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Can This Mom Change Her Family's Eating Habits?

Posted by Annita Wozniak

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

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

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