A treatise on the desirability of requiring kids to eat nutrient-dense food, from a historical perspective ;-). This is also my “real food conversion story” for those that are interested.
When I was a kid I was what was known as a picky eater. I was the usual run of the mill picky eater, but with a little twist. There were many things commonly served at both my home and the homes of my little friends that I simply wouldn’t eat. Today I’d like to share my take on this situation from the perspective of both the child I once was and the adult I am today and consider the effect it had on my life, so far. To do so, I have to go into a little more detail about my general health and history than I have so far on this blog.
Let me begin by saying that I’ve really never been severely ill. All of my health complaints are run of the mill, average everyday complaints, that in recent years have become so sadly common. Nonetheless, these complaints over a lifetime have caused me some real grief, as they have everyone afflicted with them. Having found a real food diet relieves and reverses many of my current complaints, I now believe that the source of these troubles can be traced back to my childhood diet, or lack thereof ;-).
The Kid I Once Was
As a kid I can remember well people urging me to eat. I was the youngest in a middle class family of 4 kids evenly spaced by 5 years. The people urging me were my parents, older sister and brothers, aunts, uncles, grandparents, parents of friends, my brother-in-law (don’t ask it’s a long story ;-)). People said I lived on air. Sometimes they pushed, sometimes they begged, and every once in a while they laid down the law. For my part, I had a couple of things going on. First, the obvious, some things just don’t taste great to a little kid unfamiliar with it. But also, something else happening. I just didn’t have a very big appetite. After eating a very tiny portion I was full and further eating made me feel a little sick. My Mom heard me when I explained this to her. I’m sure she discussed it with the doctor and the goal became to get me to eat more of anything, anything at all. The thought was this would stretch my stomach, so I could eat more. Over time I think the family just became adjusted to the fact that I didn’t eat much and that if I ate anything at all it was a blessing. After that I only heard about it from relative strangers.
All thru my childhood, prior to my earliest memory I had bouts of bronchitis sometimes turning into pneumonia. I was thin and slight, always at the lowest percentile on the growth charts. After awhile I began to have breathing trouble often. Many colds and flu’s too. This stood out in the 70’s, since school absences for illness happened less overall. My older brother had asthma, and I was diagnosed too. Fortunately, it wasn’t very bad, mostly a problem while in PE class. Then as a young teen I suddenly grew to my full height. I was 5’4 and weighed 90 lbs. People stopped me on the street to ask if I had enough to eat. School counselors scheduled time with me to try and determine if I was anorexic. I began to deliberately try to gain weight, without success. I developed allergy symptoms that led to a runny nose practically all the time. No medications I could tolerate were effective. Then much to my despair I developed cystic acne. I was exhausted most of the time. Our family doctor tested me repeatedly for anemia, always negative. He suggested a good firm kick in the pants as the solution.
I was now worried too … something was wrong. I asked adults what was wrong and generally the response was “You don’t eat right”. But we were all very confused by this point as to what right was. The campaign against saturated fat was well underway. The effort to encourage increased carb consumption had begun. My sister had many friends who were “health food nuts”, so I asked them. I was advised to try a number of supplements, fasting, and herbs, none of which was practical for a teenager without income. Fasting was clearly ill advised for someone underweight. I tried what I could that made sense to me, but without success.
Given a little time as adulthood approached I did start to gain weight. I was slender but not overly so. I had opportunities to try many new foods and found I liked them. The acne went away. My energy picked up a bit. Things were looking good. And then I developed chronic sinusitis and sinus polyps. This problem plagued me all thru my young adulthood, despite two surgeries, not really resolving till I found real food.
Anyone watching me eat would probably swear I was dieting, so small were the portions I ate. And those small portions were generally of fast food, or restaurant food, or processed food made at home. But I wasn’t dieting, I simply couldn’t eat anymore. But the effect was the same as being on a calorie restricted diet for life, made up of processed low-nutrient food. By the time my oldest was born, I felt pretty sick and tired. I knew my diet was to blame. And I did not want my child to eat the same way. Big changes were in order!
Big Dietary Changes Coming My Way
So back in the pre-internet day, I set out to learn all I could about nutrition. I haunted bookstores, libraries and health food stores. I was confused by conflicting claims. Then, the picture became clear: Vegetarianism was it! This was my answer! As always, and this is my saving grace I think, I went about implementing this diet incrementally. As a result I became a near-vegetarian, and not the real thing. During this time I learned many things about fats and hydrogenation. I learned about how whole grains were a massive improvement over refined. I learned about fresh vegetables when all we had at our home as a kid was canned. I began taking supplements. At first I felt great! I lost about 30 lbs of baby weight and had plenty of energy. I still had my allergy symptoms, but was sure they would clear up as I improved. But instead soon I developed new symptoms. My allergies became much worse, so much worse people would swear I had a bad cold every single day. People started to ask if knew about antihistamines! I started to have panic attacks for the first time ever. I developed an apparent allergy to milk.
Fortunately, I was the only one eating this way. Despite assertions to the contrary, I was not at all sure this was a good idea for kids so my son was eating a pretty clean, organic toddler diet with canned baby food liver, whole milk, home prepped veggies and such. I was the guinea pig.
