours of church in four days. Do we risk turning them off from the faith because that wasn’t very fun? If so, to me, training the child in the way they should go and underlining the importance of God and church are the greater good, and it’s worth the risk.

Do we allow our kids to play-play-play like they want and skip the process of learning responsibility through chores? Nope. Do we let them eat candy whenever they want – or whenever it’s offered to them – because it would be more fun? Nope. We teach them, through discipline (and fun!) how good food is good for your body, and that what God made is better than what man refines. We can even teach through servicelike giving real food to those in need.

I wrote a post called Soul First, Body Second wayyyy back in the infancy of Kitchen Stewardship®, and I think it’s a good reminder for myself and newer readers of the final priorities – food should never become an idol – but also seeking balance and not throwing caution to the wind for the sake of some bump in the nutritional road or familial relationship that could be solved in other ways.

I may not always be excellent, or even proficient, at serving a meal with joy, but I know it’s important. I understand the goal.

I’m a work in progress…but I truly believe that, although it takes extra work and a lot of forethought to keep to a good diet in any circumstance, it is possible.

This summer, we’ll gladly accept an invitation to a cookout…and we’ll bring some side dishes and a few rules so that we feel good when we leave, both in body and spirit.

How do you balance eating and joy in family life?

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.
Category: Faith Nuggets

68 thoughts on “Does Being Too Strict on Food Take the Joy out of Family Life?”

  1. I’m totally hard core. After having been sick for more than 10 years and having our children be unwell and undiagnosed I have an extremely low threshold of tolerance. I would compare it to the saying, “Is a little bit of poop in a brownie o.k.?” Knowing what I know about conventional foods I found a way to afford them and heal. When we eat out we take our food with us and just say that we have allergies which is the truth. Our families understand and if someone doesn’t they aren’t really our friends and most certainly aren’t being tolerant. I will not eat nor feed poisons to my family.

  2. I cringed when I read the part about “the attitude you serve the meal with”….because that can be me quite often. Honestly I don’t really think the Manlings and the Hubby even notice what I put under their noses some days, and they can be very under-appreciating of MY efforts. It’s been hard to realize that if they EAT it? They liked it. If they didn’t, they’ll let me know! (Loudly.)

    But I have noticed too that if my attitude about what I’ve made is bad, then the odds that there will be complaints goes up. And it is very hard for me to be “UP” about cooking some days. I really HATE cooking. And cooking WELL is just torture. But I am trying.

    I think the best thing that’s come out of this is that my Hubby (who never put anything in his mouth unless it was something he’d eaten a thousand times before out of the same box it’s always been in) now goes down the cereal aisle (usually by himself) and grumbles the whole way through about all the “crap they put in food now”. LOL All the poor man wants is box of corn flakes or Fruity Pebbles (ha, ha) that doesn’t have any HFCS or strange words in the label! Unfortunately, he has yet to find one. *grin*

    As for eating out, other than making sure the guys aren’t into the sodas and sweets, I’m not too worried. The youngest knows what to look for in anything that he’s given–no artificial sweeteners.

    My mother-in-law (bless her!) decided that she wasn’t going heavy on the snacks for Easter. We had our traditional dinner (not all THAT healthy) but all snacks were fruit and veggies. And the candy the boys got is in the cabinet at my in-laws for “treats” when they go to visit. I got one squeak from the Youngest…and that was it. I’d say we’re definitely making progress….and that is enough for me.

  3. Julia in West Des Moines, IA

    love that you believe rules give freedom. me too.:

  4. Stacy Makes Cents

    When I am cooking at home for my family, I control what we eat. Would I like to control everything we eat, all the time? Sure! But that would mean that I would have to take up the life of a hermit.
    I know you said that our families should understand our food rules and respect those….but that would be in a perfect world, certainly not this world we live in.
    Everyone has different convictions, just like Katherine said above. What if I worked hard for days to prepare a meal for my extended family…and I used butter and whole cream. Then I had a whole family show up who wouldn’t touch anything I made because they followed a low-fat diet. Would that hurt my feelings? Sure…cooking for someone is a way to show that you love and care for them. To have that turned down is hurtful – I don’t care who you are. Someone might not say that bothered them, but it probably would deep down. If you spent a long time quilting a beautiful quilt and then gave it to someone who said “I don’t like homemade quilts!” Would that hurt? You betcha.

    We are the only ones in my extended family, on both sides, who follow a whole foods diet. I do not excuse myself from family events just because I know what will be served. I feed my family well at home, pray for my food elsewhere and then come home and feed my family well again. 🙂 It really does take the stress out of life.

    That being said, at family events I do take water for Annie to avoid the red food dye in the kool-ade….and I do choose the wheat buns over the white. But, I also let her eat a cookie with her cousins.

    Family before food.

  5. We need to have a relationship with food. Food is a comfort in infancy. The comfort comes from the food and how it is given to us. As mother’s, we are told to slow down during breastfeeding and bound with our children. We make food a social event from the first day of our children’s life. We can make food part of our social lives without it being an issue.
    One comment mentioned was that eating for joy is why our society is obese. Finding joy in food is not the cause of obesity. Obesity is caused by OVEREATING. I can find joy in a cup of coffee and a good piece of dark chocolate but that isn’t going to make me fat. What would make me fat is eating excessive amounts of chocolate and coffee filled with cream and what not.
    Food is a huge part of our lives. Food and our decisions regarding food are also personal; to ourselves and the food we give our families/children. I think as parents, the best thing we can do is educate ourselves and make the best possible choices. In a previous post, some commenters were equating grandparents feeding children food with artificial color in them as abusing them. Does allowing my children have some Easter candy constitute child abuse? Not in my mind. We also talked to them about why it’s okay to have once or twice a year but not on a regular basis. Our hope is that we can instill in them the ability to make good, healthy food choices when they are not in our presence and surrounded by peer pressure, etc.
    In our family, we find balance by being open with others about our food choices and why we have made that food choice. If we balance by making the best decision we can based upon each individual situation. Sometimes that means it may not be our first choice. If it’s a hoiday or special occasion, we balance out the right of the week by loading all of us up on fruits, vegetables and lots of water.

    1. food should be eaten for the nourishment of your body. it should be enjoyed as much as one can for that purpose. to go beyond that is to encourage eating disorders and obesity.

      if you find joy in eating it is more likely that you will overeat. then you’ll get fat. i don’t see how you can disagree with that. but my main point was that we shouldn’t encourage people to eat when they want enjoyment or comfort or some other emotional support. should we enjoy eating when we are doing it? sure, and we should be thankful to the One who provided the food for us and grateful to those (humans and animals) who had a hand in it. but eating for the purpose of joy? no, that makes us sick and fat.

