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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

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

  1. Rachel | Approaching Home

    This is STILL one of my favorite posts. I have basically decided that for us, when we are out of the home, my rules no longer apply. Although I do LIMIT sweets when we are at grandmas, etc.

    We do not have any health issues though.

    Thanks for your thoughts!

  2. I am more concerned with the cleanliness of food than what is in the food. I am shocked at the eating establishments that do not require the food handlers to wear gloves. I wear gloves when preparing food in my own home.Can’t imagine working with salads and using bare hands to toss lettuce and veggies.

  3. Thanks so much for tackling this topic and letting us look at how you are dealing with this within your family! Your posts are very thoughtful and helpful and I appreciate you so much. You’re right, attitude is so important and I really work on that within myself. I am disturbed by how many commenters are stressing the need to compromise on foods that are really affecting the health and behavior of our children! I understand the concept of 80-20, but I think that it smacks of the relativism that is plaguing society today and we have to acknowledge that, while compromise and grace can be very good things, there are some instances where it isn’t appropriate and that it is OK to stand our ground where it really matters and we can do it without hurting our relationships.

    I think of someone who realizes that they don’t like they way they feel or behave when they drink alcohol. They may choose to deal with it by choosing not to be around anyone else who is drinking because they don’t want that temptation there. If so, then their family and friends need to accept that and find ways to spend time with them when there isn’t any alcohol present. After all, getting together should be about the fellowship and relationships, not about what you’re drinking at the time. Maybe at some point they feel like they can be around the alcohol but just not partake. They might even bring their own water or smoothies to drink instead. Their family and friends should accept that they are there to visit and spend time together but they aren’t going to partake. It isn’t a judgment on those who are drinking, it’s just taking care of themselves in the way they need to. Most people (except for those in denial about their own alcohol problems) would not fault someone for taking care of themselves in this way. They even (especially) understand when someone chooses to forgo alcohol for religious reasons. Now, substitute unhealthy food for alcohol there. Shouldn’t all of that still apply? Shouldn’t people be respectful of someone who chooses not to eat a certain way because it causes them to feel bad or have health problems or for religious or moral or ethical reasons? It doesn’t have to break down your relationships with extended family and friends. You should just be able to say that you’re eating a certain way and would prefer to eat at home beforehand or bring your own food or whatever, but you would still love to spend time together. It just doesn’t have to be centered around food.

  4. I have had to balance the desire to only have real, healthy, homemade food with the fact that I don’t really have time to do it all. We were ending up with nothing to eat! So, I compromise and buy the crackers and bread (that meet my standards), loosen up a little on the meat (so it can fit in the budget), and keep some canned beans in the house (because I WILL forget to soak and cook them ahead of time). I read an interesting article recently about what the author calls “orthorexia nervosa”: when you become so obsessed with your eating habits that it becomes an eating disorder. It gave me more peace about loosening up.

    Our particular challenge is that we do foster care, so not only are the kids subjected to the trauma of moving into a new, unknown home, they don’t even have the familiarity of food they are used to. But since it generally is more work, and they are TEENAGERS, I make sure I am available to prepare every meal and snack, at least until they get comfortable with what is available. They are always surprised at how good tasting and satisfying something “boring” and healthy can be, even if “apple and peanut butter” does take longer than “bag of chips”..

  5. Brandis via Facebook

    That is a really good comment- thanks for sharing! I stopped reading them when it got really long so I’m glad you pointed it out, otherwise I would have missed it. It’s sage advice, because we can’t keep regulating what our kids eat as they age.

  6. Megan via Facebook

    I also like the comment about attitude- how the only time the children were bothered was when people kept saying how bad they felt for them, as though feeding them real, whole food (or food they aren’t allergic to, for that matter) is somehow depriving them!

