How Do I Teach My Kids Balance without Making Them Weird about Food?

I live in Los Angeles . . . land of healthy living, of vegan restaurants, gluten-free bakeries, juice bars, and organic markets galore. You’ve heard of the land of milk and honey—well, this is the land of soy milk and manuka honey!

Southern California is a mecca for health-conscious adults, but kids are a huge part of the wellness movement too. Looking around, I often feel we’re raising a generation of youngsters who sip green smoothies, eat their eggs scrambled with kale, and go dairy-free just because . . . None of which is necessarily bad. But, I recently heard of a preschool in my neighborhood that doesn’t allow kids to bring ketchup in their lunches because it contains sugar. I’m all for healthy living and not poisoning our kids with chemicals and crap, but really??!!


I was a child of the 70’s which means I indulged in my share of sugary cereal (Lucky Charms were my particular poison), frozen TV dinners, and (gasp) the golden, cakey goodness of Twinkies (sigh . . .) yet I’m still alive, an extremely healthy 40-something without any lasting food issues or hangups. I eat well and get an abundance of daily greens, but also allow myself to indulge. I’m a hardcore chocoholic, as my kids will attest—I sometimes joke with them: “I love you. More than coffee. Maybe even more than chocolate.” A daily Starbucks Venti is my other vice, along with an occasional Diet Coke or McDonalds French Fries. If I’m feeling frisky, a soda and fries together! Many of my friends would look at me askew if they knew . . .

As a mom, I want to encourage my kids to eat foods that will nurture their bodies and spirits. Over the long run, they need to stay strong, active, and healthy—food plays a key role. For my daughter in particular, I want to foster a strong body image and positive relationship with food that will last her whole life. I sometimes get a twinge of guilt that I should be more cautious about the foods I expose my children to. I’m not nearly as diligent as many moms I know, but probably above average in terms of maintaining a fairly healthy diet for my family. Still, I often ask myself if it’s okay for me to give my kids food I know is not good for them.

My answer is—yes. Yes! Kids should be allowed to be kids (with guidance, of course) and a little junk food isn’t going to ruin them. In fact, unless they have an allergy, denying them these “treats” completely can do more harm than good.

I have a friend who is an incredible cook. She has always made fresh, organic meals for her daughter, who entered elementary school having eaten only the most natural foods. The girl begged her parents to let her order cafeteria lunch and finally they agreed, assuming she would hate it. To the girl, though, it was a “forbidden treat” and she loved it. On the other hand, when my kids wanted to sample school lunch I said, “Sure.” My son came to me afterwards and said: “It’s gross, I never want it again.” Score!

Kids need to experiment, explore, and discover—just like we did when we were kids. We should eat well but we should also live well—and allow our children to do the same. Let them have their cake… and eat it too. Even if it’s a Hostess Cupcake circa 1978.