At this point I knew too much about processed food to go back to eating that way comfortably, but this vegetarian diet was clearly not working out. Not having much clear guidance, I changed to roughly match up with the USDA guidelines, with some fast food to get us through busy weeks. I knew about hydrogenated vegetable oils, additives, artificial sweeteners and high fructose corn syrup so we continued to avoid them completely at home. I did feel much better eating this way. All the new symptoms disappeared, and I was simply left with allergy and asthma to give me trouble. I still felt there was an issue with our diet but simply couldn’t put my finger on it. I continued to study nutrition from time to time, trying to figure out a more optimal way of eating. We went on like this for years.
Then one day I happened to be buying a few things for our new-to-us fixer-upper home from Lehmans. I noticed an interesting cookbook in the book section called “Nourishing Traditions“. Now at the time I rarely bought cookbooks and am not sure why this one caught my eye. I added it to the order on a whim. When it arrived, I read it through and my mind was blown! Absolutely blown! I knew right away I needed to implement a few of things I read in this book. Others I would have to do more research on before I came to see the wisdom of it. But I was completely overwhelmed at the time as a new homeschooler, with a remodel job underway. It would end up waiting a year before I slowly started feeding us using ideas from “Nourishing Traditions“.
Real Food to the Rescue!
As I starting cooking real food adding new real food ingredients as I found sources many of my allergy symptoms improved. At the time we started my asthma had become particularly bad. I never had to go to the emergency room, but for the first time it had become likely I would end up there if things continued as they were. I was very short of breath. We had already bumped up the amount of meat and saturated fat in our diet at this point. Reading that raw milk was a big help to many with asthma we decided to do this next. It was a huge help! I was able to stop my cortisone inhaler, a medication I was sure was aggravating my asthma over the long term. My youngest had some minor allergy symptoms which the raw milk pretty much cleared up. As we went along, adding new foods and preparation methods things got gradually better :-). There is one thing I didn’t know then though that I would now like to share with all the finicky eaters here.
For Those with Reduced Appetite
At this point I was eating pretty clean. Still, I was short of breath too often. And still, just as when I was a little girl people persisted in urging me to eat more! I felt bewildered by this! To my mind I was still a little overweight, and I didn’t think anyone would dispute that … I ate clean, why would I need to eat more? Shouldn’t that be enough? I had to force myself to eat at times as it was. Then a light bulb went off and I realized if I can only eat a small amount everyday, that small amount needs to be very nutrient dense. I was still experiencing deficiencies just because I couldn’t get enough calories everyday. What really brought it home for me was when I tried to follow the health recovery plan in Dr. Mary Enig and Sally Fallon’s Eat Fat, Lose Fat and found I simply couldn’t eat anywhere near the suggested amount of food. Heck, I could only barely eat the restricted calorie plan for weight loss! It finally fully sunk into my mind that I ate significantly less than others, and was likely deficient in many nutrients as a result of this alone!
So I set about structuring my own diet to eat more very nutrient dense items regularly. I discovered I was indeed anemic by trying Floradix iron and herbs supplement which markedly reduced my shortness of breath. Next, I began eating liver stew for lunch weeks on end, with periodic breaks. I reduced non-nutritive snacks to just a few squares of dark chocolate to make room for more nutritious foods. I began to have bone broth and raw milk instead of coffee. I increased the amount of cod liver and butter oil I was taking. I try to push the limits of how much I can eat in a meal. And I’m happy to report I am very close to no longer needing my emergency inhaler on anything remotely like a regular basis :-).
For the Parents of Picky Eaters
Now, this post is written from the perspective of the finicky eater, but I’m a parent too and have been on the other side of this situation. I have one child that happily eats most anything and another that began resisting certain foods as a toddler. What advice might I have to offer as someone whose been on both sides of this? I think it’s critically important that children be taught to eat nutrient dense food on a regular basis. Their future health is riding on it. However, keep in mind that they may have a physiological reason for eating less, even if that can’t be confirmed by a doctor. If they do eat less it becomes even more critical that what they do eat be nutrient dense. Was I ever very successful at this with my own kids? Well, yes and no. The battle from my own childhood was still playing in my head, so I didn’t insist on finishing meals or trying lots of new things. I did greatly restrict access to bad choices though. I would recommend creativity in getting the kids involved in choosing and preparing meals as well as simply not keeping any bad food choices around the house. Also, you could try what Grandma did, make a fairly healthy desert and refuse any to the child until they eat their food. Consistently applied, I think this will encourage all but the hardest cases to eat well.
This post is shared at The Prairie Homestead’s Barn Hop, The Healthy Home Economist’s Monday Mania, Cooking Traditional Food’s Traditional Tuesday, Mamaldiane’s Gathering Spot, Real Food Forager’s Fat Tuesday, Penniless Parenting’s Hearth and Soul Blog Hop, Kelly the Kitchen Kop’s Real Food Wednesday, Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday, Real Food Freak’s Freaky Friday and Real Food Whole Health’s Fresh Bites Friday.