      1. Yes, the purpose of food is for the nourishment of the body. However, that does not mean it should be its sole purpose. Finding joy in food does not cause “fat.” In my example, I used chocolate but I also find joy in going out to the barn, picking a fresh egg and eating it with a piece of homemade bread. A lot of life is spent around eating food, why shouldn’t we find joy. Why shouldn’t our food be good, delicious? What is wrong with my hubby saying, “Oh my, that is fabulous!” When I make a chicken-asparagus frittata using all ingredients we have grown or raised?
        Eating disorders and obesity are caused by a negative experience with food. Individuals using food to fulfill a negative physical, social, or emotional (or combination of any and all of these) issues. Is this wrong? Yes, an individual shouldnot use food to make themselves feel better because of a negative issue in some area of their life.
        However, my point is that we need to have, and teach our children to have, a healthy relationship with food. My home provides a place for us to come out of the weather, it provides shelter. Does that mean we should not make it comfortable and beautiful to live in?
        I want my children to love the food they are eating. I want them to have a healthy relationship with food. I want them to nourish their bodies with good, healthy food. Even health food stores sell junk food, it’s just a “healthier” version of junk food. So we can see that all people use food for more than just nourishment. Even food blogs promoting healthy eating have recipes for desserts and snacks. My favorite (and my family’s favorite and my coworkers favorite), Katie’s black bean brownies. If food’s may purpose is nourishment, these should never be made into treats right?
        But like I originally said, food is a very personal topic that is specific to each individual. They are individual choices to make. For myself and my children, I promote healthy choices with the occasional treat and hope by the time they are old enough to make their own choices, they make healthy decisions (most of the time). I want to find joy in all aspects of my life and endeavor my family and friends to the same.

        1. as i said before, enjoying your food is fine. but there is a difference between enjoying the food you are eating and eating for enjoyment.

          if you’re enjoying the food you’re eating your stomach will become full of food and you’ll (normally) stop eating; if you’re eating for joy then when would you stop? ‘no thanks, i don’t want anymore joy’, ‘ah, i couldn’t take one more bit of joy right now’, or ‘no, no, that’s too much joy’ where/when do you stop if your eating emotionally?

          usually not until you’ve made yourself sick and fat. and even then many people won’t stop and those who will, have to make huge effort to stop.

          regarding your analogy, yes you should enjoy living in your house but don’t live in your house FOR joy. what would happen if your house burnt down or you were foreclosed on?

          1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

            Sa’ada and Lisa,
            I think you’re both talking about two sides of the same coin – basically, you both believe food should be eaten as God intended, that we shouldn’t eat a box of cookies in order to drown our sorrows and SEEK happiness in the box. Lisa, you’re saying that it’s ok to enjoy our food, and of course, I agree with you. Once we’re eating something, we ought to enjoy it. If not, why bother cooking anything with a recipe or using a spice or anything? Sa’ada, you’re just saying not to look to food as a band-aid, but I don’t think you’re saying food isn’t allowed to taste good, right?

            We eat whole foods, until we’re full or just before, and if we find joy in food, we just remember that we can still be joyful when we’re finished eating, too.

            🙂 Katie

  6. Katie,
    I commend you on the thought process you share here! You’re always so good to research your topics and find the rational answer to your emotional responses.

    I would also ask, does food have to be bad to have joy in what you are eating? Do I have to eat the blue icing in order to enjoy the company I share it with? Absolutely not. I can go to a get together where there is alcohol present and not drink and still have a good time with the people there. If the food at a party is a problem, eat before you go. Then there is no pressure about what you will eat, and you only have to focus on fellowship with friends.

    Also, I have to bring up Daniel 1. He is eating from the King’s table–what could possibly be wrong with their food? Surely it was all “whole” and yet, Daniel and his friends still requested vegetables and water, and in the end, it was better for their bodies, because they were faithful to God.

    And lastly, what God calls each of us to in one family is going to be different for another. If God convicts my family to only drink water, but he is not calling your family to the same thing, does that make one of us more faithful than the other? No. He uses all sorts of things to draw us closer to him. If we judge each other on these items, we are simply setting up more obstacles between us and hindering our fellowship with one another.

    This is your conviction Katie, and I am grateful that you share your food journeys with us. There are things in my own kitchen that would not be the same had you not shared your experience. Some things I agree with you on, and some things I don’t. But, I also am more aware of the things I allow in my body b/c of the information you share.

    Thanks for all your work.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      This is what I love about writing here – I know there will be people who will disagree with me, cook differently than me, but still read and enjoy and take something away. Thanks for reading! 🙂 Katie

  7. I really enjoyed reading this! Food can become such an obsession in today’s society, for many reasons: health, vanity and cost, just for starters. As a mom of four, one with special needs, it’s not an easy feat to pull out a delicious dinner that people look forward to and appeals to everyone enough that they’ll want to eat enough to nourish their bodies appropriately.

    That said, my home isn’t a restaurant, and like every other parenting issue, we have rules. It is our jobs as parents to teach our children, and one thing we feel is our job is to teach them how to be healthy. How to eat what’s best. How to eat enough — not too little, not too much. How to enjoy vegetables and fruits. How to enjoy a treat in moderation. Diet isn’t a way to lose weight, it’s a lifestyle.

    I don’t agree that there are tantrums and problems if we limit our childrens’ choices. If there are, that’s a different issue that must be addressed, as obeying mom and dad needs to be done regardless. Are there tantrums when you say “do your homework” or “put away your dirty clothes?” If not, there aren’t tantrums about food limitations either.

    With our special needs child, we’ve found that removing man-made food items has done a world of good. Sure, it’s not a ‘true’ allergy, but intolerances are very, very common. An intolerance may not make you break out in hives, but you sure won’t feel good after. Me, I can’t tolerate red meat. I’ll be up all night, or the next day, with stomach cramps, regretting that burger or meatball, so I don’t eat red meat. My stomach thanks me for something no medical test could have told me. I’ve had people tell me that it’s not real or that I could ease my body back into it, but really, why? My not eating red meat doesn’t hurt me. I’d love a good steak but I’ll live without it. Just like my kids will live without processed foods, red 40, and preservatives.

