Can This Mom Change Her Family’s Eating Habits?

Posted April 9, 2009 by

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It all began with my bookclub that meets on Thursday nights.

This time around, we read The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, considered light reading for the two food scientists in the group. The appalling revelation in the book is how much corn is part of our diet — as well as the diet of the animals we eat — and a main ingredient (in its various forms) in the processed foods that we eat.

I admit, I learned just enough to be considered dangerous.

The bookclub host served up a corn-free meal for the group (no easy task) and I had a lengthy conversation with a member who lives in the city and raises chickens for their fresh eggs.  One bookclubber confessed that she was going to start feeding her dog a raw diet – just fresh, natural people food- because she had learned that most kibble has ingredients that can cause skin problems and allergies in dogs. That’s when I realized she was feeding her dog better than I was feeding my children!

So when EP editor Elisabeth Wilkins blogged on the mercury found in high fructose corn syrup (or hfcs) it dawned on me that maybe I should not have pooh-poohed all the talk about washing the pesticides off my produce and should not have rolled my eyes all these years at all my granola-head friends who were buying grass-fed beef from a local farmer!

I was not convinced that I had to change a thing, until-sure enough, there it was – three EP forum parents’ posts had comments like, “The school reported that my child’s behavior was worse after lunchtime.”
Behavior and bad food– there really is a link?

So now I’m reading labels like a lunatic. My kids are reading labels. My husband is quizzing me on the food in the fridge, testing me to see if I know what does and doesn’t have high fructose corn syrup in it.  I’m finding some form of corn in yogurt, my bread, in my ice cream.  My worries are taking on a life of their own! I don’t need a therapist, I need a nutritionist!

I put a phone call in to Barbara Stitt, who with her husband published a link between good food and good behavior. This couple worked for 30 years documenting their results and training schools and parents how to get the same results.  Their approach reduced behavior outbursts to nearly zero in the school where Barbara Stitt worked, and the test results and follow-up research were featured in the hit movie Supersize Me.

Barbara Stitt, currently retired, worked as a probation officer and is a nutritionist. Her work with school lunch programs has taken her all over the world. Her husband Paul, a biochemist who passed away at the age of 68 earlier this year, founded Natural Ovens Bakery.  The Stitts’ Program tested and documented a link between providing nutritious food for lunch and successfully reducing behavior problems in Appleton, Wisconsin schools.

Barbara Stitt still works to promote feeding students good foods that make them feel good and behave better. Together, this educated and dedicated couple made some excellent arguments about how fresh, nutritious food is actually cheaper than buying processed convenience foods. In fact, the administrators of those Wisconsin schools agreed that it was cheaper to feed the students healthy food than to pay the costs of handling repeated student outbursts or removing a student from school for behavior related problems.

Barbara Stitt believes that with the current focus on the environment, parents are recognizing the value of fresh food. Families dealing with shrinking grocery budgets find that eating fresh food has no hidden costs. She also reminded me that in “Supersize Me” the budget was $27.00 a day to eat at McD’s, and that every family can buy plenty of real food for less. In their long career, the Stitts’ always maintained that the food we are putting into our children’s bodies is killing them, and that healthy school lunches with nutrient-dense food can reduce the risk of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in our children.

The Stitt’s also suggested that parents buy food that comes in the package nature gave it- no boxes, no cans, no wrapping required. This also helps families avoid food dyes, additives, preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients that someday may be revealed as links to current childhood diseases and behaviors!

Now I’m wondering, “Can I do this, on a budget? Could I get my school to try this?  If I sent simple, fresh food in the lunchbox, would my children eat it? Would they feel good and therefore be able to concentrate better? Barbara Stitt’s said “Yes!”

What do you think?

About

Annita Wozniak grew up in a large, imperfect family in the Midwest. "As adults we have the power to build children up or tear them down," she says about the challenges of being a responsible parent, "and we never know when what we say is going to be a defining moment in a child's life." Woz is a writer and child-grower living in the Midwest with her husband and their three inspirational children. She is always learning. You can visit her website at annitawoz.wordpress.com

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  1. RaineR Report

    For those intersted in ADHD and nutrition that don’t have the time to read books on the matter, there is a 1 hr 15 minute video on YouTube that features Dr. Michael Lyons, MD shot at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Canada (put out by RosaryFilms). VERY Informative. Dr. Lyons wrote the book, “Is Your Child’s Brain starving?”
    You can type in Nutrition For Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder ADHD – Educational Video or paste in the link to the video clip:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2utqmVGPCt0

    Reply
  2. Kris Report

    For the mom with the 7 year old with encopresis. My son had encopresis and we thought it would never end! His GI doctor recommended a high fiber diet and also said it would eventually get better between 7 and 9 years old. IT DID! FINALLY at 9 years old, it stopped. It’s like he just figured it out and did it on his own. I hope this is helpful to you. I know this is all about natural and organic living, so I am hesitant to mention this, but mirilax helped very much in managing the encopresis. He is now 13 and we have no residual signs of the encopresis. Believe me, I understand how difficult it can be. Good luck. Your son will grow out of it!

