The Macrobiotic Guide
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Growing up Macrobiotic
Emily Rosen


Being raised macrobiotic I had one of the healthiest households in town. As a young child brown rice and kale were my favorite foods and I would snack on Nori seaweed sheets instead of potato chips. I had an occasional adzuki bean brownie for dessert and I was in a state of bliss. Rice milk was for humans and cow’s milk was for cows, until one day I learned there was a whole other world out there.

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was eight years old and at a piano concert. After each piano recital parents and children would gather for light snacks and drinks. Everyone would bring a dish and share. Most people would bring all sorts of strange white foods that looked more like plastic than food, and I never had much interest. My mother would always bring some sort of fresh fruit or better yet, let me have a treat from her collection of dried fruit leather to tame my sweet tooth.

Then one day these brownies appeared with rainbow polka dots dancing across the shiny chocolate frosting. I had never seen anything like this and was completely hypnotized by the colors of what I soon learned where called M &Ms. Without much thought, I reached for a brownie, which, much to my dismay, was immediately whisked away by my mother who simply said “no, you can’t eat that”.

Of course she was well meaning, but to me those words meant one thing; “I must eat that”. The rest of the afternoon involved a series of attempts to retrieve the brownie without getting caught. When I finally succeeded and took my first bite, sinking my teeth through the now forbidden brownie, I was stunned. I was eight years old and this was the first time I had ever had white sugar or chocolate. The rush from the sugar and the thrill of being disobedient was almost more than my little body could bear.

I felt excited with my new discovery and betrayed by my mother. I could not figure out why she would have not wanted me to have something so delicious. I finished the brownie and never told anyone about the incident. It was my little secret. It was at that moment that I defined my relationship with sugar and chocolate for the next 18 years. The notion of guilty pleasure was formed in my young mind and I spent the next 18 years hiding, sneaking, and indulging in these forbidden foods with a feeling of rebellion that developed into a sense of shame as I grew older.

I grew up in a house with no refined sugars, no processed foods, and no artificial colors or preservatives. Everything was organic or local. Sweets where limited to special occasions and overall, I remember enjoying the food I ate at home. I always felt like there was enough until we began doing a lot of traveling as a family. All of a sudden I was seeing all these foods that I was told I couldn’t have. The more I heard “no,” the more appealing these now forbidden foods became. With all my parents’ best attempts to protect me, I grew more and more determined to eat all the food I was not allowed to have.

By the age of ten, I was sneaking food on a regular basis and giving myself a rush each time I indulged. Being generally healthy, the excess sugar and junk food had a minimal effect at first, but as the years progressed and the behavior accelerated, I began to notice a shift in my health that surprised me. Had my parents been correct? Did food actually have an effect on my wellbeing? I began experimenting with different foods taking note of how I felt.

When I ate the way I was raised, my skin was clear, my weight was stable, my focus was better, and I had more energy. On the other hand, as I ate more and more “sugary” foods, I felt as if I were bouncing off the walls, my skin would break out, I would gain weight, get sick and depressed at night unless I kept eating more candy. This may seem like an obvious correlation, but for me at the age of 17, it was profound.

I couldn’t believe that food could have such a dramatic effect. During the next 10 years I have explored this relationship between food and the mind, body and spirit. It seems that we really are effected by what we eat. Teaching your children this when they are young is one of the greatest gifts you can give your child. The key though, is how you teach it.

For the past 5 years I have worked as the nutrition director for a weight loss camp for children. I have taught hundreds of kids and worked with numerous families to help them develop healthy eating habits. I have come up with some basic guidelines to help parents navigate this often sensitive territory. Much of what I have learned has been from the wonderful children who have opened up and shared with me over the years. But in all honesty, my greatest learning has come from listening to my own body and remembering the little girl who tasted forbidden food for the first time so many years ago and became a master of using food as the powerful drug it is.

Don’t make any foods forbidden; this will only make the “forbidden” food more desirable. The truth is: your children will most likely have a lot of opportunities to eat whatever kind of food they want and you have no control over that when they are not with you. At school, in after school activities, friends' houses, parties, etc., there will generally be an array of unhealthy foods. Ultimately the child will make the decision for themselves. Your greatest line of defense is education. If you don’t want your child to eat a specific food, explain to them why, and start a conversation with them about it so that they can make an informed decision.

Figure out what is most important to your child and draw the connection between what they eat and their performance in that area. For example, if you have a child who loves playing soccer and wants to excel at sports, explain to them how eating and drinking a lot of sugary soda effects their energy levels causing them to crash during a game and get dehydrated. Then provide them with an alternative, like coconut water.

Do explain the foods you serve to your children, so they understand why they are eating them. For years parents everywhere have gotten their children to eat spinach by telling them it will make them strong like Popeye. This is a great tactic to encourage children to care about what they are putting into their bodies. Saying to a child, "I am giving you this food not only because it is delicious, but it will make you smarter, taller, faster, etc."…is a good sell. It also helps connect kids to the way food impacts their wellbeing. This approach can also be used to discourage the eating of unhealthy foods. For example, instead of saying you can’t have the ice cream; remind them of how they will feel after eating ice cream, or why it is not healthy. Then ask if they still want it. Find a healthy role model, like a celebrity or an athlete, for your child to relate to or look up to. Then the information isn’t always coming from you, which can feel authoritarian. Food companies and diet products have been using celebrity names to sell products for years, because it works. Let it work for you.

