I’ve read about this topic of limiting or not limiting certain kinds of foods on many different lists and boards over the years. Should parents limit foods that are sweet, artificial, junk foods, foods with colouring…

Those who subscribe to an unschooling philosophy, such as myself look to follow their child’s lead when it comes to most things. The belief that our children will know best when and what they are ready to learn and are able to self regulate within the spectrum the child’s life experience.

That leads me to believe that sometimes toxic and unnatural or processed foods should be limited all or part of the time. I mainly limit these foods by not buying them. I want my child to feel empowered by choice so all the food I buy I’m usually content with her to eating any time. No power struggle and we all eat delicious and healthy food.

It’s not for a lack of trust or need to control that I believe that my child can’t make good choices about some of these “foods”. It’s the fact that some foods are drug like and addictive (processed sugar) and some aren’t even food at all (food colouring). It’s hard to explain that something like food colouring is actually a coal tar product and have the significance of that fact hit home with a five year old.

When we are out it can often be hard to explain to people that I’d rather we didn’t eat these things. Many people already think I’m a weirdo simply because I don’t shave my legs but my husband shaves his! (Ha. He rides a bike for a living.) My daughter has been given countless coupons for slurpees that she will never redeem. So many that she only knows them as “coupon drinks”. It can be awkward when someone tries to give my daughter a handful of smartie treats without checking first. Until recently, I would take the stance that in moderation it’s not a big deal. Just don’t buy them but if they’re offered it’s okay. I’m learning quickly that eating even a few of these “treats” can have disastrous effects. My daughter’s belly gets sore and she reacts with out of character difficult behaviour.

These reactions are not unique and sometimes hard to understand for my daughter why it’s happening. It’s even harder to explain to mainstream public that we’re not just being picky or hard to deal with. These foods literally don’t sit well.

This isn’t the first time I’ve disagreed with a type of radical unschooling that can often seem like a child centered free-for-all. I absolutely believe that our children can flow through the natural world with their own innate sense of discrimination and discovery. However, when they are confronted with artificial circumstances and materials it takes a more experienced perspective to make healthy choices.

6 Responses to Limiting Processed or Artificial “Foods”

  1. Katherine says:

    I agree with you and I take it one step further. I think it is a parent’s job to teach healthy boundaries. I think that setting boundaries is one excellent way to teach them. This works through example and through practice.

    I think its nuts to allow a two year old to dictate the pace of the day. I know one family that allows their two year old to stay up as late as he wants. He got his days and nights turned around so badly that the mom was up all night, literally, with him. Therefor her older kids were basically alone and unparented all day. Their mom had to sleep. How does that make sense? I get being flexible about natural rhythms. But isn’t guidance a part of parenting too?

    And I knew one mother, back when I was a nanny, who would watch her two year old grab a toy out of another child’s hands and shriek “MINE!” The mom would respond with, “Yes, that is your toy.” Um… Finally I said to her, “If your daughter will not be following them same rules of decent polite behavior that my charge is REQUIRED to follow (by me and his parents) then we will not be playing with you.” I wasn’t trying to be mean or controlling. But, come on!

    I think many unschooling parents unwittingly raise kids who have some seriously bratty behavior. Unschooling and attachment parenting are not the same thing as an inability or unwillingness to set boundaries or to say, “No, you may not…(stay up as late as like every night, eat anything that crosses your path, treat me or anyone else rudely, run amok, or indulge your every-albeit perfectly natural-childish whim.)”

  2. Annie says:

    I find limits/boundries/control sometimes a difficult topic to discuss because it’s easy to confuse the meaning of these terms. It’s really important that they are used in a context of *working with* everyone’s interests in mind and not just the parent’s. I totally agree that we need to offer our children guidance but in a way that doesn’t impose our will on them.

    Katherine, that sounds awful for that family to be so messed up with their sleep like that! We’ve never had bedtimes for anyone here. When my daughter was young and she wanted to stay up later than I was willing, I’d tell her it’s fine to do that but we were going to sleep so she needed to be quiet while she was up. We had books and a few toys at the end of the bed on the carpet for her to play with and I would lightly snooze. She seemed content for a few minutes and then came and got in bed with us when the novelty wore off.

    In case it needs to be said, she hasn’t always been some perfect easy sleeper or even perfectly easy to parent. Nor am I under the delusion of being a perfect parent. We work really hard to focus on our relationship instead the bahaviour and building trust so that when I do need to say “no” it’s usually excepted without a fight.

    “No” has become some sort of evil word in some circles, like attachment parenting. I could write a whole blog post on this one topic! Ha! Maybe I will!

  3. Katherine says:

    You are so right that these words are loaded. I know (from experience) that sleep patterns are a process and I agree with working with children instead of bending them to our will. You give a good example, with your daughter, of guiding her at bedtime.

  4. Amy says:

    Annie, I totally agree. We work really hard to find a delicate balance between letting Rosie be child-led and gently guiding her as a parent. I think toddlers (and children too) get confused when there is no sense of direction at all. At age two, Rosie sometimes wants to stay up all night but she doesn’t realize how grumpy she will be tomorrow, she doesn’t remember that the alarm will go off in the morning when her dad gets up for work and she’ll be accidentally woken up too. We have done a similar thing that you do when she won’t sleep–let her play in the bed or near by and we go to bed. (While still listening for her of course.) It’s sometimes difficult to figure out how to be a guide to your child without imposing your will. I’m so glad I have people like you who give me new ideas and advice!

    I read something on an unschooling board once that made me totally question my choices. A poster was writing about how different her unschooled children were from mainstream children and how they interacted, and someone chimed in and wrote about how their new neighbors had a hard time getting used to their 14 year old son. She said that they were good friends now, but when they first met the neighbors were kind of put off after going to the store with the 14 year old and seeing how he climbed a display. She said he was raised in a child-led home, so this was normal behavior…I do love quite a few ideals that go along with unschooling, but I can’t imagine not teaching my child basic self control and calling it child-led living.

    We also have a very hard time with people giving Rosie food we don’t want her to eat. Some food makes her behave like she’s on drugs, and until she’s old enough to realize what effect it has on her I have no problem saying no for her. Our neighbors eat a mainstream diet, and they have three little girls Rosie loves to play with. Today we had to turn down Doritos and canned lemonade and I felt really bad about it…I don’t want their parents to think we are judging them, but I also don’t want my child to be absolutely bouncing off the walls and running into things because she can’t focus.

  5. hen says:

    “I absolutely believe that our children can flow through the natural world with their own innate sense of discrimination and discovery. However, when they are confronted with artificial circumstances and materials it takes a more experienced perspective to make healthy choices. ”

    Absolutely spot on Annie!


  6. […] I’m less of a fan of tv and video games and don’t believe there is much benefit to them despite the convictions of other unschooling parents saying otherwise. There’s certainly a lot of evidence to support concerns about tv and it’s effect on children’s brains and learning. The small amount of knowledge gained from watching a program can quickly turn malignant and become hours spent transforming into a tv zombie. Watchers become targets of aggressive marketing and the skewing of personal and social values seem inevitable. I’ve kind of touched my personal thoughts on artificial and manufactured things worth avoiding here.  […]

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