    Reply
  3. Annita Woz Report

    For Susan- good for your son that he has found a teacher who fits his learning style. That is excellent. Let go of the fact that the teacher is overweight as that factor is not your business to address or fix…but it IS your business to help your son be healthy emotionally, physically and mentally– so this request fits right in. Feel confident advocating for his physical health! A conversation focusing on the budget available for the meal is a good place to start along with a plan for your son to adjust to any changes. Your worries about your son’s response remind me of a quote from John Rosemond (author of a Daily Guide to Parenting) “Give children a good dose of Vitamin “N,” as in “No.” I hope that you are successful in making a change for the better, but you can take comfort in that the movie/snack meal is not the EVERY day routine! : )

    Reply
  4. Susan Report

    I have a 12yr old boy who has ODD and is in a self contained classroom. At school his tantrums are rare… the teacher credits her teaching methods. (At home he is the total opposite! lashing out when he does not get his way) What is crazy is the teacher gives the kids fast food and a movie every Friday for a job well done! The teacher and her aids are extremely over weight… How do I tell her delicately to at least try and buy healthy? (If I tell her not to feed my son, I’m sure there will be a war between him and I, after all he deserves a treat, just not one that will give him a heart attack!)

    Reply
  5. Annita Woz Report

    Welcome to the EP forum Mrs. Stitt. My condolences to you and your family on your husband’s passing. He did indeed leave a fine legacy.

    I am pleased to see your commentary here on the EP blog, where you can connect with these good parents and share your knowledge of the food and child connection. http://www.naturalpress.info is a valuable site to visit for more info from the Stitts’ work.

    Reply
  6. Barbara Stitt Report

    I keep reading about children having eczema which could indicate a deficiency in omega-3, b-vitamins and vitamin D3 (2,000 units daily for children). All are available in health stores or the health section of your regular grocery store. Blending into juice or a smoothy by using a liquid D3 (or emptying the capsules), nutritional yeast and ground flaxseed would make it easy for a child to consume. Just drink quickly as the flax will thicken if allowed to sit. Making a paste of the ground flax seed and spreading directly on the eczema and covering with a soft cloth is also beneficial. This is good for just about everybody as alergies to these foods are very rare. I was surprised and pleased to find a telephone conversation in your blog and wish to add that my husband Paul passed on from an injury at 68. He left quite a wonderful legacy.

    Reply
  7. kids Or Us Report

    I lived with three generations of Taurrettes Syndrome. My sisters have it so I recognized it when my daughter developed the symptoms though at that time I didn’t know what it was called. I am now raising my grandchild who also has it and from my own experience, I have discovered that diet plays a very important role in controlling the tics,knuckle cracking and vocal noises. The fact is any kind of stimulant such as caffeine, corn syrup, sugars and some other sweeteners all trigger his symtoms and all are minimized when he eats natural foods. Our family has been growing organic fruits, vegetables, herbs and we’re raising milk goats, chickens and turkeys all of which are free ranging,and fed organic feeds. We make our own bread so we all live much healthier and best of all its less costly to eat healthy than eating junk and preservatives. There’s no need to read labels in this family.

    Reply
  8. Jen Mom of 3 Report

    This whole thing about the foods is great. I have been working on elimintaing the “junk” from my kids diet. So far its going Ok. Most of the food we eat does not have addatives, preservatives and now I’m trying to get rid of food coloring. I have one kid with ADD and another with possible ODD. They do eat well and enjoy fruits.Do cold cuts count as one of the foods to elimniate? My kids like bologna and salami. And of course the treat at Grandma’s house -oreos. Espcially for my little one. I will try the probiotics too. my hope is that maybe my oldest will no longer need her ADD medication.

    Reply
  9. virtangel Report

    It sounds a lot like the Feingold program! (www.feingold.org) It, along with the CDs, changed our lives for the better. It eliminates all the nasty artificial colors, flavors and synthetic preservatives. Feingold introduced us to the Natural Ovens products (which we love!) We can tell almost immediately if our children are having a food or chemical reaction. One of the best things about Feingold is the foodlist. It is an entire guide to the name brand foods that have been researched and proven to be chemical free. I found out very quickly that the vast majority of labels on foods are incomplete or outright lies. Feingold takes the guesswork out of the equation. It has also solved my daughter’s problems with hives and other skin problems. A friend has completely cured their son’s eczema following this program as well. I whole-heartedly recommend trying this program for any child with behavioral or health problems.