  7. Thanks for writing this – I so identify. My family of 5 has been on the GAPS diet for over 2 years now. We’re quite comfortable with our way of eating but the social issues still confound me at times. However, we just got home from a lovely family get-together and felt that food wasn’t an issue at all. I feel the only times my children feel deprived are when others harp on about how bad they feel for them. I believe you can do so much with your attitude towards food. It’s so nice to read about other families for whom a dollop of local, raw honey is a treat. 🙂 The older relatives on our visit couldn’t get over what wonderful eaters my children are – how they devour fruit. Thanks again for this post. I like to think that we are quietly setting a good example and sharing the idea that wholesome eating doesn’t have to be painful or deprivation. Keep it up!

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  9. I appreciate this post, and the comments. It’s a hard line to walk, deciding what is best while maintaining grace toward others. Christ Himself ate with sinners, so there must be a way! Perhaps you’ve addressed this, but I struggle with the Gaps/Paleo/Gluten-free line of thinking since bread is so highly thought of and spoken of in Scripture. Doesn’t making bread a “bad” (unhealthy) food detract from the teaching of God’s Son being the “Bread of Life”. It just seems that it breaks down the analogy…

    1. You pose a really good question and one that just crossed my mind the other day. Any responses yet?

    2. One response to your questions about wheat and the bible is that the wheat of our day is nothing like the wheat of bible times. Our industrial food system has become a system focused on investor return and profits without an eye toward wholesomeness. Wheat has been hybridized and so changed from how it was originally created. A great book on this subject is “Wheat Belly” by Dr. William Davis. He has the science behind that claim in his book.

    3. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      You’re right, not the first person who’s asked – I addressed some of the issues here:

      But basically, the thought is that we’ve altered grain (wheat in particular) SO much since Biblical times that it’s almost not even the same question. The bread we eat today isn’t the bread God intended.
      But I know…I’d rather eat bread and celebrate the Bread of Life, too!
      🙂 Katie

    4. That’s one thing I’ve been pondering a lot the past few months. I agree with Cynthia that the wheat of today affects our bodies differently. However, I don’t think that just giving up grains or gluten is a good long-term solution. Our food supply is going to keep being messed with. Do we just keep eliminating foods from our diet as they are genetically altered and otherwise made unhealthy? I don’t think so. I think a better solution is to fight against the contamination of our food supply, and to do our best to purchase foods that we know are still healthy. A free market will respond to the demand of consumers! Organic spelt and kamut I’ve read are typically easier to digest than the standard hybridized wheat, so I’ve been trying to use those more and not use as much wheat.

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  11. Interesting post! I have several times over the years tried very hard to limit the foods my kids ate – completely avoiding artificial colors and HFCS. It never works. We gave up artificial colors for Lent as well, but it didn’t work. Why? Because I can’t control what they eat at school, church, sports, etc AND the medicine my boys take each day has artificial colors in it. I feel like it is a losing battle.

    So we have tried our best to educate our kids about the harm of artificial colors and I will not bring them into my home (except for medicine which I can’t control), but I can’t stress about what happens elsewhere. As my 9-year old put it at the beginning of Lent – “well then I am going to eat as much artificial coloring at school as I can each day!”. It is a losing battle and I can’t control them when they are away from me. I also can’t stress myself out trying.

  12. Dreena Tischler

    So many comments – why am I chiming in?

    I have teens and toddlers, so both ends of the spectrum. My goal is to educate both my kids and others. Older folks (and I’m 53 myself) don’t understand what is different. Most of the food (even processed) that I ate as a child was not artificially colored; most of it didn’t contain added sugars. Sometimes just explaining that the Hamburger Helper of their parenthood was different than ours really helps.

    That said, I do raise my kids differently. Once entering the grocery store, I said to my weepy, stressed 2 year old, “you can pick out any treat you want.” He looked at me in wonder and said, “Oh, mommy, I want strawberries!” People around us looked shocked. I wasn’t — they weren’t in season — it was a treat! I think they were sour and green but the three littles ate them any way and without sugar.

    By the time they are teens, I want them to make those choices on their own. They make the best choice a lot. They are spoiled with home cooked real food and by this age, they prefer it. Which isn’t to say they don’t drink the occasional red icee or eat blue frosting. But it’s never as good as they think it will be.