    We try to be fairly consistent at home, but when we go out, the kids might get a treat — cotton candy at Disneyland is a big deal, part of the tradition. Will he get hyper? Definitely. Is it part of being a child, being carefree and hyper without worry? For us, yes. We know we’ll be at barbecues and dinners where it’s hard to say no — but if we really want to stick to our diet, then we do it, without worrying if others will be offended. We just do it quietly without pointing it out. My close friends know I can’t eat red meat, and those who are truly my friends typically will plan something other than red meat for dinner; I’ve got family who will still say “Bring your own chicken breast, I’m making roast beef.” Uhm, thanks. (Then while I’m there, I hear how if I just gave it a chance, they’re sure I’d be fine. I tell them maybe, but if not, do you want to come sit with me tomorrow when my head is laying on the toilet seat after hours of nausea that produces nothing and just hurts?) If we need to take something, we take something minus the red dye, minus the red meat, or minus the dairy, whatever we have a feeling won’t be addressed yet something others will still enjoy.

    In the end, life is not about food. Food is a small part of life, and if we give it too much power, our children learn to see it that way too. Moderation really is a key and we try to incorporate that. But, we’re also the weirdos that don’t vaccinate for every little illness and we believe our bodies were made to handle things much more than we give them credit for…if we treat them right!

    Enjoy your children and whatever happens, you are accountable only to them!

  8. Lisa via Facebook

    We generally follow the 80/20 rule. I know what I provide for my kids 80% of the time is good for them. The other 20% when they may be eating away from home and have to make their own choices, I don’t stress over. Most of the time now they make better choices than I would expect. I have even seen them turn down juice pouches, sodas, and brightly colored foods. I let them know how proud I am that they make good choices. It comes with time.

  9. Well said! Especially the part about the rules in faith and food being restrictive. It is actually freedom giving. But from the outside it is not seen that way. I feel that if I feed good REAL food at home and talk about the harms of artificial colors and processed foods on our body, then when in public, to avoid the hassle, looks, or arguments, just let us and the kids have whatever, then I am to me and to my kids a hypocrite. Why is it bad at home but ok in front of other people? if it is bad, isn’t it bad all the time? What message am I sending? do we only pray at home before we eat? No. We pray whenever we eat, wherever we are. Not hiding it because of what others might think. Same with our food. THe others in the world are not right. We get more joy out of our real food then we ever did out of processed food. Fruit IS a wonderful dessert and not a punishment in our house. Yes, occasionally ingesting artificial colors won’t kill you. And we occasionally do. But it is when grandma asks what is ok for their easter baskets and I specifically say no artificial colors as the only thing and there are Jelly belly jelly beans in their baskets(yes, along with the Annie’s fruit snacks and organic granola bars), but it is that little act of subversion that hurt me. The “kids need jelly beans” argument is frustrating( I know this as she said it last year) as they do not. We had jelly beans with no artificial colors for them. We weren’t “denying” them fun. After all, to us Easter is not about jelly beans and candy.

    I don’t love them more if I let them have chemical laden food when we are out. I am not a dictator about it, and yes they will make their own decisions some day, but I will educate them and feed them well for now as they are both under 5. Think of me what you will. If I am the food Nazi, then so be it. It’s because I care. Because I am informed about my food.

    (Sorry….got a bit long!!:-P

  10. You make a lot of excellent points. Why is food such an emotional thing with everyone? It is a constant battle between me and the older generation of my family and in-laws (thankfully my sisters are on the same page as me… makes life a lot easier!). I feel the need to stand my ground and my mom and mother in law (and to some extend both of my kids’ grandpas, too, but less so) feel the need to push my boundaries. I don’t believe that food should strain relationships, but who is it to say the person with the healthier diet should be the one to give ground? And therein is where the problem lies.

    But I do make a lot of concessions- I give my kids my rules, and when they are with grandma and I am not around, they get to choose whether they follow them or not. I could lecture the grandmas on my rules and berate them when they inevitably broke them, but it would only cause stress. Instead I give both of my kids (3 and 5) 3 or 4 simple rules like “one treat a day” and “only drink juice at breakfast.” They, however, are in a unique situation where they had pretty bad food allergies and recovered from them, so they have firsthand knowledge of how food can make them feel icky, and neither wants to feel that way again. Admittedly the 5 year old is better about it, but she helps remind the 3 year old (and the grandma!).

    But I also don’t believe restricting foods takes any joy out of life. You can choose HOW you approach these restrictions- whether you lecture and dictate these rules to the other authority figures in your child’s life (teacher, grandparents, etc) or you suggest and discuss and choose your battles. You can choose how you approach shopping- whistfully looking at the processed foods you know you can’t have but desperately miss, or joyfully avoiding the center aisles while you fill your cart with produce and meat from the perimeter. You can get bogged down in the drudgery of meal prep, or you can adjust it to the point where you feel a balance of providing healthy without making yourself crazy (admittedly I am still working on this last one…). But my kids’ lives are no less joyful than the lives of kids who do get to each chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese- in fact, I would venture to say that my kids lives are full of MORE joy for a number of reasons both directly and indirectly related to how we eat. They enjoy more vibrant health and recover quickly from the few illnesses they do contract. They get to see directly where about 90% of their food is grow and help with much of it. And I know for a fact that they appreciate most of the food provided for them because they help with it, either picking it from the coop/farmers market, growing it in the garden, raising the chickens, picking the apples and making applesauce… to them foods are not mysterious substances that come from the grocery store in little plastic pouches. That brings far more joy than any artificially colored otter pop (my personal nemesis and the ONE thing I say no to no matter WHAT the circumstance) ever could.

    And LASTLY (and KATIE- if you’re skimming the comments, because I know you’re busy and you get a lot of comments MAKE SURE YOU READ THIS PART!!!) Have you read the Weston A Price blog post on Nitrates? I had read other stuff and come to this conclusion myself a few months ago, but this article cemented it for me. Now if only I could find pastured but not nitrate free bacon…

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Ha! You’re funny with the capitals… 😉

      I did see that; another reader mentioned it just today, and I’m ticked! Here I thought I was doing the right thing paying boku bucks for fancy bacon…sounds like it’s almost the same as regular store bacon, when it comes down to it, although of course pastured is better. STILL! Can nothing be static?!? Arg…

      🙂 Katie

      1. Regardless of what they say, having done a blind test on my husband a few times, he gets a migraine with regular bacon, and nothing at all with the nitrate/nitrite free bacon. For us, it is worth the extra expense.

