Reader Response: Practical Advice for Parents

DisgustedCaution: It is a dietary mine field out there. Kiddie junk food high and low! Parents, proceed at your own risk. And remember. Your seedlings deserve better.

Nancy S. offered these comments in response to last week’s News on the Seedling Front.

As a parent, I could really use some practical, realistic ideas about what to do for my kids. Specifically, lunch-box solutions that will keep them eating healthy and able to concentrate in school (and not trying to trade away their lunch for some kid’s HoHo). As a parent it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff you are probably doing wrong, so having someone help you do what is right can go a long way to helping solve the problem!

Nancy’s comments really got us talking and sharing “war” stories. Many of us have been there or are in the midst of it now. Mark, himself, has a 14-year-old and 17-year-old. Parents’ jobs can often be thankless. Whatever it counts for, we understand – and empathize! We’ll devote a short series, in fact, to the seedlings questions Nancy and others have raised regarding day-to-day, in-the-trenches options.

Child with Spaghetti

Now for some practical tips and humble advice for all the parents and grandparents out there… But before we venture into these swampy, menacing waters, we should offer a fair warning. What’s that saying about “Beware those who enter here”? The subject of kids and food is not for the faint of heart. No mincing of words. In a recent post Mark had this to say about The Art of Compromise in the Primal Blueprint: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This goes double when dealing with seedlings. With that said…

• Perhaps it goes without saying, but the first step is to make the commitment to a healthy diet yourself. As we all know, the “do as I say not as I do” philosophy just doesn’t cut it. Kids watch you like hawks and remember like elephants. Be honest and get your thinking out on the table – your personal health goals, your favorites, your failings. If they know you understand that making these kinds of changes can be difficult, they’ll likely be more open with you about their choices and concerns. As with everything in parenting, genuineness and credibility will get you further than some unapproachable projection of perfection.


See the process as “training your child’s tastes” rather than imposing a certain diet from day one. Viewing the process through a “training” lens will encourage a little more fun and flexibility. The focus should be on the positive – incorporating the new – rather than simply slashing and burning everything they’re used to. Use the familiar to help switch gears. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every kid loves comfort food, and it doesn’t always have to be unhealthy. Think about stews, meatloaf (with reduced or substituted breadcrumbs), hearty soups, flavorful salads with some creative condiments (e.g. veggie loaded homemade pesto or hummus). Look for specific foods and menus next week!

Buck the processed and sugar laden beverages. Water, decaf tea, milk. You don’t need anything else. (But you can consider organic, no-added-sodium vegetable juice. Little ones especially may go for it.) Make regular drinks special by getting some natural mineral water (Gerolsteiner, Pellegrino, etc.) and putting a slice of lemon or some cherries in it. As for cocoa, it’s a dessert that’s at your discretion. Choose the genuine article (organic if possible), and barely, if at all, sweeten it. (This alteration may take some time – all part of the taste training.)

Chicken Nuggets

You can never start too early. Skip infant cereal. Keep kids away from any form of sugar as long as humanly possible. Some parents/grandparents/relatives will give kids sweets before kids even know what they are or have any interest in them. These people tend to do it for entertainment or nostalgia sake. Here’s our take: milk your kid’s naive ignorance for all it’s worth. And tell well-meaning relatives that some things are just off limits (at least for now).

Macaroni and Cheese

You can never start too late. Parents can worry that once they’ve gone down a certain road with their kids that it’s impossible to turn it around. If parents can make the commitment, they can get their kids on board. Sure, expect complaints, but don’t get thrown by them. It will take extra time, but stick to your guns and don’t forget to make it fun for everyone. Which leads us to…

Make the changes a family commitment and even an opportunity for family events. Strawberry picking season is coming up. Make a day of it at an area farm. Or let them help you shop at a farmer’s market (little to no processed foods here!). It’s a great opportunity for kids to see just how many vegetables and fruits there are and to find their favorites when all the “junk” is out of the picture.

Ice Cream

Make it fun. Try an “international dinner” one night a week when you fix healthy cuisine from a different culture. Decorate, download music, dance, go whole hog. The little ones will love it, and the older ones will enjoy it too (however much they roll their eyes).

Give them responsibility. If your children are old enough, put them in charge of planning and preparing one healthy meal a week.