    Reply
  10. Annita Woz Report

    Luckygal- yes! The feingold site is an excellent one on this topic. Barbara Stitts strongly recommended them when I interviewed her for this article.

    Reply
  11. Annita Woz Report

    Jb and NC mom- I would strongly suggest that you take your children to a farm that grows veggies. Like a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture Farm) that also offeres shares of the harvest. Getting kids in the dirt, learning about where the food comes from, having them eat some of it off the vine, can really connect them to the food and to the new taste as a positive experience. If you have room, grow a tiny garden. A farmers market is a great experience for grown ups but most children connect when they are not surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the sales crowds. Quiet farm fields, rows of new veggies, expanses of green and the blue sky can be calming and let the real message come to them. Someone recommended the book The Last Child in the Woods on just this topic. I’m checking it out of my lib. this afternoon.

    More info on this kind of eating, is available all over the web but I recommend doing a search of your local area under CSA farms to find more info on this and I’ll do some more digging and see what other info I can give as a reference to these ideas and post those when I find them.

    For those asking for more info: I have a lot of support for this effort in my home, so I’m going to use one of my “lifelines” and call a friend to get some good leads and will post those for those EP blog readers searching for more on this topic.

    Reply
  12. Mary Report

    Wow, what a great article! My granddaughter is 4 and has been labeled as ODD by her daycare/school plus she has had eczema since she was an infant and has some bowel problems. I truly believe the food at the daycare and home have alot to do with her actions and re-actions because some days are absolutely perfect without any incidents and others are absolutely the worst. Thank you so much for the information on the probiotics..I have heard of them but never knew there is a brand for children. You would think since our public/private school systems “only want the best for the children” they would research the food they are serving to them! I printed these blogs and plan to give it to my granddaughters daycare/school.

    Reply
  13. NC Mom Report

    I have always championed a healthy, fresh diet until I married a man who eats predominantly meat + a startch or junk like buttered popcorn as his main meal. Sadly, I (the former vegetarian) now have 2 kids ages 8 and 10 who eat ~1/3 of their calories in protein (chicken fingers, peanut butter, hot dogs), 1/4 in fruit and remaining ~40% in grains and sweets. My 7 year old daughter went more than a year without a single vegetable passing her lips– including french fries. It’s so bizarre because I made home-made baby food using all sorts of vegetables, grains, lean protein and fruits and they gobbled it down until about 12 months old. I blame the repetitive standard “kid food” served in day care for blunting their food preferences.

    My kids understand the food pyramid and know that vegetables and low fat foos are good for you, but they refuse to eat anything other than the same limited foods all the time. It’s so extreme that if I make home-made baked chicken fingers, they won’t eat them because they’re not the deep fried artifical stuff they’re used to. The kids are happy to NOT eat and go hungry for a meal rather than eat something they don’t want to eat.

    HELP ! Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do or do I just wait out this “phase”?

    Reply
  14. Roxane Report

    I am a mother of three girls and a grandmother of four grandsons. My grandsons each have a different problem from asthma,allergies, eczema, bowel problems, temper tantrums and over excited episodes that in up in fights. I would like more information on the topics I have seen in these blogs. We would really appreciate any help provided.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor Report

    Annita, thanks for this great blog post. I wholeheartedly believe in cooking with whole foods as much as possible, and we also read labels like fanatics in our house. I completely believe that there is a huge connection between what our kids eat and how they behave. Can’t wait to hear what’s been happening since you started implementing the new plan in your house. 🙂

    Reply
  16. JB Report

    I have a daughter with Pervasive Development Disorder. We have always had trouble restricting her diet. She will only eat a few veggies and fruits and some meat. She seems to crave sugar and carbs. I have been able to reduce her intake of these, but cannot remove them totally without tantrums ensuing. We have two other kids who are flexible eaters. I would like to eat healthier, but her bad behavior makes it so difficult–she is very persistent with her requirements (like the character in the movie “Rainman”). Do you have any suggestions?