  11. Katie, lots to think about! Great dialog! This issue is something we also wrestle with at times though in general I think we’ve found a good balance for our family. I just wanted to throw in my experience with my older two kids 7, almost 6, in regards to rules, joy, stress, etc. We definitely prepare food with gusto and enjoy our food–my husband and I both love to cook and love good-tasting food! (Almost always real, traditional food.) Our kids have picked up on that. While they don’t like all the meals I prepare, they certainly do like most. My son got to choose a meal the other night, and do you know what he chose? Salad. Yes, salad. He truly loves salad. Now at a barbecue, he’ll be the first to eat a hot dog or hamburger, wolf down some chips and have that brownie for dessert…but when it comes down to the day to day, my kids really do enjoy healthy foods.
    We had a particularly interesting experience last summer when we traveled with family out of state for a big family party. There was an unusual amount of processed foods due to the nature of the weekend, and I literally felt sick by the end of the weekend…which I was not really surprised by, as I know myself. But what did surprise me was that both my older kids had had enough as well and both said they didn’t feel well and couldn’t wait to get home and have regular food again. It made me sad and happy at the same time. I was sad because I had let them down and bc of my neglect they literally felt sick. I realized that if we encounter such a situation again, I will need to be more careful and provide at least a few alternative options for my kids, for their own sake. And in hindsight, there were several very simple things I could have done that wouldn’t have bothered or offended any family in the least but would have served my kids well. But I was also happy, because my kids were learning why we eat the way we do, and they WANTED to eat the way we do.
    We also have approached food more with guidelines as opposed to rules, and I think this has helped our kids–our approach has been more about what we eat and why, rather than what we don’t eat (positive vs. negative). When we’re at a bbq or birthday party, we’ve never given our kids rules about what they cannot eat. However, we’ve noticed they used to ask us first about things they don’t normally eat, and now that they are a bit older, they don’t always ask us anymore but they seem to already approach their food choices with reason, even though we’ve never given them rules. They’ll watch other kids wolf down handfuls of candy or two pieces of cake, but they are satisfied with just 1 piece of candy or 1 piece of cake…without us telling them that’s all they can have. I find it very interesting. Now I’m sure we’ll hit glitches down the road as they continue to get older, and maybe things won’t always go so smoothly. But I am seeing how feeding my children healthfully from the start, teaching them over time to eat a wide variety of healthy foods (and believe me, as a toddler my son was PICKY!), dictating their diet (not giving in and only letting them eat what they want)–all these things have laid a good foundation for my kids. They love to eat! They love wholesome food, and they (now) love MANY wholesome foods! And they are already recognizing what is healthy and good for them and what is not. They also at young ages have self-control when it comes to sweets, and they recognize that sweets are treats and not meant to be a daily part of your diet. They can already look at a table full of desserts at a party and on their own initiative choose just one happily, though sometimes my daughter asks for half of two different desserts so she can try two things! But even that I see as a good thing–she is learning moderation. In this age where childhood obesity and obesity in general are on the rise, learning to enjoy food but with guidlines/moderation is something I want my children to learn for sure.
    And lastly, as one who grew up eating health food, in jr high/highschool when I had more freedom and was on my own more, I went through a brief season of buying my own candy, drinking sodas at events, eating junk food. But it really didn’t last long because I soon noticed that I didn’t feel well after eating much candy, I realized I really didn’t like soda so I quit drinking it, and I began to notice that junk food really didn’t taste as good as homemade food. And I drifted right back into healthy eating on my own. Both my sisters had similar experiences, and I hope this holds true for my kids too.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I’m so proud of your kids! When I see that array of desserts, I am the one who wants to eat them all! (And sometimes overindulge…okay, often overindulge!)

      Kudos to you for great parenting!
      🙂 Katie

  12. Brilliant food for thought. Thank you to everyone, especially Katie and Nicole. And I thought Hallee’s comparison to compromising other things, say behavior or morals, was a thought-starter for me. Katie, everything you said as you analyzed your approach read as if it came from me.

    I try to be positive re: many things in my life, but this food adventure has me struggling. I also go against the grain with healthcare, though even that has not created such static as the food issues. I love this blog!

    1. By the way, I thought Nicole’s main point was that we can create a bigger problem with our attitude. I didn’t take it that we should allow toxic things in our lives, but that thoughts/attitudes can be as toxic as, say, Red #40. I agree in theory, just struggle in execution.

  13. Pingback: Does Being Too Strict on Food Take the Joy out of Family Life … | Food News

  14. The Veggie Girl

    I’m a vegetarian and the rest of my family still eats meat. You can imagine how meal time looks around my house 🙂 Sometimes I stress out about how my diet will effect the times when we’re eating with extended family and friends. When someone learns I’m a vegetarian they usually become defensive about their own diet (even though I’m a veggie for health reasons and not animal rights issues ). It can be awkward, and I know it makes my husband uncomfortable sometimes as well. It’s still something I’m trying to figure out-that balance of eating the way I think is best for me and not being the weirdo at the church potluck lol.

  15. Alana of Domestic Bliss Diaries

    Thank you for this post. I want so much to change our diet to more real, whole foods. But with a hubby who insists on “normal food” and in-laws who give my son candy and other junk every time he asks for it, I feel defeated before I even can make changes. What do I do? Anyone who has suggestions can email me at Thanks!!

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      We eat lots and lots of “normal food” — just homemade versions. Tacos, chili, cornbread, hamburgers, french fries, pizza, chicken nuggets, pancakes, ETC are all on our meal rotation. I do have a post on convincing husbands:
      and I hope you’ll browse the recipes here at KS – I have lots that are really family friendly.

      You might also like a few ebooks by colleagues of mine that aim to make the switch to real food easier by mimicking conventional recipes:

      real food basics:

      Real Fast Food:

      Real Food…Real Easy!

      Good luck – you can do it, one baby step, one recipe, one vegetable at a time!
      🙂 katie

  16. Sounds like everyone is in two different camps, the ones who have food restrictions for health reasons (my child has autism and all the non-food items cause serious problems!! Along with added allergies and intolerances). Then those who choose to restrict their diets for personal/moral reasons.

    Most people have a different responses to both, those that MUST be on a restricted diet are given grace, a sympathetic look and a pat on the back that resembles the “I’m glad I’m not you!” response.

    Those that choose to abstain for any other reason are labeled, criticized and accused of damaging their children by denying them “fun.”

