Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Carnival of Natural Parenting: Food!

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let's Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


This is the food pyramid that Eloise made. She added an entire row of candy on the very bottom, under the grain group.

It is seriously apropos that the focus for submissions this month of the Carnival of Natural Parenting is on food. While I wear many hats every day and have far too many things I am interested in pursuing in my life, I actually have my degree in nutrition. Now, I throw this information out there, but don't let it fool you. I don't claim whatsoever to have any more knowledge on nutrition than someone who read a few reputable books and done a little research on the subject. While I have a fancy degree from a respected natural health university, I've never done a darn thing, professionally, with it.

My journey towards nutrition and natural health began when I was 20. I enrolled at a university to get my degree in dietetics. At that time I became active in the local natural foods co-op, sitting on the board of directors as well as working in the store part-time. I realized pretty quickly that I didn't just want to learn about nutrition, I wanted to learn about growing food. About nourishing bodies. About eating well, not just healthy.

I discovered that I needed to transfer to a different school. And not just any school-- one 2,000 miles away from everything I knew and loved. Before I left to begin the program I spent a summer working on a small, organic CSA in northwestern Wisconsin. It was there that my connection to growing food deepened.

So if you would, please, fast forward with me, to completing my degree. It was just a couple of months later that I was launched in to the completely un-planned world of becoming a mother. Any ideas I had of starting a career at that point were out the window. I decided to stay at my reliable job, albeit completely unrelated to my degree. Fast forward once again and you have me at the present day. Two kids and now a stay-at-home mama for four years. Still haven't worked a day in my field. At this point, my level of retention from the three quarters I spent in physiology and anatomy is just about zilch.

Now, though? I use my nutrition knowledge to nourish my family. It's not too difficult, though. The basics of what I learned in school are the basics of what I (try to) apply to my family's dinners. Whole foods. The closer the food is to it's whole state, the better. This isn't to say we don't eat junk, because believe me, we do, but the focus is on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, some meat, some meat alternatives. There is really no types of food we don't eat. For 12 years I was a vegetarian, then I craved meat like crazy while pregnant with my now six year old. I started eating meat then and haven't looked back, unfortunately. I wish I wasn't so dependent on meat. It was much easier to give it up when I was a head-strong 15 year old and not a lazy 32 year old. I am also not currently eating soy, which provides a bit of a challenge in being a vegetarian/vegan.

Recently I completed an elimination diet, a feat which I am fairly proud of. It was an incredible challenge but definitely re-connected me to my roots of whole foods. The other thing I discovered when I did the elimination diet was that I am sensitive to gluten and soy, so I have been trying to avoid those two things as much as possible.I began documenting the 28 day journey HERE, so please feel free to read through those posts if you want an in-depth look at how the elimination diet looks in real life!

My trusty blendtec, guiding me through the rocky waters of my elimination diet.

On and off over the past several years I have waxed and waned on my fervor towards cooking and eating. I won't lie, eating a whole foods based diet is a lot of work. You don't just open a box and plop your meal on to a plate and call it good. No, there is lots of shopping, spending money, preparing and cooking that goes in to it. So depending on how hectic life is on any given day our dinner may look more like a jazzed up box of Annies' mac-n-cheese than a fancy salad or a plate of brown rice, chicken and vegetables with sauce.

I talk with my kids quite a bit about healthy food choices. They know the benefits of eating fruits and vegetables. I have started talking to my girls about balanced diets and the food pyramid. They know that the reason they don't get candy and junk food all of the time is because it can make them sick. It's really quite fun to pass on my love of food and nutrition to them. One of my favorite ways to serve them food is to use a tray with four small compartments. I try to add a protein, grain, fruit and vegetable to it each time I serve it to them. I don't necessarily sit down and walk them through everything on their tray, but I hope that seeing food in this way time and time again will make it a regular way of eating for them. And when they're bigger and off making their own food choices, they will gravitate towards the food choices I made for them when they were young. By and large, that's exactly what I have done myself. My parents never shoved the ideas of nutrition down my throat (pun maybe sorta intended) but they always chose foods like wheat bread over white bread. Whole grain cereals over sugary cereals. Soda was a special treat, not an every day thing. Those are the ideas that I always carried with me in the back of my mind, even when I went through my teenage years feeding off of skittles for lunch.

