It has been an entire year since I stopped buying processed snacks for my kids. Looking back and knowing what I know now, I can’t believe that I struggled so much with figuring out how to feed my kids real food. Not having processed snacks in the house has made a huge difference in my life. I’m a happier mom, and my kids are happier and healthier! Kicking processed snacks has helped one of my kids overcome an autoimmune disorder, and it has helped my whole family find a healthy balance with junk food and healthy food.
Why I Stopped Buying Processed Snacks for My Kids
I’ve never been a fan of processed foods. I’ve always appreciated “real food”, and even when I do buy processed food, I make sure to avoid artificial colors and flavors. Something about artificial colors and flavors has always bothered me. There is a reason why artificial food coloring is banned in the U.K., Norway, Finland, France, and Austria! Did you know that those dyes are derived from petroleum and coal tar? Gross.
But that isn’t the reason I cut out processed snacks at home. I cut them out after we did an elimination diet as a family and realized that processed foods- especially artificial flavors and dyes- make us feel gross. Simple as that. We safely reintroduced dairy, soy, legumes, rice, wheat and gluten, but our bodies never happily welcomed back highly processed foods. Cutting them out came easy once we all realized how icky we felt after eating most processed foods. That is also how I started by first Dry January!
We did an elimination diet as a family because my oldest son was suffering from chronic stomachaches and joint pain and had recently been hospitalized with Henoch-Schönlein purpura. At the age of 5 his body was suffering from such extreme inflammation that his blood vessels were leaking blood into his skin, joints, and intestines. The picture below is what he looked like after spending several days in the hospital.
It has been nearly two years since Robert got sick, but it is still hard for me to think about it. I never wrote about it in this space because so much was going on with mom’s cancer treatment at the time. I finally feel like I have the mental space to explain why I care so much about the food we eat.
How Henöch-Schonlein Purpura Changed The Way We Eat
Henoch-Schönlein purpura is a disease involving inflammation of small blood vessels that causes blood vessels in the skin, intestines, kidneys, and joints to start leaking. It is an abnormal immune response to an infection, commonly an upper respiratory infection. This is similar to the Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) that we are seeing after kids get Covid. Now you probably understand why I chose to keep the kids home this year! I can’t handle another inflammatory response in one of my kids. Especially after my husband was hospitalized with Covid. But I digress.
Because Henoch-Schönlein purpura is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation, it only made sense to me to adopt an anti-inflammatory diet for my entire family. But let me be clear when I say that not one doctor recommended that we change our eating habits. In fact, no medical professional even asked about our eating habits.
Having had personal connections with friends and family members who suffer from autoimmune diseases, I knew the importance of using food as medicine for Robert’s ailments. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a strong believer of science. I’m a pro-vaxer. And I trust modern doctors. But something felt so strange about the fact that my son was diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, yet not one of his doctors was remotely interested in how this came about or how we could treat it. In fact, he wasn’t even given any long term treatment. Robert was on steroids for about a week to reduce inflammation, and after that we were told that there was no treatment for his chronic stomachaches and joint pain.
After a year of living in pain and many missed days of school, I went all in on finding an anti-inflammatory diet that would heal my little boy. I bought all the books and did all sorts of research on what kinds of food my son should be eating.
Adopting an Anti-Inflammatory Diet is Hard
As much as I tried to feed my family an anti-inflammatory diet, the kids were still bombarded with sugary, processed crap food at school, parties, and from friends and family members. I felt like a mean, crazy mom when I would raise a stink about sugar at school parties. I went so far as to meet with our principal to discuss how much sugar was prevalent in the classrooms. Her response was that school parties are meant to be fun. Cue me feeling like a constant grinch of a mom. Nobody wants to be the mom who complains about school parties, especially not the mom who has party post ideas on her blog!
I tried everything to make Robert feel included in special occasions. We bought allergy free cookies for his class parties and I’d offer special “healthy” treats after birthday parties. But it never felt right. Robert always felt like he wasn’t included and I always felt high maintenance. After all, he didn’t even have a particular allergy that I could pinpoint. He just got “sick a lot” and had chronic stomachaches and joint inflammation. People would ask me what was wrong with Robert and I couldn’t even give them an exact answer because I didn’t know what was making him sick. He was constantly being sent home from school with stomachaches and joint pain.
To make matters even more confusing, “anti-inflammatory” diets are different for each person. What causes inflammation in one person may not cause inflammation in another person. For the life of me, I couldn’t figure out how to give Robert the foods that would heal his little body without making him feel like he was missing out on celebrations. Some books consider nightshades to be inflammatory while others say that the same foods help reduce inflammation! I was constantly anticipating what food was going to give my son a stomachache and joint pain. The anxiety was giving me stomachaches. All of this was happening while my mom was living out her last days, which of course gave all of us even more anxiety and stomachaches. I’m still not entirely convinced that stress didn’t play a role here.
One day it hit me that as much as I wanted to control what my kids, especially Robert, ate outside of the house, I would never be able to control that. What I can control is what food I choose to bring into my house. I had already started to buy less processed food so it wasn’t hard for me to cut out processed snacks completely.
I had no idea that this one simple fix would make such a profound difference. One simple decision to stop buying processed snacks has completely changed the way my kids eat, not only in our house, but out of the house too!
