The first step towards sustainable living for our family began with food. It makes sense in hindsight since food is one of the basic survival needs. Eating local organic food is more sustainable in that it requires less energy to produce, shorter distance to travel, minimal packaging and waste and is grown without toxic pesticides, insecticides, and herbicides that eventually wash into and poison our waterways.
Now it was not always this way for our family of eight. It is important to realize that we are a blended family – one dad and two kids from one household and three girls and a mom from another with a little one who melds us together. Our eating habits in the beginning were much different than they are today – almost six years later.
In the beginning we couldn’t even go out to eat without major controversy and stress (and at that point we had no special dietary needs or requests – just a desire to eat). For the first time in my life, I began to have a first hand experience of the issues so many in our culture have with food.
My girls and I were what I call “intuitive eaters” – we ate when our bodies indicated they were hungry and took cues from them on what we needed to eat. My husband and his kids were just plain eaters and would basically eat whatever was lying around without necessarily having any pangs of hunger.
Thus our battle over food began. It became a race to eat as much food as you could before anyone else, whether or not you were hungry at that moment or not. We soon forfeited eating out all together and made a commitment to eat dinner together as a family at home in an effort to regulate our eating patterns.
Sitting down to dinner together was one of the best things we did as a family that not only addressed our food issues but bonded us a “family” unit as well. Our kids still replay some of those initial memories to this day. The positive imprint we established still serves as a familiar routine that we fall back on when needed. For non-homeschooling families that don’t spend every hour of the day and night together, something like dinner time together is even more important and sacred. Many families have lost the connection that was once a traditional part of mealtime in years past with this stressful fast paced society we now live in.
Being that we threw ourselves and our families into relationship quite quickly, some things were more obvious than others right away to me. Although my husband was making every effort to eat healthier before we met, he still had a way to go. For example, sugar was a huge problem. I quickly implemented acceptable and unacceptable food options and began establishing boundaries around food choices. Since I was the one micro-managing our life and my husband was happy to have the help, there was little resistance on his part.
A few months later, we opened the doors of our all organic café. Eating organic was something we both believed in and wanted to have available to our family even more because we felt (knew) it was better for them and the earth. For my husband, this time marked a big shift in awareness. As he began to trust his body’s ability to give him answers, his parenting style with his children began to positively shift as well.
We were excited to be able to eat all organic and share what we were doing with others.
What we soon discovered after eating all organic over time was that we could not eat anything else. Our bodies could tell the difference! Our children noticed that they felt better when they ate organic food and naturally began eating less and less non-organic food even when given an option.
This happened more slowly with my stepchildren as they had more exposure to media-hyped processed, packaged food than my own, including food from fast food restaurants. In time they began requesting that their mom buy organic food. Soon they were taking their own food with them when they visited with their mom and began refusing to eat from fast food restaurants. If they had no choice but to eat “bad” food when they were not with us they would come back feeling physically awful and the whole family would feel the effects for days.
Numerous parents have commented on our children’s eating habits in the years we have had our cafe. They seem surprised to see our kids sit down and eat a plate of steamed kale or ask for avocado. Many have shared their personal struggles of getting their own children to eat healthy foods. Some parents have convinced themselves that their children would sooner starve than eat healthy food like vegetables. I think part of establishing a balanced diet for our kids is from introducing green foods such as veggies and avoiding all artificial sugar products (anything other than real fruit) from the beginning. This may require some extra effort initially.
Someone shared with me a recent study with kids that allowed them to eat whatever they wanted for a period of time. After a few days of gorging on junk food and sweets the children innately began to eat the healthier foods. This makes sense to me. Children naturally choose healthy foods for their bodies, yet exposure to sugar laden “fake foods” and constant marketing tactics are designed to be confusing.
Decades ago, marketers targeted moms because they were the primary ones making the decision regarding what food products to buy. Today, marketers incorporate bright colors in foods and on packaging because kids are now influence parent choices. Specific techniques such as whining, begging and pleading have been studied by these folks because they know they affect parent purchases (and not just in the realm of food – more to come on this later).
Thus, children’s relationship with food becomes a tool for manipulation capitalized on by “talented” marketers (check out the Century of Self on YouTube for a detailed overview of exactly how this happened in our country). The choice of healthy vs. unhealthy food somehow becomes a debate and mothers find themselves making compromises. Multi-billion dollar corporations accomplish their goal.
Overcoming this challenge can be achieved! First, as mothers, we have to have a clear understanding of our own personal values. For example, in our family we value organic food and choose to only eat organic food. This serves as one of our guiding principles that forms the foundation by which we live our lives. Within this agreed upon structure, our children have the freedom to make choices as to which kinds of organic foods they will eat. In our world, eating out at a fast food restaurant, eating junk food or even eating at social events are not even considered. They are not part of our equation. As their mother, it is my role to provide other viable options (I am always prepared with organic snacks) and remind them if need be the reason for our choice (mostly necessary for the four year old). I simply explain to my kids that there are good body foods and bad body foods and that we don’t eat those foods. It seems to work – so much so that they tell other kids.
Witnessing the process of my own children has led me to have even more faith in children’s ability to instinctively eat what their bodies need, even when they have been exposed to and manipulated by the opposite. We merely have to offer them the option to choose and stick to it. Once children have experienced the world of artificial flavorings and the lure of artificial colorings it can be a difficult battle. Sugar plays a key role in the behaviors of children. I have talked to many mothers who were amazed that their child’s labeled “disorder” has been able to be controlled through diet (and the elimination of fake sugar) alone.
Try the following:
*Take a personal (honest) inventory of your families food intake (For example, gauge the percentage of processed foods vs. whole foods your family eats, how often do you eat “out” vs. home, begin reading ingredients )
*Meditate on whether or not your family is truly eating a healthy diet –sustainable for both them and the planet (organic, non-gmo)
*If you were to listen to your instinctual, intuitive self, which foods would it insist be removed from your families diet?
Share with us your insights and revelations and what steps you plan to take to move your family towards healthier eating habits! This could be just one thing like stop eating packaged cereal or eating at fast food restaurants OR something broader like eliminating all processed, packaged non-organic genetically modified foods (www.coopamerica.org – type in GMO and see complete listings of all the companies that hide GMO ingredients in their products) or challenging yourself to eat local (check out www.eatlocalchallenge.org ). Talk with other moms about your choice to eat a more sustainable diet. Good Luck!
Suggested Reading: Your Right to Know: Genetic Engineering and the Secret Changes in Your Food by Andrew Kimbrell