New Food Rules for Kids: How to Eat Healthy in Spite of Government Recommendations

Don’t tell me to eat 6-11 servings of grains every day.

Don’t tell me the butter on my toast isn’t good for me.

Don’t make me put crackers on a plate with pizza just to get in enough grains in one meal.

I’m grateful I live in a democracy where the government just makes recommendations for what I eat and doesn’t completely control it – but for those who eat government-funded meals like school lunches and those from charitable organizations, I feel sorry.

While volunteering at Kids Food Basket, a local (amazing!) charity that makes sack suppers for kids who otherwise might not eat outside of their government-funded meals at school, I noticed that we were adding white flour saltine crackers to the lunch bags.

The bags already included a sandwich, so the crackers didn’t really seem to fit anywhere. It’s not like there was anything to put with them, like crackers and cheese and peanut butter and crackers.

I knew exactly what those crackers were for.

They were for the government.

They had to be added to an already-balanced, sufficient meal to meet the requirements for servings of grains so that Kids Food Basket can get government subsidies.

So sometimes, the government does tell us what to eat beyond recommendations.

And I think it’s ridiculous.

How Has the High Carb Thing Been Working for You?

Whole Wheat Homemade English Muffins and Tortillas

For a few decades now, the U.S. government has been telling us to eat lots and lots of grains. They finally added “half should be from whole grains” a few years back, but that was a piece of duct tape on the gaping hole in the dam through which the American well-being is flowing at an alarming rate.

We are sicker than ever, and many of the diseases of civilization – obesity, diabetes, high triglycerides, heart disease, high blood pressure – are related to high-carb eating, especially white flour carbs that act like sugar in the body with little fiber to slow it down.

I strongly disagree that anyone needs 6-11 servings of grains per day  (the old Food Pyramid recommendations) or that grains should be the foundation or largest part of one’s diet (the new plate version).

I don’t even think people need to eat grains at all, and for some, like Megan’s amazing story here, it’s a necessity.

So what’s a real food parent to do when their kids get fed nutrition from sources other than your own eating philosophy?

Let this former 3rd grade teacher help.

I’ve created some new food rules to teach your kids about what should be on the plate (and what should be off).

Before you fire up the comments, let me say: They don’t include everything.

These rules are designed to be easily digestible, easy to remember, fit on one page, and BASIC.

They don’t address various chemicals and additives I don’t want my kids (or yours) eating, like artificial sweeteners and food dyes (even though of course I think that’s important).

They DO cover the basic food groups and focus on whole foods.

I hope it’s a breath of fresh air for you. Enjoy!

New Food Rules for Kids: Printable

New food diagram for kids

You can pin the image above or get the printable PDF by clicking here:
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For more detailed rules and factoids about food that are appropriate for every age level from two to teen, you’ll love the “daily nuggets” that I incorporate into every level of the Kids Cook Real Food eCourse, kids’ cooking classes that aren’t too dumbed down (put this cheese and sauce on an English muffin and ask mom to bake it) nor too grown up (we use fun phrases to help kids remember safety rules and techniques and follow good educational practice with lots of repetition and rehearsal of skills).

WZZM on the set with Meredith TerHaar - pancakes

We got to be on TV yesterday! LIVE! It was super fun and fast-moving.

For example, today my beginner level (ages 2-5) made a salad and we talked in their language about how colors work with vegetables and fruits, counted the colors we could use, then “made it pretty.”

With my intermediate girls (ages 6-7), we now have a silly joke about “No Peeking!!” when cooking rice. I kept pretending to try to go “check the rice” and let them keep me from it in a fun role reversal. They won’t forget that lesson. Smile

And the advanced kids are working toward the ultimate goal: planning an entire meal and implementing it on their own. Lots of adults struggle with meal planning, and whether you use pencil and paper or an online system like Plan to Eat, it’s such an important skill!

New Food Rules for Kids

Now for the explanation of each Food Rule, for both parents and kids:

Food Rule #1:

Fruits and vegetables are always healthy foods.

Different colored fruits and veggies have different nutrients – vitamins, antioxidants, and good things for different parts of your body.

Choose lots of colors each time you fill your plate!

