ControverSunday: The Paradox of Feeding Free-Range Kids

Welcome to ControverSunday! This project is hosted by Perpetua, the badge created by Accidents. After reading this post, be sure to visit Perpetua’s site to discover the other bloggers participating in this week’s topic – food.

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Whenever we pass by a McDonald’s, the Bear points out the giant golden arches with glee:

“Look, Mom! M for you!”

And MJ and I grin with self-righteous pride because our four-year-old doesn’t yet know what lies within the building of Ronald and friends. She still believes that a treat out involves going to a local coffee house, The Sugar Bowl, for a cinnamon bun.

And we have our garden. We buy only organic, local meats from the farmer’s market. And even then, we only eat meat two-three times a week. And we don’t support the beef industry at all. We make our own bread. And we only drink the locally roasted, organic, fair trade coffee from CatFish Coffee.

Aren’t we wonderful?

But I have a confession. We purchase about a litre of ketchup every month. In fact, last shopping trip, I caved and bought the double-pack because it was such a good deal. The Bear loves her ketchup.

And her favourite snack? Gold fish. Yup, you know the ones. Those highly processed cracker-type, cheese-flavoured fish?

Free-range parenting and the issue of food can be a paradox…

On the one hand, you can’t avoid the news stories about childhood obesity and diabetes. There are the e-coli recalls and the BPA warnings. We’ve got Boy Scout Jamie Oliver trying to save children’s eating habits around the world. And the film, Food Inc. is making people sit up and pay attention. Shouldn’t free-range parenting be about getting back to basics, encouraging slow food and educating children to eat consciously?

On the other hand, many free-range parents feel that we shouldn’t spend so much time worrying about the food. Let them be kids and enjoy childhood! Kids don’t need to be trained to read labels for fat content.

So, what say you? Does free-range parenting mean eating consciously and teaching your children to do the same? Or does free-range parenting imply more of lassiz faire approach – let the kids do their thing and stop hovering and worrying about everything that goes into the children’s mouths? Let’s have a little discussion.

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13 Responses to “ControverSunday: The Paradox of Feeding Free-Range Kids”


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  5. 5 Perpetua April 26, 2010 at 4:51 am

    Have you read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle? I bet you’d love it. It’s by Barbara Kingsolver. There’s also a book called Radical Homemakers that I’ve been meaning to check out.

    Anyway, I agree with all above. Balance is key. It’s what I’m working so hard to find myself, for both E and for me.

    And I’m with Hypatia in throwing my hat off to you for the bread-baking!

    • 6 Mama Tortoise April 26, 2010 at 5:12 am

      One of the many titles on my ‘to read’ list! And I’ll have to look up the Radical Homemakers.

      And honestly, bread-baking sounds more ‘domestic goddessy’ than it actually is. I only do it every couple of weeks and make a big batch and then freeze it.

  6. 7 Ginger April 25, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    I agree, it’s a balance. The biggest thing I think is what are you showing your kids as they grow up? What choices are you making as a family? What options do you allow in your own home? And as they get older, what do you tell them about those junk foods? Then, let them be kids. Let them take what they’re learning from you and apply it their own way, especially at home. Let them make their choices knowing that you’re teaching them HOW to make those choices.

    • 8 Mama Tortoise April 26, 2010 at 5:09 am

      Ginger – I agree that it is good to examine what you show and tell your kids about food. I don’t want them learning to look down on kids who then DO get junk food in their lunches at school, for example. Everything in moderation… more difficult than it sounds!

  7. 9 Hypatia April 25, 2010 at 3:15 pm

    Wow. I commend you with all your bread baking and organic farming. I have no children yet, but I know that even HYPOTHETICALLY doing that is not in the cards for me!

    I do think it’s a good idea to keep kids oblivious to the wonders of McD and other such establishments for as long as possible… but then comes grade school and the other little kids with their bags of cheetos and oreos!

    So, I don’t think you can/should keep them from those things forever because it only makes it forbidden and that much more tempting. I know I, and one of my sister’s friends, (Both the children of hyper-vigilant parents when it came to food) ended up with eating disorders and food-hording issues. I would sneak food and steal it and all sorts of other unpleasant things in order to get my “fix”– just like a junkie. (Which, incidentally, research has now shown that the typical american-processed diet has the same effect on the brain as cocaine… so there ya go.)

    Rather, I think (for me) the solution has been giving up making food either good or bad. Food just IS. And food is about choices and listening to the signals of the body. Sometimes the body wants chocolate ice cream. But sometimes the body wants asparagus and tomatoes. In the end I’ve found myself wanting ice cream a lot less than I was culturally programed to do now that I’ve taken it of my “bad food” list and just started thinking about it as another food option devoid of value judgments.

    • 10 Mama Tortoise April 26, 2010 at 5:05 am

      Hypatia – that’s an interesting comment about making certain food ‘forbidden’. You’re right about how once they are on the forbidden list, kids will seek them out. I was the same way growing up – I was prevented having alot of the ‘bad’ food and I found myself gorging on the junk food when my parents weren’t around. I particularly remember one sleepover with friends where I made myself sick because I ate so much junk.

  8. 11 amoment2think April 25, 2010 at 8:12 am

    Oh, what a great point!

    For me it means both. I think we need to strive for an approach in between. For example, what you have said about what you feed your kid sounds to me like a reasonable middle ground. But the fact you are conscious of your food choices, I would assume that your kids diet is mainly healthy, unprocessed, homemade food. With a bit of ketchup and fishy crackers thrown it. This indicates to me that you are conscious without worrying. And to me, that is the point of Free Range Parenting. Aware but not afraid. Feed your kid the best you can, knowing we need kids who are healthier, but don’t flip out if they happen to have an affinity for ketchup. If 90% of what they eat is good, then let them have the 10%.

    Love this post by the way!

    • 12 Mama Tortoise April 25, 2010 at 10:17 am

      Yup. That’s pretty much where I stand. Trying to strike that balance. Not to mention the other obstacles in eating – it’s cheaper to buy the junk food than the organic greens. And there is also the convenience issue – I try to take along a reusable water bottle, but it is often easier to pack along a juice box.

      There is also the spectrum – I believe that you have to be somewhere on the food consumption spectrum, you can’t be entirely one thing or the other. MJ and I watched the movie Food Inc last week and started thinking of other things we can do to eat better and support ethical food producers/distributors. So, later that week I’m standing in the grocery store looking at flour. And I’m thinking, hmmmmm…. where does this flour come from? What does the grain look like and what is it sprayed with? And then I had to give myself a shake and remind myself that I’m buying flour to make my own bread! I mean, how far do we need to go?


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