Take it in steps. If you’re facing a major overhaul, take the “whole foods” step first. Out with the processed foods. It will do kids good to see what goes into real food. If they can’t make it or bake it from scratch, it’s not for dinner. Sugar (in all its forms) could be the next step. (But you’d be surprised how much sugar you already cut out going the “whole foods” approach.) We’d recommend putting fruit juice in this category, but keep plenty of actual fruit available for them. Another good “step,” as Nancy mentioned, is cutting gluten from your child’s diet. This may be particularly useful for children with ADD or ADHD, many of whom may be gluten sensitive. You can also experiment with reducing/eliminating dairy to see if it makes a difference for your child.

• As you continue to progress in stages, don’t worry about absolutes. Remember, the Primal Blueprint allows for personal compromises. Kids should have the same opportunity we do to practice a little indulgence. Children who are old enough to understand the conversation can and should have a say in what they want their indulgences to be. Let it be a continuing collaboration of interests and reasonable limits.

Buy better quality. Take the money you save in chucking the processed food from the grocery list and invest it in better quality produce, meats, cheeses and other whole foods. Let’s face it: iceberg lettuce doesn’t inspire anyone. Baby romaine or this Spring’s fresh spinach – that’s what we’re talking about. Set up a mini salad bar and let them add their own veggies and other fixings.

Don’t underestimate the power of presentation. Children are blessedly predictable in this regard. Shamelessly use it to your advantage.

Kid Chili Dog

Allow a little give for special occasions, but don’t totally backslide. You might instigate a revolt if you suddenly scrap Thanksgiving pie or Junior’s favorite birthday cake. Believe it or not, they might be lobbying for more than a sugar opportunity. Traditions mean more to kids than we often understand. Choose your battles.

Supplement wisely, as we always say. A quality, complete kid’s multi-vitamin can cover your bases. We’d recommend a fish oil supplement as well, but O.K. the idea and particular supplement with your pediatrician first. Look for an appropriate children’s dose that is guaranteed, independently tested pure from toxins. (The kids’ versions usually come flavored to boot.)

Thanks to Nancy and everyone who have offered seedling questions and comments. As said, look for more on this topic next week. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with feeding the seedlings in your life.

fishy fish arcade, foreversouls, pengrin, Peter J. Zaki, elmada, roboppy, Nanon, yoppy, Erin Nealy Flickr Photos

Further Reading:

Seedlings and the “Need” for Nature

Questions About Soy Formula

Children and the Importance of Sleep

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

About the Author

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

13 thoughts on “Reader Response: Practical Advice for Parents”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Wouldn’t the very first – and most important – part of a “primal” diet for children be to breastfeed, and for as long as possible? Never seen anything written here specifically about breastfeeding, although I am relatively new here, but certainly Mrs. Grok would have breastfed her babies, and for 2-3 years at a minimum, and likely for even longer.

    Otherwise, all good advice. I must say that one of the reasons we are planning on homeschooling is because of the awful quality of most school lunches and the peer pressure surrounding food in schools. (That’s not our primary reason, but it certainly factors in.) And I’m shocked at how often I see parents letting their kids drink sodas. My sons have had soda exactly one time between them, and that was just a case of very bad planning.

    It’s a reason, too, that I’m thankful I live far away from my mom – while she was here for a week’s visit, all she wanted to do was give my boys sugar, sugar and more sugar. I think she thinks we’re depriving them by never taking them to McDonald’s or BK.

  2. Well, as a parent I appreciate your balanced approach. In our house we try to live by the 90/10 rule which is 90% of the time we work very hard to make good choices and 10% of the time we live in the real world that has birthday parties, snacks at preschool, and special trips for a hot chocolate with nana. We’ve decided that sometimes there’s too much stress with taking away a Capri Sun and crackers at the end of a soccer game. Like you said, choose your battles.

    On the other front (at home), we work very hard at providing healthy choices and being good teachers. We are competitive triathletes and our 4 year old daughter has grown to associate exercise as part of the daily routine. She loves to participate too!

    As for food, she’ll try pretty much anything and loves vegetables. She eats better than 95% of the adults I know. How do we do it? Through teaching from a very young age about choices and also showing her the effects on her body.

    We try to use everything as a teaching opportunity (granted some of it is quite simplified). Everything from talking about how dark yellow pee means you’re not drinking enough water… how if it hurts to poop, you likely need to eat more vegetables. Relating energy/speed/strength for exercise and sports to food and sleep… you name it. These lessons also include the belly aches that come after birthday parties (too much sugar?) My four year old will choose water over juice not because I make her but because she knows that one is ‘better for her body’. And occasionally when she does choose juice, I never make a big deal out of it. Just like I don’t want to have someone make an issue when I decide to have a glass of wine or cold beer.