Fruits and Veggies

My kids like to say they’re “making it pretty” when they do this. It’s like a box of crayons, but yummier.

Food Rule #2:

Healthy fats are good for you. Healthy Fats

Always eat your veggies with a healthy fat (butter, olive oil, homemade ranch dressing, coconut oil). That helps your body make use of the vitamins you’re eating.

Real fats come from animals and plants and have been eaten for thousands of years. Not-so-good-for-you fats have been discovered in the last 100 years or so (corn oil, soybean oil, shortening, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated stuff for example).

Food Rule #3:

Eat quality meats.Quality Meats

Meat doesn’t come in tubes.

Animals should eat what they were created to eat: chickens = bugs. Cows = grass. Pigs = lots of things.

The meat is more important to finish than the bread (when eating a sandwich).

Food Rule #4:

Choose dairy that isn’t too processed.Real Dairy

Milk is white. Yogurt is white. (Get it? Not chocolate milk. Not sugary, colorful yogurt in a tube. Something that’s close to real milk.)

Cheese doesn’t come with its own wrapper for every slice. (And it shouldn’t really have other ingredients beyond cheese.)

Food Rule #5:

Grains are for sometimes.Some Grains

Grains can be hard on tummies, and if they’re white flour grains, the energy they give you won’t last.

  1. Crunchy snacks are “fun foods” – seldomly eaten. Unless you make your own…
  2. Real grains – oatmeal, rice (brown and white), homemade whole grain breads and muffins – should be a small part of the meal.
  3. Like forces repel – A grain with a grain is not a meal (bread with pasta, oatmeal and muffins, pizza and breadsticks)

Food Rule #6:

Sugar is always a fun food.Sugar is a Fun Food

Sugar is never good for you, so it’s always and only a “fun food.”

Even if you make your own cookies, sugar is still sugar.

UPDATE: One of my awesome contributing writers reminded me that I didn’t mention anything about drinks. So true. I totally forgot them (they’re not addressed in a special way in that old food pyramid if I remember correctly either). It’s funny, because my husband and I were just talking about this the other day, and he said he doesn’t remember EVER drinking water as a kid, maybe only when he was super thirsty in the summer. It was all Kool-aid and juice, then soda pop as he got older.

I can’t remember for the life of me what I drank on a regular basis with meals or what was in my school lunches! I think it was largely milk, but I’ll have to ask my mom. 🙂

For our family, it’s water 75% of the time at home, with water kefir and raw milk options as well. When we’re out and about, it’s all water.

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New Food Rules for Kids What to Eat and How to Explain Real Food

Simple Two-Part Rule any Kid can Remember

When you’re having conversations with your kids about food, it’s hard to know what words to use.

“Good food” and “bad food” can be a little too dichotomous, too black and white.

It’s risky to call foods “bad,” because your kids will see other people eating them.

  • Is it as “bad” when Grandma eats a cupcake as it is when a robber takes someone’s money?
  • Is it so “bad” to eat that food that Grandma is going to hurt herself?

You don’t want to confuse food with moral issues, and a tearful child accosting Grandma not to eat the “bad food” might end up poorly.

I prefer the distinction I believe I read Dr. Sears use years and years ago:

Growing Foods and Fun Foods

You can fairly easily classify just about everything you eat into these categories:

  1. Growing foods that will help your body grow, be healthy, and reach its potential.
  2. Fun foods that are just that – something fun that won’t really help your body at all.

Most fun foods will hurt the body, some immediately for some kids and some over time. But do kids need to know that during their introduction to what to eat and why?

Unless you need to scare a child away from something they’re allergic or sensitive to, I would be careful not to denigrate a food and talk about how much it could hurt people. If a child does have an allergy or sensitivity, then it’s very serious and imperative that know what they cannot eat.

But otherwise, try to focus more on the positive rather than bringing negativity to the table.

As children get older, they can handle understanding a little more about various foods and how they might hurt a body, but until they’re old enough for current events and philosophical questions (I’d say 9 years old and 4th grade at the youngest), I wouldn’t go too far down that road.

Keep it simple: some foods help you, some foods don’t.

That alone can generate hours of mealtime conversation!

What strategy do you use to train your children about healthy foods? How do you help them make good choices away from home and away from you?


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