    Although we’ve gotten both, I have a good “excuse” for our restrictions. A wise friend told me (her nephew has severe autism), “If food restrictions are presented as an intolerance or a choice- they will always be challenged, if they are presented as allergies, they will always be honored. ”

    Providing a counter-cultural diet for a family is hard work, and reminds me of all the selfless things we do for our families that go unnoticed every day (laundry, cleaning, diapers, etc). Except that this act is usually met with much resistance from others and adds stress to our lives.

    I classify all our restricted foods as allergies, because I don’t have the extra energy to educate and convince those who are simply trying to defend their right to eat “contaminated” foods without guilt.

    In my opinion, those that resist or argue the most are doing so from a defensiveness within, not out of compassion for what is best for those who are on a special diet, especially family. This resembles more of a lack of boundaries and respect for parental authority than compassion.

    Is it worth the extra energy? I guess it depends on who it is. But, there has to be a healthy respect for personal boundaries on both sides.

    Those on restricted diets naturally get used to supplying food alternatives, or respectfully declining invitations to difficult gatherings. I don’t think anyone would be offended if a vegetarian brought their own bag lunch to a BBQ!

    This non-food additive/allergen/food-intolerance movement is gaining strength, you can now buy colorant-free candy, gluten-free, soy free, dairy free, etc. Manufacturers make what will sell, we are not alone.

  17. I can’t express just how much I appreciate your honesty, Katie.

    Sometimes I feel this struggle so much within myself that I just give in. After long, hard days sometimes cooking something from scratch just sounds way too long and difficult. Lately, there has been a lot of giving in and my husband and I feel awful. We are lazy, sluggish, not sleeping well, bad digestive issues, etc. And we’re adults! I can’t imagine how hard it is to navigate these waters with children.

    I guess the truth is, though, that if it makes you feel awful (or your children) then you probably shouldn’t eat a lot of it. People who feel terrible aren’t much fun to be around – and that definitely takes the joy out for me.

    Regardless, though, I appreciate the honesty that you present here. The reality is that this is hard and being honest about that is really significant.

  18. Great post! I think we all have to find our personal balance.

    I agree wholeheartedly with the comments that point to our *attitude and thoughts* about food having much to do with our health. There are even studies that document this fact.

    I have read two books about the French and I believe they have really healthy attitudes about eating. They don’t deny themselves any one thing, but they do eat a variety of foods and food is special to them – a huge part of their culture. They also have less obesity, less picky eating, less heart disease than in the US.

    Last weekend my family went to a cookout hosted by friends. Afterwards my husband felt so icky and commented on that fact. I reminded him that we didn’t eat like that all the time, but hot dogs, chips and Coke are standard fare for most! The “icky” feeling our kids get after overindulging in junk at Grandma’s or whatever… this is highly educational for them!

    I remember being 12 and going to my best friend’s home. I never had Coke or candy bars at home but consumed them at her house. I would always go home sluggish and depressed feeling. I quickly made the connection. Nobody had to coerce me to eat healthy foods, I learned by listening to my body.

    We want to shelter our kids from junk because we love them and want to protect them, but sometimes it’s ok for them to learn the lesson on their own 🙂

  19. Thanks so much for your honesty and walking through the difficult questions with us.
    I know people look at us like we are strange and so uptight about food. But I know we aren’t. It isn’t always fun but our food sensitivities have taught us to be more discriminating and learn more about what we eat. We have tried strict diets and have learned something new and good from each and every attempt!! Others might see our attempts as “failed” if we don’t continue them 100% but we take away something good from each change in our diet.
    My biggest piece of advice to anyone trying to control their diet more is to be patient! It takes time. I used to be a perfectionist and my ND warned me that the stress I could create by attempting to be perfect on the food changes would create more physical issues for me. But if you look at where we were 9 years ago compared to now….we have come SO far.
    I also take a less strict approach when we are out of the house. Our sensitivies are mild enough that a few indiscretions won’t cause too many issues. And each person in the family knows how much of that food item they can “get away with”.

    The other big thing to keep in mind….Kids will learn to value what you celebrate yourself!!! We don’t do Easter Egg hunts or Easter baskets for Easter but they were overjoyed by our sunrise service last Sunday. Some people see “deprivation” and others learn to enjoy the “value” of the replacement activities. (That being said, if my children would have been personally invited to an egg hunt or we happened upon one, we would not have objected to the participation. This is just not what we seek out for our Easter activities.)
    Same with Santa. We don’t celebrate Santa, but when relatives happen to give them DVDs with Santa-based movies we do not object. They watch it and we discuss it.
    It IS all in your attitude and your children will see what you value and why.
    On the flip side….they will see what you FEAR. If you choose to make these changes, do not do it out of fear!!

  20. Jenn @ Dishrag Diaries

    Hallee – You articulated my thoughts exactly… (in both of your comments). So thankful for this post and other like-minded people… I need to read this all today!!!

  21. Sherry via Facebook

    I just posted and something happen to it 🙁 what I was saying is if you make something from scratch you will be putting a good example for others… picnic’s and cookout’s are a really good time to let others see that you eat really good and that healthy can be Delish:) If your children have been eating good for a long time the junk that someone might try to give them will not even taste good to them anymore.

  22. Mike Lieberman

    Wow. Your posts have been so on point lately. I have this and the Turning read posts bookmarked as I need to re-read them again.

    These are the exact issues that my fiancee and I have been discussing lately and figuring out how to deal with when we have kids.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I was going to tell you at the red post that you’re my new favorite person 😉 — now I’m glad I get to tell you that your fiancee is a lucky gal! And you are both SMART to be talking about child-rearing before you are married. Your marriage and kids will benefit immensely!!
      🙂 Katie

  23. Such a complicated subject to try and cover in one post! Lots of food for thought.

    Where I live so many people follow different eating plans, have food intolerances and allergies that quietly skipping something at a group meal is rarely commented on. Those that make a big deal of it and try to convert others are a different matter 🙂 I think if you go to the bbq, having fed your family a healthy snack before, bringing something delicious that you all can eat to the meal and just doing the best you can while there you will have fun.

    Dialing down our stress about these things is another matter. It’s hard to not be Martha! But it is a lesson we need to learn. A silly book actually hit home for me “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” is about a girl with a gift who can taste the feelings of those who prepare the food she eats. There’s a lot going on in the story but it did help me choose to simplify my often too complicated cooking so that I became a fun host and a relaxed dinner companion.

    Whole foods can be very simple and delicious. It’s ok if we aren’t inventing new recipes all the time – delicious salads, simply roasted meats and vegetables can satisfy and leave us time to focus on each other around the table.