    The time between toddler is teen is a time of me gradually letting go and letting them begin to take responsibility. I retain control over the important choices (one child has gluten allergies) until I’m sure they are ready for the job. The more negotiable things are the first things I let them take on. During this period I make sure they know why our “emergency meals” come from the grocery store and not a fast food place; they cook and help in the kitchen; I make eating fun, and we have a garden. If I stay positive and educate them, it’s “normal” to them. One person accused me of brain-washing them. Yep. That’s the plan. Okay not really but I want them them to have the best health I can give them so they have a good start. Soon it will be up to them. But they will be armed with information.

    Last thing – my teens know how to “balance” their plate, they know what foods have added sugar and color, they know that whole food is delicious, they believe in moderation and they understand sustainability. It was all a gentle process over years spent in the kitchen and really, that is all I can do. They are healthy and robust and love life. Their adult choices around these things remain to be seen. . .

    1. I am 57 and raised four children. My question: How did we in this country get to the place where true homecookin’, from scratch and not boxes, come to be ‘different’ than what everybody else eats? How is it NOT normal to have and serve whole foods, which is what I grew up on, raised my kids on and so did every other parent I knew. And to call feeding and educating your children about food as ‘brainwashing’? That is just to bizarre to me. Shoot, I have 4 step-children and feed them whole foods too! (Most of the time, lol) That is really typical down here in the south, but it was typical where I used to live too. It used to be just too darned expensive to do all the processed gunk. I mean really!

  13. My challenge has been transitioning to whole foods with older children. One understands and is in agreement, but the other isn’t as tolerant. She misses all the packaged foods she sees everyone else eating. (And in this case, “everyone” isn’t an exaggeration.) However, I find it funny that her friends think its neat that, in their words, I “make everything”…. 🙂 I’m seeking a good balance. Food can’t be my god – but I need to honor Him with our food choices. I struggle with a healthy balance – my more accepting child almost refuses to eat now if its not my food, as she worries about all the additives….making herself lettuce and bread sandwiches while on youth group trips, to avoid processed meats….( I didn’t know she felt so strongly, and that this would be her only food option) and my other child gets all the junk from school friends that their moms packed and they didn’t want, but she gladly eats since she doesn’t get it at home. Does anyone else have these kinds of issues?

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      What a tough spot, to have such different reactions from two sounds like older (teenage?) children! I wish I had some experience to relate, but my kids are still so young…may God bless your efforts and the peace of your home! 🙂 Katie

    2. I have a friend with two children like you are describing. One will go on a church trip and down half a dozen Mt. Dews and a box of cookies and then has trouble getting along with friends afterwards. The other knows it doesn’t feel good to get off his diet, so he has a lot more self control. It’s hard! As my kids are getting into the teenage years, my tactic is to keep spending more time with them in the kitchen, at the store, etc. and educating them about why we make the choices we do and helping them see how it affects them when they eat the junk. And I pray that they will learn to make good choices and will develop the DESIRE to make good choices. We are preparing them for adulthood and the best thing we can do at this point is to teach them how to choose well. We watch things on Netflix like Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead and discuss them. And for instances, like the lettuce sandwiches you mentioned, I would focus on equipping her to eat well in those circumstances. Maybe it means talking to those in charge about they kinds of food they are supplying or maybe it means requesting some food options she can handle or maybe it means sending a backpack of food with her to snack on between “meals.” Maybe a combination of all of these? I have found that sometimes I can influence small changes here and there by getting involved and making tiny suggestions that add up to big changes in the long run. I do VBS every summer and I started off by suggesting they serve water instead of juice as a cost saving measure. They kids didn’t balk at it like the adults predicted. 🙂 So the next summer I suggested we skip the food colorings in the snack recipes where possible. White icing tastes as good as blue icing and no one fussed. Then I suggested that we make a few whole food substitutions here and there–still keeping the cute theme to the snack, but making it healthier. And I pointed out the better behavior that resulted. Now the snacks are getting healthier and healthier and they’re teaching the kids how to make them themselves. It works!