How I Cut Processed Snacks Out of Our Diet: I Backed Off From “Diets” and Stopped Buying Processed Junk
We already knew from our elimination diet that processed foods hurt all of our tummies, not just Robert’s. So instead of focusing on what my family was eating out of the house, I turned my energy into what I could control: food in my home.
I had already stopped buying most processed foods during our elimination diet, so once it was over I continued to keep processed snack foods out of the house.
I stopped buying packaged granola bars, crackers, fruit snacks, cookies, etc. If my kids want a snack, they eat fruit, vegetables, nuts, or bread. No longer do I feel like we have food that is “off limits”. If the kids are hungry, they can eat anything they want in the house. We don’t have treat foods and healthy foods. We just have real food that the kids have access to at any point during the day. We still make cookies and waffles and pancakes, and even donuts, but we make them from scratch, eat them sparingly, and don’t have access to them as snack foods.
How Cutting Out Processed Snacks Made Me a Happier Mom
Cutting out processed snacks has allowed me to be a much happier and low maintenance mom. Where I once felt anxious about all the junk my kids consumed, I no longer fret when grandma drops off cookies or when the kids get a Halloween treat bag from friends.
I can’t control the outside food circumstances. I can only control what I buy. Letting go of trying to control all food that my kids consume has made me such a happier mom.
In college I had a rule for myself: I could smoke cigarettes, but I wouldn’t buy them. My theory was that if I got lung cancer, at least I wouldn’t have paid to get it. Stupid, I know, but it worked for me. If I wanted a cigarette, I had to work for it and bum it from someone.
I feel the same way about food these days. I don’t mind junk food, but I don’t want to spend my money on it. My family still eats processed food. We still indulge in junk food when we are at parties or on vacation (two things we haven’t done much in 2020). We still buy ice cream. We are not health food junkies, but I refuse to pay for processed snacks to be a staple in my home.
Not Buying Processed Snacks Has Taught Us About Balance
Another pro of not having processed snacks in the house has been that we have a much healthier relationship with junk food these days. Food is very important to me and I want my kids to know that a healthy relationship with all food is important. We know that junk food has a time and a place. I love donuts and cookies and fried food and potato chips. I can’t live in a world where we don’t allow ourselves to enjoy all of those delicious flavors. I’d be lying if I said I’d never buy potato chips again. I’m already thinking of how much fun it will be to eat chips and dip while watching the Super Bowl. We still enjoy fun food, but I don’t buy it as easy-to-reach-for snack foods the that my family has access to at all times.
I don’t want my kids to live in extremes where they think that junk food is something to be coveted. I don’t want them to grow up and have awful eating habits because they felt too restricted in our home. Instead, we indulge in junk food on special occasions like vacations, parties, and when people bring it to us as a gift. We see these things as special treats that have a time and a place. What really makes me happy is that since we don’t have processed sugar laden snacks in our home these days, the kids tend to naturally eat less junk food when we do have it.
Just recently on vacation we let the kids pick out special snacks. They got Cosmic Brownies and Zebra Cakes. Oh boy did they love them! But they also could only handle eating half of it before they said their tummies hurt. I no longer have to worry that they will over do it on sugar or processed junk because they are able to listen to their own bodies. It is a wonderful thing to see your kids make healthy decisions on their own.
As corny as this sounds, not keeping processed snacks as a staple in our home has allowed us to slow down and listen to our bodies. Robert now knows what types of food hurt his stomach and give him joint pain. He can make his own decisions on whether he wants to eat those kinds of foods or not.
For example, Robert loves Chick-fil-A. The chicken sandwich has always been his favorite. However, the bread at CFA has blue food coloring in it. Go figure, right? Robert gets stomachaches and hip pain every single time he eats one. Yet he still loves them. So what do we do? We still let him have it in moderation. And on the days that he does have one, he knows that he needs to eat extra healthy so he doesn’t overwhelm his body and get sick. We also only get it about once a month and make a big deal about it. Over the last year he has requested it less and less and even now when he does get it, he only eats half the sandwich before he feels gross.
He is learning at a young age to trust his body and to feed it food that feels good, not icky.
My Sickly Child No Longer Feels Sick
My main goal in giving up buying processed snacks was to provide a healthy environment for my kids. A secondary goal was to create less waste, but that is another post for another day.
I don’t know if it was food alone that has healed Robert, after all he still enjoyed processed snacks in moderation. Many articles say that kids naturally recovery from HSP. Yet other articles say that kids with HSP are more likely to have autoimmune diseases as adults.
We’ve also upped our vitamins and supplements this year. I swear by elderberry, and I also think slowing down has helped all of us heal from a few traumatic years. I’m not naive enough to think that stress didn’t affect Robert’s health.
I like to think it has been a combination of eating better, cutting out artificial colors, and adopting a more mindful lifestyle that has made Robert feel so much better this year.
No matter what, I won’t be going back to buying processed snack food.
I can’t believe it has been a year since I bought Goldfish, granola bars, and fruit snacks. Snacks that seem pretty innocuous and seem to define childhood. But I won’t go back. My kids eat better, are less picky, and most importantly, feel good. They aren’t complaining about the lack of processed snacks in our home so I’m going to stay on this train as long as I can.
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