    Winning parent moment for me is when my four year old is looking at choices to eat and asks me, “Mommy, which one is the best for my body?”

  3. Great tips! But those pictures…aaggghhh! Right now my kids are all so tiny that they just eat what I eat and I eat clean. As a family we limit ourselves to eating out only once a week (good for the budget too) and then we let the kids get what they want.

    Before my five-year-old eats something he always asks me, “Will this help me grow?” I try to keep the focus positive though – on all the good stuff we can eat – rather than on the negative – what we can’t have. The last thing I want to do is pass on my eating disorder to my kids!

  4. As a fellow parent of 17 and 14 year-old boys along with 15 month-old twins I have both some experience on this front and I’m doing it again with my twins. I know the boys eat junk food sometimes and we basically don’t make an issue of it because we otherwise cook healthy meals about 95% of the time. One thing to remember is that you need to take advantage of your children’s tendancy to be lazy. Make them a healthy dinner and then put it in front of them. Don’t like it? Hungry later? Fine, go make yourself something to eat. What, you don’t feel like it? You’re too tired. Sorry, I did my cooking for the day. You’ll be surprised how often they eat and begin to enjoy dinners when they have fewer choices and can either rely on you to make their dinner or otherwise scrounge something up for themselves. (PB & banana gets old especially with organic, no-salt PB they don’t particularly like). Now, obviously this doesn’t pertain to toddlers but they just seem to eat whatever we give them. It may sound harsh but it isn’t taken that way because it is very honest and sincere and is not done with any malice. We want the kids to eat well and be healthy so we do the two things that seem to provide the biggest inpact:

    Be a healthy eater yourself (good example).
    Put healthy food in front of them at each meal.

    Most other things are just tinkering. Will they trade lunches? Sure. Will they buy Oreo’s with their money when they walk home from school? Yep. Will they be excited about dijon chicken and green beans almondine for dinner tonight. Surprisingly, yes. In fact, they will make a special point of being home on nights we make this “healthy” dinner. Hopefully they burn off some of what they ate by walking home from school and sometimes they complain that we’re running low on fruit which means that they are in fact eating it at lunch.

    Another up side is that both of them can cook pretty well. Once kids start cooking they almost inevitably start to discover vegetables, nuts, spices, herbs along with color, texture and presentation in addition to taste which goes a long way towards getting them away from tater tots and grilled cheese sandwiches. Good luck.

  5. Barry, an equivalent argument might be to not have an observant Jew or Muslim raise their children to eat kosher or halal food, respectively. If the parents model appropriate behavior to their children, the chances are that the child will follow in their footsteps. Junk food is not a necessity for life, it is a choice.

  6. Barry, that’s a really ignorant statement. Cake is not some inalienable right of childhood. The junk-food-as-reward model hasn’t been around very long–certainly not one of society’s finest achievements. Not to mention the junk foods have been getting worse and worse too. There are far better special-occasion foods than cake (particularly the usual sugar-bomb-style birthday cake; something homemade with quality ingredients, OK fine), and much better means than food to make a kid feel special.

    Jessi Thompson’s comment aptly demonstrates the way it should be done. And from Charlotte: “Before my five-year-old eats something he always asks me, “Will this help me grow?” I try to keep the focus positive though – on all the good stuff we can eat – rather than on the negative – what we can’t have. The last thing I want to do is pass on my eating disorder to my kids!” Right on.

    The more people–especially little ‘uns–learn the difference between “junk” and “food,” the better. You know, make healthy foods and healthy attitudes toward food the norm in society.

  7. Good tips. Eating healthy as a family can be overwelming for most. Making changes in steps is a good idea. For example, homemade meals (not semi-homemade) is a good start. Hopefully, their tastes will change and they will start to prefer real food. Next, lower the sugar, grain etc.
    There isn’t a dinner that goes by that someone doesn’t complain about my cooking. Oh well, I’ll be apreciated later, so I tell myself. I like the idea of having the kids take turns planning, cooking, and cleaning up!! I might even through in a complaint or two for the full learning experience….or not.

  8. You have to know your kids. Some kids can have the occasional treat with little in the way of consequences. For my little boy, if he eats something sweet, his behavior and sleep fall apart and he begins horrible cravings for more and more sweets which leads to major food tantrums.
    I am also going to be homeschooling, and one big reason is his dietary needs.