      1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

        Wow, Samantha, I just loved hearing how your baby step changes have started to make a big impact over the years at VBS! Gives us all hope! 🙂 Katie

  14. i started cooking for restricted diets because of friends who had different needs. crohn’s, egg allergy, no sugar, dairy allergy, etc. it was always a JOY to find a recipe that i could make for them. that is how we should get JOY from food. the feeling that comes from having consideration for the needs or preferences of others.

    so, yes, family, friends, and relationships come before food. instead of expecting our relations to eat whatever we decide to make (at risk of hurting our feelings!?) we should strive to have consideration for them and their circumstances (which, believe me, you wouldn’t want to be in their place).

    1. Exactly! I have a host of weird allergies (red dye, pineapple, melons, msg) that can send me to the ER, so I am very careful with my own food. When a friend found out she was allergic to wheat, I made her almond-flour cookies. I think our joy should come in serving others; what better way to serve than to show someone their health is important to you? 🙂

  15. Well, I’m humbled to participate in such a thought provoking discussion. This topic is obviously extremely personal and intimate, and we can all be grateful to Katie for sharing her experiences so openly with all of us. One final thought: as a Roman Catholic and mother of three little ones, I too, understand the benefits of “rules and regulations.” I rest secure in the knowledge that the eternal truths handed down to us through Christ’s Church are truly worth any turmoil they may cause for us in our culture and relationships. I’m not personally willing to put such stock in nutrition, important as it may be. Here’s to the family, good meals, and the gift of grace!

  16. FOOD DOES NOT BRING JOY. Speaking as someone who struggles with food addiction, I have really had to learn that food should not be my source of joy or fun. The fellowship with friends and family at a party has to be my focus and where I will get lasting joy from, not the temporary “joy” of food. And above that, only God can give us true joy. It’s difficult in a culture where every event revolves around food (especially in the south). But teaching your family not to depend on food for joy and happiness either is the best way to move forward! Play games together instead and focus on fellowship

    1. Yes! I’ve been struggling with how to keep balance in our lives while making food changes and I think the conclusion I am coming to is that we need to change the emphasis we place on food. Take it out of the spotlight–the center ring of the circus–and put other things there (faith, family, etc.) I’m noodling thoughts about how to make the meal healthy and delicious but really minimizing its significance–let’s get lunch finished so we can move on to do this really cool thing here! It seems like my upbringing centered all of our plans about where/what we will eat. Still, when my parents are coming to visit, my mother will start naming off all of the things she wants me to cook and which restaurants they want to visit, etc. When they leave, I feel like I spent so much time cooking and cleaning up after meals that we hardly got to visit. We really wanted to play games together as a family, but with all of the meal prep and naps after eating all of that food, there wasn’t time. Again, I’m still in the thinking stages of this, but a new perspective is starting to form in my mind…

  17. This was a great post! You’ve really thought things through, and expressed them beautifully.

    I didn’t have the time to read all of the comments, but one extra thing I thought is pertinent. It might take more work to make real food fun, when brightly colored, sugary desserts are so easy on the eyes, but what if we are setting our kids up for success? I’ve found it difficult to change my eating, my husband even more so. What if, when our children are adults, they feel great, eat great, and don’t have to struggle so much with cravings and changing habits? What if, when they make unhealthy choices, they see a drastic change in their health or bodies that helps them to instantly desire healthier foods? I’m to that point now and my husband is almost there. We visited extended family for the weekend and ate their food (it was real, but didn’t include the level of green I usually eat), and I became very ill that evening. Even my 5 and 7 year olds are aware of this. They had organic, naturally colored jelly beans for Easter. After about five of them, they said, “These make my tummy feel funny.” They didn’t touch them again and I had nothing to do with it, the bowl was there waiting for them.
    Maybe, if we find a balance, we are setting our children up for eating success. My mom started me on my journey to healthy eating, and I see it as a gift. I’m hoping my kids will feel that way one day as well. The balance isn’t easy, but it’s there. I want to say so much more, but this is probably enough.

  18. Many great points, Katie. We eat well at home but I do not stress when we are at other people’s houses. I don’t want them to feel uncomfortable (or worse, unwilling) to host us because we are too “picky” when it comes to food. I’m willing to sacrifice some when it comes to relationships.