    Thanks for sharing your family journey with us. You always give us a lot to ponder.

  24. Zhanna via Facebook

    This whole motto of “live a little” and “eat everything in moderation” is something I used to live by until my so called healthy diet caught up with me and i started having all sorts of health issues. Turns out eating everything in moderation is a lie that will sooner or later destruct your health. All sorts of tests revealed so much about my health, what damage was done and where I stood physically. Now my household eats quality foods that are loaded with nutritional benefits. We’ve been doing this for 6 months now. When we do go out and eat processed foods, whether it’s a restaurant or bday party, we feel so sick and exhausted. Which has made realize that we’d rather eat at home and feel great then so called “live a little” and feel like crap afterwards.

  25. I believe in whole foods and I understand allergies ( I too struggle with allergies) but we have to be careful in going so far as to make it an idol and then it becomes our God instead of the True God.
    I have come to find that my family and I don’t eat junk food too often and when we do we don’t like it as much as we thought. For instance we went to my In laws for Easter and the only thing close to a veggie was the creamed corn (which corn is processed into junk food). My oldest son actually stated that he wished there was more veggies. Next time I will bringing some along. Anyway I believe in asking God to give us the wisdom to eat the very best we can without making food our religion. Organic food is quite expensive. I do make things from scratch but not every single thing we eat. It takes a lot of time to make everything from scratch. Sometimes time that could be spent serving others. If we think more about food then people then something is out of whack. Food cannot go to heaven.God put us here to serve others first. There has to be a balance.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      You are absolutely right; this site is dedicated to finding the balance. This is an old post, way back from the beginning of Kitchen Stewardship, and something I still believe. It’s a good reminder for me and others as we scratch our way to Heaven daily!

      🙂 Katie

  26. Susan via Facebook

    what i try and do is remind myself, that it is not real “food” but just a bunch of chemicals that have no nutritional value. when i think of it in terms of being a poison to my body, it helps curb the cravings. food manufacturers have to increase their profits for their shareholders, so their job is to make the foods so irresistable, so addictive so that you can’t stop eating it. after all if you had a full stomach, they wouldn’t be able to sell more, so they must make it so that you can’t stop eating it.

  27. Katie, thanks for the thoughtful post.

    This has all gotten me thinking about my brother-in-law dealing with celiac disease. Being half Greek and half southern, he was brought up to be a good guest, and never ever refuse to eat something offered by his host. Now, he finds it extremely difficult to say no, even though he knows that eating what’s offered will make him very sick. Another aspect of the same issue, maybe…

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Oh, that’s so sad, and so hard to change a lifelong habit, especially one that is so polite! I hope he can learn to explain to hosts up front so that he CAN accept what they serve, b/c it will be gluten-free.
      🙂 Katie

  28. Mollyann Hesser

    To say that food rules take the joy out of eating is like saying the 10 Commandments take the joy out of living. We all have family rules that our friends think are a drag.
    My kids, like my siblings learned at an early age to say “no thank you.” Even if the only reason to do it was to make mommy happy. They are rewarded with homemade foods including ice cream, potato chips & hot dogs. I have never heard a complaint. My oldest is 45.
    The boys, as well as the girls, can cook from scratch & all enjoy “one-upping” each other with some new they’ve made at home. Oh, and they all have food rules, in their families, too!

  29. Viveca from

    This is a tough one for me. I am surrounded by problem eaters. First my mother who cannot physically tolerate MSG or any preservatives. Because of her we seldom ate out (but ate delicious food at home!) Then I married mom – in the food-restriction dept. Michael cannot tolerate preservatives OR lactose. He either gets an immediate migraine or starts throwing up! Once again, we eat well at home.

    So — it is hard for us to eat with friends or family that don’t understand the severity of our restrictions. We tend to invite people over to eat. One time I even hosted a pot-luck dinner called “Bring whatever it is you think you can eat!”

    Our latest challenge was to cut way back on sugar. I am now pathological about reading labels. Never realized how much sugar was put into everything! We’ve lost a lot of weight just be saving “stuff with sugar” for special vs. everyday occasions.


  30. I didn’t want to have that moment where my kids suddenly realize that fake food is delicious, so we are very up front with them about it. We do watch tv (not very crunchy mama of me, I know!) in small doses, because I want my kids to be able to engage the culture, and I don’t want them to be overwhelmed and turn into little punks when they are five or six.
    We talk often in our house about how people have different mommies and that means they can eat things that aren’t food (their Daddy even has a different mommy, so at parties he can eat the hamburgers or whatever while we go veg…), or say words we don’t say (omg!).
    I have a few things that we just won’t knowingly eat, like hydrogenated oils, food that contains lots of artificial coloring, or most meat. But we bring our own treats along (I even jockeyed to be allowed to bring the ham which wasn’t too hard, considering how delicious it tastes compared to grocery store ham), and always remain very, very clear that we are enjoying time with our family and that is the most important thing, whether we eat the salad dressing with Red 40 in it or not. There is usually something we can eat, some common ground to be found, so we focus on that rather than on all the things we aren’t sharing.
    I will also say I don’t stress about cooking for groups (I’ve been told before that I have the spiritual gift of food) so that part is much easier for me.

  31. Interesting read as God has brought our own family to a more “whole foods” diet. Just something I noticed in reading your post and some of the comments is there seems to be a lack of grace being applied. When we started down this road, I quickly realized that this area, just like any other area, could become an idol. I know that is a strong word and I am not talking to the people with allergies/intolerances. I am talking about not wanting to gather with other people or losing relationships over food because they are serving processed foods. Jesus was criticized for hanging out with people that did not uphold the Jewish laws, but he went there because God loves all people. He met them where they were. I believe this is an example to follow. It does not mean you give into the world, but it does not mean to alienate yourself completely from everybody, including processed food eaters. To me, we can become “holier than thou” and that is not where God wants us. We are striving for an 80/20 balance and it seems to be working. We are still able to go to dinners and eat out when invited. I would hate to have missed the great conversations that came out of those gatherings because I was consumed with worrying about the food that was being offered.