Let your child experiment. This can be a hard one for some parents, but sometimes letting your child learn the hard way can save you a lot of time. Let’s say you have explained to them how sick they will feel if they eat too much sugary cake and ice cream and they are still insisting it is what they want it. Try letting them overeat the cake and ice cream. Then ask them to tell you how they feel. People want to feel good. Children, especially, are very sensitive to food. Allowing your child to experiment with different foods and creating an open dialogue about their experience is invaluable. You may be surprised by how in touch with their body your child is. Of course you don’t want to be doing this on a regular basis, but if they have never gotten nauseous from eating too much cake, then they will never truly understand what you are explaining to them.

Do keep your house full of healthy foods and snacks. Remember kids need to eat often as they are growing. They will eat what is available. If there is fresh cut vegetable sticks, they will eat those, or if it is chips, they will eat those. As a parent you control what food comes into the house. Remember this and be firm. It is important to have guidelines. If weight management is an issue, a great rule of thumb is to close the kitchen after dinner. Snacking late at night is an unhealthy habit for anyone. This will also help make sure your child is hungry in the morning for breakfast. This is a great life-long habit to give your child. Not only will it increase their physical wellbeing, but it will enhance their academic performance in school. Breakfast is a way to set the tone for the day. Make the most nutritious low sugar choices possible.

Serve kids the same food that you eat. There is no such thing as kid food. That is just a clever marketing ploy. That doesn’t mean you don’t need to plate children’s food differently. People eat with their eyes first, especially children. You may have to make extra time to make the vegetables into the shape of a face, or stuffing rice dishes into squash boats so it is more visually appealing. But ideally everyone in the family will be eating the same food together. Mealtime is an important bonding time. Try and eat at least one meal a day together as a family
Get the kids involved in food preparation and cooking. It is a great way to almost guarantee that they will eat. Use things like ice cream scoops so they can make grain balls or let them shape things like bean patties into any shape they want so they can be creative.

When you go grocery shopping with your children, take them to the produce section and let them pick out anything they want. Instead of pointing out what they can’t have, always focus on how much they can have.
Join them. Healthy eating should be a whole family affair. Eating the same foods together is a great way of connecting, sharing, and maintaining a similar energy. Lead by example. Often when I want a child to try a new food, I make it for myself and eat it when I am with them. Kids are curious and they will want to try what you are eating, especially if it looks like you are enjoying the food.

Be persistent. Sometimes it takes 9-11 times to expose a child to a food before they will eat it and admit they like it. Sometimes you have to get clever with naming things. Giving your child a green smoothie made of vegetables and fruit might sound appealing if you say "here is your “green monster smoothie” or “emerald city smoothie” versus here is your “vegetable drink.”

Have fun with food and remember there are many things that nourish us besides the physical food we put into our mouths. We hunger for play, touch, kindness, self-expression, adventure, physical movement, connection, friendship, art, love and so much more. All these elements play a crucial role in our sense of wellness and are ways in which we feed ourselves. When your child is getting nourished in all these essential ways, eating a balanced, healthy, nutritious diet will come naturally.

Every summer I have parents coming to me and telling me how they don’t understand why their child is having food issues. They feel like they do everything right. Their house has only health fruits, vegetables, grains and proteins. They have no candy, chips, or sweets. Every morning they make sure their child eats a good healthy breakfast, like a whole grain porridge and fruit. They say they pack their child a healthy lunch and snack and give them a well portioned healthy dinner when they come home. No sugar, soda, or processed foods are allowed, and yet their child is still gaining weight.

Then I talk to the child, who without fail at some point, confesses that they eat everything they can get their hands on in school because they know once they go home, it is not allowed. This is not the dynamic you want to set up. It is unhealthy physically, mentally and emotionally. Parents often say, "well, what should I do then? Feed my child junk food or let them eat whatever they want?" NO. Boundaries are healthy and it is okay to say no to your child. But it is important that when it comes to food, you explain yourself. Through explaining and sharing with them what you know about food, they will be able to make the choice, themselves, to eat healthier. You may be surprised that children are incredibly responsive to logical explanations about food, even more so than adults.

There are a lot of studies done around this principle. In one case, a teacher showed the class how a chicken nugget was actually made. The entire class of children then decided it was gross and they didn’t want to eat chicken nuggets anymore. The key is: no one told them not to eat the chicken nuggets, they just provided information. When I teach children, I do not spare the details. I tell them about factory farming, food processing, and even the politics of food so they understand why I might say something that contradicts what they see in the media. I provide them with tools and encourage them to think for themselves. Teach your child that their body is sacred and then trust the process. At the end of the day it is going to be their decision. Help them to make an informed one.

Emily Rosen is a certified health counselor, professional chef and freelance writer. She studied Eastern/Western nutrition and modern health counseling at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition in New York City and is certified by Columbia University. Emily is the Nutrition Director for a fitness camp for children, Camp Kingsmont, where she designs and runs the Nutrition program including: meal planning, writing and creating educational material and teaching children ages 10-17 about healthy eating.

She is the Executive Chef at the Option Institute in Sheffield, MA where she directs and oversees all the operations of the kitchen while doing the menu development and planning for 3 buffet style meals a day for 30-130 people. Emily is a graduate of the Chef’s Training Program at the Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Art's and does health supportive personal catering. She also has a private practice as a Health Counselor and works with people as their personal advocate for living an energized and passionate life.

Her goal as a personal advocate is to help people find which foods and lifestyle choices work best for the life they desire. For more information go to or email her at to set up an initial consultation.

Posted: July 2009


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