    One other point I wanted to mention. We do not have cable and only watch Netflix or movies and my kids still go to the store and see things they want. So it’s not just commercials that are creating that monster 🙂 Will be interested to see what you have to say on that later.

    1. I have to say that the single biggest thing I did to help our family’s diet is that I started shopping alone. If they went to the store with me, they were focused on what I DIDN’T buy. If I just come home with bags of wonderful food, they focus on what I DID buy. That is such a big difference! That said, now that mine are growing into teenagers, I do take them *one at a time* with me to shop on occasion and we talk about the choices I make as we shop. If they are asking for something, I have them read the ingredient list to me and see how many of the words they can pronounce. Then I try to help them come up with a healthier alternative or better choice.

  19. Katie, what is it you say about Monday Missions and other changes? Baby steps ! That’s what makes this blog different and doable.
    I thought I was being strict with our diets, but when I let my guard down (while we were out of town) we all became so sick that we had to return home days early. I don’t want that to happen again, so now I take “our food” everywhere. And yes I mean everywhere. We share it with friends and family and anyone else in the vicinity. We give things like jars of granola as gifts. When we are staying with family, I offer to make at least one meal for our hosts.
    As a result a funny thing has started happening, people are asking for the recipes or asking us to bring a certain dish. Or they call and say “We’re sick. What should I cook?” They don’t realize it yet, but they are taking their own baby steps.
    Many of those dishes come from your recipes, Katie. So take joy in the fact that you are making a difference – not just for your family, but for many others as well. And remember that backward steps are baby steps too.

  20. In January we found out my son is allergic to wheat. While our extended families have been supportive, understanding, and helpful I do feel at times like everyone feels like they have to walk on egg shells around us and I hate that. *If* that could be avoided I would avoid it.

    It is nice that our extended families usually have mostly healthy foods at our get togethers, lots of fresh fruits and veggies, made from scratch meals and desserts etc… Certainly not perfect, but nothing that ever gave me much pause either. But now… If my poor kid has a cracker it is big trouble for us. So not only do I pack his food everywhere we go, but I also watch him like a hawk. While he knows his allergies, he is still learning what he can and cannot eat. We have taught him to ask before eating anything. All this to say, I am not a fan of making everyone in our families feel uncomfortable around us when it comes to food, and I don’t like feeling stressed out about food when I should be enjoying the people around me. If it wasn’t necessary due to allergies, I would be happy to let it go. I almost didn’t go to my grandmother’s for Easter because I was so stressed about it. I’m glad we ended up going, but I have to admit, it was a bit stressful for us.

    Before all of this we ate clean at home and didn’t stress when we were at family functions. My children have always known they must ask before eating dessert and dad or I would help them make the best choice out of what was offered. 🙂

    As you’ve pointed out, balance is key! (But its hard to achieve in most areas of life.)

  21. Andrea via Facebook

    As mentioned already once you get use to healthy, I think the body just doesn’t handle the not-so-healthy options the same. DH and I comment all the time after we come back from a friend’s home where processed food was offered, how unhealthy we feel. We are trying to teach our LOs (ages 4y & 2.5y) the connections as well. DD(4) has even started turning away some of the snacks at school b/c she is starting to realize her stomach or head may hurt afterwards. We still go though, still eat some of it and enjoy the fun times with family & friends. And when we host, I try to cook from scratch as well.

  22. When it comes to food, striking a balance should not include non-food items or foods that contain toxic ingredients, as these simply are NOT foods.Red dye #40 is a chemical not a food. The purpose of food is to nourish.
    While many people may not have known sensitivities, it doesn’t make the items that we can argue as not truly food any less hazardous. Nor does it mean they don’t have a sensitivity. We had a food antibody test done, Red #40, polysorbate 80, and saccharin came back as having high antibody levels to. This means the body sees it as a threat. Now because there is no outward sign of the sensitivity, does that mean that we should still ingest it? How do you know what damaging processes might be going on in your body when eating junk, that may not be producing any overt outward symptoms?
    Balance keeps things healthy and steady. Food that God created is where the balance is.
    Trying to give leeway for unwholesome “food stuffs” is just trying to fit in with something that is absolutely abnormal to begin with.
    Staying balanced means consuming foods that promote and sustain health. Eating crap tips that scale out of balance.
    We take our foods to any function we go to. My kids aren’t any less joyful because they don’t eat garbage. They understand what the other “food” is, and if given the choice would reject it anyway. Our joy comes from living and eating the delicious foods we are meant to eat.