    1. Stacy Makes Cents

      Karen, I could not have said it any better. Your comment is 100% how I feel.
      Those out there who feel that it’s okay to stay away from family events just because of what is being served must have a stronger will than I do. One day I’m afraid they’ll be sorry they skipped out on all those family activities… can’t get that time back with your family. 🙁
      God gives us grace when we need it…and I have a hard time thinking he would want us to create problems with our family because of a food issue.
      Take care of your family at home….pray over your food elsewhere. 🙂

      1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship


        I hope we never miss anything b/c of food…other than the food. 🙂 Katie

  32. Lori via Facebook

    my boys have severe food allergies, it even causes anaphylactic reaction to my younger one. I feed them ahead of time, bring them Lara bars, and something they can eat. I do allow them one serving of what is available, but still steer them away from severe food allergies. Read Cultured food for Life, she has a book and facebook. I had one allergy to lactose years ago, but now have pages of food allergies, she suggests healing the gut which has minimized my severe esophagus problems. I do find I am able to tolerate more foods~

  33. Thank you for covering this topic. I find the social aspects to be by far the most difficult part of following a healthy diet.

  34. Besides eating clean, wholesome quality foods, working out is a true way to boost your energy. Our bodies NEED to move in a purposeful cardiovascular way. Chasing after littles is not the same.

    Just thought I’d throw that out there, and please check your vitamin D and B12 levels. I had a severe deficiency 2 years ago much to my surprise after a routine lab check at my primary Dr.

    After 50,000 IU of D3 for 3 mos and then a few mos on OTC, the pain that had been plaguing me from the hips down each night was gone! I had dealt with it about 3 years prior to this. I had just assumed it was due to my MS (dx 2007)and that there was nothing I could do about it.

    I am now working out daily, and it’s making a big difference for me. If I can do it…..!

  35. Faith via Facebook

    I hear you, Katie! I have found it is more of a “joy killer” for my husband, since he has tasted and lived the “dark side” (as he jokingly calls the SAD diet). He knows that the changes we have made and the way we eat now make him feel WAY better than he ever felt eating the SAD, but he is still tempted and gives in to the candy sitting on the table at Grandma’s at Easter or the hot dogs at the church fellowship and always regrets it later! My 11 month old doesn’t know any different and, with lots of diligence, won’t know any different!

  36. I just want to thank you for all you have shared of your personal family struggles with food. It is very helpful for those of us striving to take our healthy way of eating to the next logical level.

    Since reading your dye free experiences we have removed dye from our 12 yo daughter’s diet and it is amazing the difference it has made. She has always been a sweet and loving child, but with mood swings and lately sleeping issues. Since being dye free she is sleeping better and her mood has leveled out. We know it is because of the dye since she was at a friends house and dyed Easter eggs, well, that night she had a full blown tantrum with tears and all. Next morning she came to us, apologized and said she was never going near dye again.

    Again, thank you for being such an inspiration. Remember, there will always be struggles with grandparents, but there is nothing that can’t be resolved when love is in the foreground of the relationship.

  37. Dacia via Facebook

    Oh man this is great, just what I needed after Easter. What will it take to understand that giving kids whatever they want or even ourselves eating whatever we want all the time is not loving! What is best for us in the long run is most important. 80/20 right?

  38. My ADD would not let me finish this post…..that said, food restrictions took the joy out of my childhood and coupled with the issues surrounding a single parent household and depression, created an eating disorder in my life.

    We eat good, quality whole foods at home. If we choose to go to an event, I relax about it. If it’s a holiday or birthday, we eat off plan. I figure between holidays, birthdays and events it adds up to 50 days a year. If we are eating well at home the other 315 then it works for us.

  39. Rebecca via Facebook

    I used to agree but lately I almost rather the fight about my daughter not eatting what the family is eatting then the two days of tears when we get home from the sugar and food coloring overload. We where eatting only whole food for months but when I got pregnate we had a huge backslide, let me tell you its not fun digging out of, no one has the tastebuds for good food and we are all cranky from eatting to many chemicals. Once you cut all the junk out you relize how much it affects their behavior.

  40. “…and for our efforts, our children throw tantrums; our extended families are afraid to eat with our kids; we are so stressed about food choices that our kids hoard and sneak to get the foods that taste good to them; and WE suffer real, physical consequences from all the stress. ”

    Nichole’s example of what happens is not the case for us. My kids are younger and we’ve been doing Gaps for almost 2 years, so maybe they are less prone to these things (they have plenty of tantrums for other reasons, of course). I do get some nagging from extended family sometimes, but usually only people who would critique every choice I make regardless of whether it related to food (religion, homeschooling, public schooling, etc.) Sometimes I don’t have the energy to deal with this, so I avoid the events. Like I said though, these people drain me anyway.

    I definitely question the energy it all takes in general (maybe if I followed the clean eating myself instead of cheating when my kids aren’t around I’d have the energy…). If we didn’t have severe consequences when we get lax, I would never have stuck with it this far. I am almost glad for the ‘reasons’ to stick with it. It’s a lot of work, which makes me make that my priority rather than something else (like cloth diapering, volunteering, etc). And my attitude is one of survival/grumbling not of joy and enjoyment of the challenge.

    I do think we occasionally miss out on some spontaneous extended family outings because we need time to prepare and plan our food. But sometimes you can still go and sacrifice taste instead of health (cold organic hot dogs, and baby carrots for lunch). And sometimes it’s a good excuse to skip an event we didn’t want to attend anyway.

    I guess i would compare it to having unpopular standards for other things too. If we are strict with what tv/movies our kids can watch, that makes life harder and can bring criticism and conflict from family members, and stress when weighing which events to attend. But we wouldn’t relax our moral standards because it was difficult/stressful, so I shouldn’t cave about food because of what other people think, or to make life easier for myself. Though I definitely do sometimes, even when I see the consequences vividly.

    It is also expensive because you miss out on food people are serving for free, and the options we bring for ourselves are often pricey, even if simple. Although eating Gaps is much more expensive than just eating a whole foods healthy diet.

    I definitely weigh these things often. I would be back to packaged frozen meals in a second if I didn’t have to stick to the healthy diet, but the health it provides for my kids (and slowly, myself as well) keeps us going.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Good for you to do what’s best for your kids! Sometimes I almost wish we had “real” food restrictions, just so I didn’t have to make the call on the okay compromise, b/c then there wouldn’t be any. But…tricky…

      🙂 Katie

  41. Lori via Facebook

    If it’s not medically necessary, I say, we all need to live a bit. I don’t want to live such an extreme life or eat an extreme diet for the same reasons your husband listed. I want to be able to order pizza every now and then and not feel like I am hurting my family. The bulk of our diet is great, scattered with Easter candy and eating out or with friends! Our bodies are amazingly resilient! The stress we put on ourselves probably does more harm that the occasional junk food.

