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 cows milk was for cows, until
one day I learned there was a whole other world
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.
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 cant 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 couldnt
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 couldnt 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.
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.
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 dont 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 cant 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 isnt 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. Lets 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 dont 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
Serve kids the same food that you eat. There is
no such thing as kid food. That is just a clever
marketing ploy. That doesnt mean you dont
need to plate childrens 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 cant 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
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
I have parents coming to me and telling me how
they dont 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
didnt 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
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 Chefs 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
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 www.emilyrosen.org
or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org
to set up an initial consultation.