  23. The more I learn, the less appealing junk food is. We’re on the GAPS diet, and I really don’t miss the sweets that much; and neither do my kids, honestly! I have two children with eczema, one moderate and one severe. When I begin to see their improvement on a gut-healing diet, I don’t care about the dietary restrictions. When I see my son scratching himself raw to the point of bleeding, I will go to any length to help him feel better. I brought my own food to cook for them at our church’s Easter breakfast because it was worth it to me to keep up the diet. I imagine if you can’t visibly see and physically feel the effects of junk, you might be more lenient, but I can see it and it’s no fun! Now, that said, perhaps once his gut has had time to heal and his eczema is a mere memory (I have high hopes!), we will occasionally slurge. But even then, I would rather have a well-planned splurge of some wholesome sweetness, rather than the processed sweetness that is present at most social gatherings.

  24. This is something that I’m struggling with right now. We are on a Paleo diet and follow it strictly at home, but when we’re out, it’s a different story. We eat gluten- and sugar-filled samples at Costco and on the rare occasions we eat out, we’ll have bread. But after a sugar-filled Easter, thanks to church and friends, I have been thinking more about this. What kind of example am I setting? How can we participate in a community/friendship while on a strict diet? I’m confused about what the right thing to do is.

    1. Katie Kimball @ Kitchen Stewardship

      I’d say focus on what you CAN have when with others – enjoy fresh fruit together, for example – and skip the treats at Cosco. 😉 Sometimes it means you chat w/o eating, sometimes it means you bring the food for everyone… 🙂 Katie

      1. I don’t think I’m ready to give up my Costco treats yet (it’s what makes this diet bearable for me), but I get what you’re saying. The important thing is to focus on what you can have rather than what you can’t.

  25. Emily @ Random Recycling

    I think I will have to come back to this post often. There is so much here to digest, and is especially poignant after hosting Easter dinner as well.

    It is difficult to learn more about what has really happened to the quality of our food sources. Ignorance is bliss in one sense, but once you know about hormones in milk and meat, it’s really hard to turn a blind eye to it. Yes, it can be stressful (and potentially more expensive) to balance the need for real food with what your family expects to eat. However, I feel that the better quality food I serve to family and friends means a better quality of life down the road. It’s preventative medicine in my book.

    Now if only the grandparents were on board…

  26. Thank you for your frank and timely post!
    As we navigate our own allergies and sensitivities (gluten, eggs, tomatoes, oats, corn, and others) my husband and I often discuss this very same balance. On the one hand, a healthy attitude towards food should allow us to joy eating a meal, and gathering and sharing with others. We should enjoy the many good foods that are available to us with a sense of freedom and abundance. And we should enjoy the foods that contribute to our health, and not make ourselves sick merely for convenience, to conform to cultural norms, or for momentary satisfaction.
    On the other hand, it can be very difficult to eat away from home. It takes a lot of preparation, and sometimes courage to stick to our diet when others don’t understand.
    And when we are showing allergic symptoms when we have already eliminated dozens of foods, do we continue to eliminate more? At what point have we done enough, and we just accept that this is good enough for us, for now?
    In our family, the answer changes. Sometimes, a rash is just a rash and we will keep eating bananas or kiwis or rice until we feel we’re ready to tackle that elimination phase once again. We just can’t do everything all the time.
    In the meantime, we give ourselves grace, and really focus on our attitude. We’ve changed the way we think about food. We no longer focus on what we can’t have and we no longer eat the usual types of foods, trying to substitute. We are learning to eat a diet that centers around fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds. And it’s getting easier to find a balance. We don’t feel so deprived anymore.
    I guess we’re really embracing what’s available to us, and surrounding ourselves with people who eat like we do (not in person – that’s too hard. But online.) So we are adopting an attitude of abundance.
    Thank you again for your post today. It helps to know that we are not alone in struggling with the balance. Hang in there. I hope you find a balance that works well FOR YOU!