My kids often ask to help me out in the kitchen and this is the one area I struggle with. I hate wasting food. I hate messes in a small kitchen. I want to teach them how to cook, but my perfectionist nature, at least in that area, always seems to rear its ugly head. I'm working on it. Eloise wants to stir and dump and do everything she can. Hopefully I'm not dampening her spirit too much every time I curse through my teeth at her three year old skills. I would love any advice anyone has to offer on care-free cooking with kids!

This is what happened last time Eloise tried helping me crack eggs. Off of the counter, down the dishwasher, on to the tiled floor.

The only thing that's been lacking, so far, with teaching my kids about food is the real connection to the earth. How food grows. As kids they can start with planting seeds and watching them grow. As they get older the talk will turn more towards the effects our food choices have on the planet as a whole. Now that we finally (finally!) live in a house with space to grow food, we're sloooowly getting our feet wet. Unfortunately, our busy summers leave little time for adequately tending to a garden. When the kids are older we'll be able to do more of it together.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated July 13 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I definitely think that putting healthy foods in front of our kids will help them learn to make healthier choices. One thing that I've been trying to do as well is to actually talk about our food choices. Kieran now knows there are things that help our bodies feel good, and things that will make us feel tired or yucky if eaten in excess. It's a work in progress :)

  2. I grew my own herbs the last two summers, but my almost-1-year old isn't really willing to sit and watch mama garden, so I too have plans of gardening when my kids are older.
    As far as cooking goes, maybe she could do things like hand you measuring cups and spoons instead of cracking eggs? Not quite as exciting for her, but still helpful, and lots less messy for you!

  3. I hate messes and wasting food, too, but I know that what my son is learning from experimentation is far more valuable than that. My grandma grew up during the depression so her mother wouldn't let her help cook, and so when she got married she had no idea how to cook. With my son, if he makes too much mess with something (like spills a bunch of flour while scooping), then I take it from him and either do the rest myself or guide his hand. If there is something he can do well, I definitely let him do that part.

  4. That's so cool. I didn't know that was your background! How fun you're finding ways to incorporate it into your life now.

    " Those are the ideas that I always carried with me in the back of my mind, even when I went through my teenage years feeding off of skittles for lunch."

    I think your idea that kids carry with them the lessons their parents taught, even when they're apparently rebelling, is so calming for parents of older kids. I know I'd probably feel like despairing during my son's teenage years if he ate like that, but it's nice to think we all work through it and out the other side.

    As far as mess. Ugh. With you there. I'm trying SO HARD to stop being so anal about that sort of thing. But it's hard. The best I can do is to choose things for him to help with that are not quite as "precious" to me, and bring it down onto the floor so there's less chance of dropping and spilling.

  5. I'm intrigued by the idea of growing my own food, but I have a black thumb and a fear of worms and other wiggly things. I do keep saying I'll do it one day though.

    As for advice on care-free cooking with a three year old -- you could have her press buttons (like on a food processor) or have her hand you ingredients. Maybe she could be in charge of letting you know when the timer goes off or something. Of course, I have a one year old so these ideas are untested at this time.

  6. Finally getting back to comment, sorry so late! I am with you all too with trying to Let It Go when it comes to cooking. Emma enjoys dumping presmeasured ingredients and stirring, and is working on cracking eggs, too, though I cringe every time. I am sure she could do more than I let her and I just need to give her more chances to shine (and learn!). I also struggle with managing my three girls in the kitchen at the same time -- I never have enough jobs for them and end up making everyone leave because I am too frustrated!

    I did hear a great tip from the SteadyMom blog (http://www.steadymom.com/2010/03/how-to-cook-with-kids-without-the-frustration-moms-30-minute-blog-challenge.html) about giving each kid a small bowl and a pinch of everything you are using, so they can stir and mix up their own concoction (and keep their fingers out of yours!). I've yet to try this, but it sounds good -- though I would a) worry about wasting on some things and b) think my girls would expect to cook and eat their concoctions, which may not turn out well....


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