    Reply
  17. Mel Report

    This article is fantastic – thank you, Annita! I wanted to put something out there for those who want to go a step further with diet. The Gut and Psychology Syndrome (GAPS) diet, written by Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride. There are two great sites about the diet, one is where you can purchase the book: http://www.gapsdiet.com. The other is by a mom who has journaled her journey with this diet for her and her son, and she has now put out a companion book called The Gaps Guide. http://www.gapsguide.com. I recommend reading both books; the guide is very practical and easy to read and implement. The book is very technical and medical in nature, but in my opinion essential for understanding exactly what it is that these horrible foods have done to compromise our health. A lot of these kids cannot process grains of any kind, which is why GFCF did a little for our son (we also eliminated corn at that time, but kept rice & some other grains), but we still did not see major change. We are 7 weeks in to the GAPS diet, using the recommended supplements (probiotics are part of this) and detox regimens as well, and the changes we see so far are very encouraging. He got a haircut without screaming (using clippers!), can sit still with us for dinner, can problem solve much better (ie: “I want to play a computer game, therefore I will scream even though I know it will get me nothing” has become “I want to play a computer game, therefore I will finish my schoolwork and chores so mom will turn the computer on for me”), and when he does have a meltdown now, it is shorter in duration and less volatile. We are excited to see where he will be after a year of following this protocol!

    Reply
  18. Annita Woz Report

    Yes, the cooking part has to be factored in to the equation of fresh food. Good thing there are all those recipe sites, good food magazines, lots of ideas. The probiotic movement is getting a lot of support. The funny thing about the late wake up for me is that I THOUGHT I WAS eating good food and giving good food to my kids, I just didn’t realize that it wasn’t really good. I had accepted that all those extra ingredients/additives/unpronouncables just didn’t matter. With autism rates 1 in ev 66 births, and increasing diagnoses of all sorts of other issues not to mention obesity, diabetes, etc, it is clear that those extra ingredients deserve prudent avoidance just in case!

    Reply
  19. Elizabeth GP Report

    Annita,
    I read your blog and am always surprised when it takes parents so long to realize that fresh, whole food is what is healthiest for our children and their development. We have five children. Fortunately, nobody has an allergy. They have always eaten organic meats and milk. We bake often to avoid any artificial coloring or preservatives. Fruits and vegetables are a staple. A parent needs to be savy at the grocery and buy whatever fruits and veggies are on sale. Google recipes with those ingredients and you can come up with some clever and delicious meals.

    Reply
  20. jwturne Report

    You may also want to consider the child’s blood type in narrowing down the foods for best consequences. (Based on the work of Dr. Peter D’Adamo, “Live Right 4 Your Type”.
    It’s based in genetics.)
    My kids are O and A — I’ve noticed that they respond differently to foods. They’re both quite healthy now.

    Reply
  21. Elizaabeth Report

    I have not been successful going to whole foods but keep trying. My child has encopresis and still suffers with soiling at age 7. He also has excema and food allergies identified by an IgG test (which is not recognized as valid by traditional medicine). PROBIOTICS have made a huge difference for us- his stool is no longer the consistency of clay. I think probiotics are awesome and take them myself. There are lots of good brands, even the local Kroger’s sells them. Different strains of beneficial bacteria accomplish different tasks. A probiotic with several strains is better than just one strain. I have read that the refrigerated kind are better than the non-refrigerated but have used both with “results”. The brands I am familiar with are Nature’s Way, Vinco’s, and something called PB8(? can’t trust my memory on that last one). I recommend “The Miracle of Probiotics” if you want more details.

    Reply
  22. detroiter Report

    My son also has eczema. I have not tried pro-biotics, but have tried to keep him off dairy and a host of other foods to no avail. I will keep up the healthy diet, but will also look for a child’s pro-biotic. Can you suggest a brand?

    Reply
  23. Annita Woz Report

    Thank you for reading the post- always happy to connect with like-minded people through these. Impressive results for your son! Hooray for him. I am already seeing adjustment to the improved quality of food. The kids are noticing that the real food has real flavor. Sad that we are reduced to the lowest common taste denominator by what is available on the main shopping shelves. I’m learning so much and my kids are asking questions and hopefully will be feeling better, like yours!

    Reply
  24. Caroline Report

    Thank you for the interesting article. Our family has been dealing with food allergies and Eczema in our four-year-old son since he was an infant. From the time he was old enough to begin trying out “real food” he developed this terrible rash. It turned into many trips to specialists, hospitals, Epipens and megadoses of potent addicting prescriptions like steroids. It was doing more harm than good and he still broke out to anything we gave him. It wasn’t until we started him on a children’s probiotic that he is now very much healed, and very much enjoying a normal boyhood. He went for months with only eating chicken, peas and rice and can now enjoy all kinds of food! yay! What this has done to our family is forced us to read labels, eliminate “junk” ingredients (preservatives, colors etc) and to go whole foods as much as possible. It is amazing all of the terrible things that are in processed foods. Our kids LOVE fruit and veg’s and I am so proud that we have become a healthier foods family! Our son is doing so well…as all of our family…and I hope that others will read your article and comments to really understand the difference it can make! **yay for healthy foods…and our probiotic!!!

    Reply

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