  27. Kristin Friesen

    I too have struggled with how to find balance with my family’s diet and enjoy food without letting it control me. One thing that has really worked for me is to focus on controlling my own domain and nothing outside of it. When we eat at home it is 100% organic or all natural with no chemical fillers, additives, or crap. My kids don’t eat treats, nor do they ask for them, because I simply don’t buy them. We eat lots and lots of organic produce, natural meats and dairy, and occasional organic whole grain breads/pasta/rice/etc. When we eat at home I am confident that I am feeding my family the best food I possibly can. I pack meals for us as often as I can – my husband packs a lunch to work and kids pack lunches to school, any time we go to the museum/zoo/etc. we bring a lunch from home. We rarely go out to restaurants to eat because they are generally not in the budget, but also because I know most of them don’t fit our dietary criteria. When we do eat out it generally consists of something quick picked up from the whole foods or local co-op deli (those are things i know are safe) or sometimes we eat at Chipotle because i feel good about their food. Any time we go to eat at a restaurant that isn’t one of those places, or when we eat at another family member’s house I know that I am giving up control of our diet by eating there. If I wanted complete control I would avoid eating at these places, but in the spirit of maintaining balance and wiggle room I just let it go. Our family has noticed our effort with food and are (very) slowly making changes of their own so I try not to be too overbearing when suggesting healthy alternatives to them. I do draw the line with certain things (like skittles and kool-aid), but each time I politely decline those types of foods our family members take note and become more aware of my desires. I think the important thing when trying to maintain balance is to realize what you can and can’t control and don’t try to control those things that are unrealistic.

  28. Katie,
    I really appreciate this thought-provoking post. One of the things I’ve thought about over the many wonderful series here on food is that, at the end of the day, I want relationships to be more important than food. Let’s be clear: in our home, we try really hard to eat a whole foods diet and artificial colors, hydrogenated oils, etc. are almost entirely eliminated. But, I really feel quite strongly that God cares about our relationships way more than what we’re eating. That “80/20” rule probably fits us pretty well, although I’ve never put how we eat into numbers. I’m open about how we eat and am happy to volunteer to bring something “real” to get-togethers, but would rather extend love to those who eat differently than we do than have them be concerned that their eating isn’t up to par. And if that occasionally means my kids eat Goldfish at their friends’ house (like today), so be it. They also ate strawberries and grapes and ate their asparagus frittata this morning for breakfast.

    As an echo of what someone said earlier, relationships before food. But they aren’t mutually exclusive. Allowing relationships to be the priority doesn’t mean we throw out what we believe is the best way to eat; it may mean that we teach and recognize that there is grace and wiggle room.

    Thanks again for your thoughtful post!

  29. Thank you so much for this! I probably lean more towards the “joy in family life” side of things.

    I might get criticized for saying this, but this posted reminded me of a situation I encountered last week. I took my husband and father-in-law (farmers) supper in the field the other night. FIL drinks DIET Mountain Dew. My almost 3 year old was absolutely ecstatic to be eating outside on the back of the tailgate with his Papaw.

    His Papaw let him have a few sips of his diet (yes, DIET) Mountain Dew and my little boy was the proudest little thing with a huge smile on his face.

    Did every terrible thing I’ve ever read about artificial sweeteners, caffeine, etc. run through my head? Absolutely. Would I have corrected ANYONE else? Without a doubt.

    But was I going to throw a fit to my sweet, loving FIL when he was sharing a special moment with his grandson? No. I can honestly say that moment in time was MORE IMPORTANT to me than what “damage” half an ounce of diet soda could do.