  42. Katie, what a heartfelt post. I think it is very powerful for you to share how you realize that you have progress to make in being joyful in food preparation. I agree that it can be hard to explain to others your food choices because people end up feeling like you are “judging” them for not making the same choices. I agree with the idea of bringing a healthy option to a potluck or other gathering, and being flexible with what is served. We go to quite a few church gatherings and often it is hard to find a lot of healthy options (other than the salad). I usually bring a vegetarian dish (we are not vegetarian) and I always have someone tell me how glad they are that I brought something they could eat!!! I think you are doing the right thing–lead by example, bring something for people to try that they will enjoy, and let that do the talking.

    This post is a great reminder though to bring back the JOY to cooking and eating.

  43. Really nice reflections, Katie.
    I am SO in agreement with you that it’s the culture that is so screwed up and that our being counter cultural is just getting back to basics.
    I too struggle with stress over preparing real food. (Especially now that I am in my first trimester with #7 and just don’t feel like thinking about food.)
    One lesson I have learned is that with real food, you can keep it simple. It doesn’t have to be a “grain free” or “paleo” version of some other packaged poison food that we’re copying. We can have delicious meat, delicious vegetables, delicious fruit and what not, just getting quality ingredients and letting them speak for themselves. I find there is a lot more joy in eating when I can let the stress go and just embrace simplicity. We are also trying to teach our children the joy of simple living, by having less stuff in general, so it all fits in well together.
    Your point about attitude is very well taken. Let’s be sure to have joy at our table and our kids will associate family table and real, nourishing food with love and joy. It’s important to have occasional treats as well. (And they certainly don’t need to include red dye.)
    Personally I don’t sweat it when we’re out and about. We have no true food allergies, and we eat right at home so I have the leeway for my kids. We talk about our food choices and why they may be different from others’ – and a lot of times, they will choose wisely, but a lot of times they don’t – but I still win because they know it’s “junk.”
    One last thought about food and stress. It is so easy to get depressed when you try the best you can and there are still toxins in our environment, chem trails dropping who knows what on our home grown produce, not to mention all the atrocities being perpetrated against food freedom, and I wonder “what if we aren’t allowed access to real food at all, eventually? what if we’re forced to take pharmaceuticals and undergo needless radiation? what if all herbs are outlawed?” And the answer is, food is not our Saviour. Christ is. We should live the best we CAN on earth (emphasis on the CAN) but as far as bodily suffering goes, we are certainly called to offer that up and as a Catholic we have meaning in our sufferings. So let’s also not forget to teach our children that getting ill is not the worst thing in the world. There are many saints who became so through physical suffering. 🙂

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Thank you so much for that reminder – I do get worried about kids getting sick, but yes, yes, …let them be saints! I would have much more joy about a priest, nun, or martyr in the family than a nutritionist…

      Blessings, Katie

  44. Hi I really love your words it certainly would be easier to grab something of the grocery self in a foggy bliss never despising that can of tomatoes you just picked up has five ingredisnts! My son has allergies and I have been careful but when he got oral allergy syndrome I really started looking at this issue. Last year I got sick and it looked food related. It was not but was autoimmune. I know try to make Everything! It is hard I am a divorced single working full time parent but I do it. Yes my son has golden oreos once a week but mostly not store bought. Lost a best friend this
    year. Mostly because I didn’t want to eat out and if we did I was very choosey about what..I have people feel bad for us…I feel better our health is better and I don’t feel I should apologise for caring for my son’s health. It is hard but there are a lot of us that need to take hard look at what we are eating and not just blindly toss that can of “tomatoes” in our shopping cart!

  45. via Facebook

    I hear your concerns here, it really is a dilemma. We work so hard to keep junk out of our kids diets so its very hard when its right in front of them.

  46. Whenever we go to a church potluck, or similar, we always bring a side dish like a main dish salad–something full of healthy foods that would be satisfactory as a main dish, if what’s being offered just won’t do. I have some dietary restrictions that can be difficult or embarrassing to explain, but this practice (and a couple rules like eating healthy food first) has helped us through many a cookout, potluck, etc, with joy. I think you’re on the right track there!

  47. Megan via Facebook

    What is good health without being able to enjoy a cookout with friends? To me, sometimes its worth eating some junk. I understand trying to make food from scratch for a crowd, totally overwhelming!

  48. When it comes to ‘at home’ stuff, my rules are my rules. We eat what I buy & prepare, there are several options for healthful snacks and ‘grazing” foods, and a teeny amount of compromise foods. (a good brand of store bought hummus for example).

    When we are out, at a friend’s or otherwise…I really don’t set many guidelines. My kids (8 & 6) have come to learn what they like, what a treat is and how the foods make them feel later. My 6 year old has been known to try a lollipop and give it back to me quietly because it is too sweet. My 8 year old has been known to tank up on juice boxes and feel lousy later, and she tells me when we get home that she thinks she had too much juice.

    It isn’t a perfect system, but it usually works, and just like anything else in life, our kids aren’t going to figure what does and doesn’t work for them in life without letting them try a little freedom to choose, and much like the end of the day dinner table conversations, following up the time out with discussions about what good choices were made and which ones could have been better, and how each made them feel.

    And if no “food” lessons are learned, that is fine too. Food and attitudes about it, socialization around it are lessons too.

  49. Hallee the Homemaker

    This post brings up a lot of good, thought provoking questions. I had a similar conversation with someone last night about kids and whole foods. I wish everyone understood about nutrition and whole food choices — it would certainly make pot lucks easier to endure as a family. Our diet is even more strict, because on top of a whole food diet, we follow a Levitical diet — not really easy to do in a state where they put bacon on everything or ham in everything.

    Good questions…do we conform? How does this parallel with, say, a Christian walk? Do you allow compromise with our sinful world so that your children are less stressed and happier with conforming? Should we allow them to watch a questionable show at their grandparents’ house while they eat Twinkies and drink Dr. Pepper?

    And I’m not saying that allowing room to compromise with a diet is sinful or even wrong. It just came to me as I was typing that I think that it’s a good analogy.


    1. Hallee the Homemaker

      And I want to add that I’m not saying that it’s comparable to sin. Nor am I saying that it’s a strict, “You’re wrong if you do…”

      I dropped my daughter off at McDonalds this morning for a youth breakfast with money to buy breakfast. My kids also eat whatever they want to eat at my parents’ house and my husband’s parents’ house (provided no pork or other non-Levitical foods are offered). It was just an analogy I made in my mind as I was reading then typing.

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