Once a parent or caretaker has decided to concentrate on a nourishing (healthy) lifestyle for a child, they are quickly faced with how strict they should become. At different times in my motherhood years, I’ve made different decisions based on circumstances and needs of my child(ren).
While I won’t pretend to know the answer for everyone, there are a couple considerations I walk myself through when making a decision on how strict to be. But before we go into those considerations, a brief word about healthy diets.
What is a healthy diet for children?
I am a firm believer in traditional “healthy” or nourishing diets. I don’t try to put my children on a low-carb diet, a raw food diet, or (heaven forbid) a low fat diet. I feel that children need not only adequate calories, but they also need adequate foods from all food groups. Often when parents are having success on their own food plan, they force their children to strictly follow it as well, which may not always be in the best interest of children. I aim to have a very satisfying diet for my children so that they aren’t craving needed calories, fat, protein or carbohydrates. Their meals are full of grassfed and organic meats, produce, whole grains (and white rice), and plenty of traditional fats – like pastured butter, olive oil, and home-rendered animal fats.
When a child is well nourished, they are less likely to be consumed with cravings for junk food, and that’s true for adults too!
On to a couple of considerations to think through:
How often is my child offered unhealthy food?
Is your child offered unhealthy birthday cake once or twice a year? Then consuming it wouldn’t have a big impact on their health in my opinion (as long as they didn’t have special needs such as allergies, etc.) But if your child is being offered very unhealthy lunches everyday at school, plus going to many birthday parties, school activities, and church activities that involve junk food, we have another situation on our hands. Junk food can be very prevalent in some children’s lives, and could lead to an unhealthy balance in their diet on a regular basis. In that case, I would say the most important step would be packing a nourishing lunch for the child, and then from there deciding what things to cut out from other events.
What are my child’s current needs?
There have been times when I have been very purist in my child’s diet as we worked to heal some digestive issues that simply had to be addressed. I love what Natasha Cambell-Mcbride in a interview once, where she said the point of her diet (called the GAPS diet) was for it to be a lifelong plan, but that it would help heal the gut so that children (or adults) could have junk food occasionally without it causing problems for them. Now that my child’s digestive system is much less sensitive, she can enjoy more treats off her daily diet without it causing issues for her.
How stressful is it on my child to avoid the food that everyone else is enjoying?
There was a timeframe (in all history past) when any food served was simply “real food” – even if it was a treat. Not so anymore. I personally believe that GMO foods are quite caustic to the body, and would happily help my children avoid them at all times. I also think that a wide variety of food products are not only not very tasty, but damaging to health. I still love my treats; I just prefer them to be made with quality ingredients now.
However, as my oldest has gotten older, I’ve realized that it can cause a real stress on her to force her to never eat the same as everyone else. And not only is that sad for me as her parent, but I see how it can also create an unhealthy longing in a child who just wants to eat “like everyone else”. Now, a while back we found out that she was reacting very badly to eggs, and gluten and some beans, and if she is ever exposed to those, she ends up with a stomachache. So we have some real food restrictions that have to be considered.
But foods are often served that she can have (including allergy friendly “junk” food). So when it is possible, I have let her enjoy those treats, even though they don’t line up with my “food convictions”. This has been a very helpful compromise for us.
One example is when we were at a family wedding and some of us got together for a movie night soon after. There were piles of candy. She was simply thrilled to pieces that I allowed her a somewhat modest serving of the candy that fulfilled her no-gluten, no-dairy criteria. If I had told her “no way”, she would have been miserable the rest of the night watching her cousins chomp down on the forbidden candy.
And guess what? Misery is not good for your health.
So in the end, concentrating on your child’s three main meals being very nourishing and satisfying is priority number one. From there, you can balance out how strict to be as you consider how often your child is offered unhealthy food, what their current needs are, and what their emotional needs are.