  30. Katie, you nailed how I am feeling about going off gluten! It really has taken the joy out of eating and cooking for me. I’m not quite sure what I’ll do if I have to keep it up past the 3 month test… but I’m thinking I’ll be praying for a lot of grace!

  31. We too follow a whole food diet and also a Levitican diet so our food restrictions are many. We eat this way for a variety of reasons, but the most prevelant and what keeps us on track (more often than not) is the food sensitivities my husband and boys have. There is an allergy to MSG, pasteurized milk and gluten. This makes for interesting dining experiences outside of the home. We too try to be realistic in the diet expectations outside of our home. It’s a delicate balance, one we find ourselves often reviewing and refining.

    Always being the one to have to ‘screen’ what my family is eating tends to get old, fast. It makes me self concious at times. I wonder if non believers look at me and are turned off by Christianity because of my perceived pickiness. I often don’t know how to handle situations where there are lots of food brought from lots of people (potlucks and the like). I do NOT wish to offend, but at the same time, we will have to live with the ramifications of any exceptions that are made, for days to come.

    I wish you luck in your endeavor and applaud you’re willingness to discuss this topic with such candor. Thank you.

  32. Pingback: Food and family… where to draw the line « The Catholic Hippie

  33. Nice, thoughtful post. I appreciated the part in Nicole’s second comment about sneaking forbidden foods. I was a sugar sneaker as a child. My oldest (almost 8) has tested food sensitivities, and she showed amazing forbearance for the first couple years. Now that she is approaching the fourth year of restrictions, even though she fully acknowledges the deleterious effects of eating those particular things, she has been caught sneaking them on occasion. She simply feels it isn’t fair that everyone around her can have certain things she cannot. And I bend over backwards to make scratch or alternative versions of things so she doesn’t feel left out. I have started relaxing the rule about once a month if I provide a homemade, organic version of the forbidden food on a Friday after school when I have all weekend to counteract the symptoms. I have noticed that the organic vs. conventional corn has dramatically less effect on her. As far as being hardcore about it goes: given the amount of work I know it takes to provide whole food meals when I have the blessing and option of being a SAHM, I can’t imagine how any family with two working parents could hope to do more than 80/20 at the very best.

  34. Sarah via Facebook

    Truthfully, this is a tough one, and I’m not sure that there is one answer, other than what you said about extending grace and trying to find balance. Some of your choice will depend on your family’s needs. Everyone has to find their own balance point where they decide that it’s not worth it to eat something. My youngest can have some gluten, but too much causes her eczema to flare badly. My good friend will spend the whole night doubled up in the bathroom if she eats even a little gluten. For my daughter, a little gluten is okay. For my friend, none of it is worth the price.

    Sometimes you simply cannot have foods. My oldest DD has a crazy reaction to red food dye, so I don’t let her have it. Period. If it’s necessary to give an explanation, I tell people that she is allergic to food dye. I don’t go into a long explanation of intolerance versus allergy versus reaction. People understand the idea of “allergic,” whereas any other explanation (in my experience) leaves people thinking that it is up for debate.

    When it’s a grey area, I make the best judgement call I can. Sometimes we eat lesser-quality food. Sometimes we bring something that I know we can have. Sometimes we just pass it up with a polite “No thanks.” Most of the time, it’s not a big deal – I’m not mean to people for offering something we don’t eat; my kids don’t (usually) fight about it or hoard food; my extended family is not scared to eat with us. When my kids are disappointed, I remind them that if we don’t get this “treat” then we will get another. (And anyway, would you rather have a warm, gooey, homemade chocolate chip cookie with Ghirardhelli chocolate, or a sucker from the bank?! My family knows what real treats taste like.)

    Zhana Mikhno makes a great point that if foods make you feel terrible then they are not treats! I couldn’t make that connection until I ate nutritional foods for a while and got used to feeling good. At that point, it became much less enticing to “treat myself” to a stomach ache, headache, mood swings, and insomnia. Again, that tipping point is going to vary from person to person. Ultimately, I’m trying to help my kids notice their bodies’ reaction to different foods so that they can make that determination for themselves.

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