Family Food Habits Part II: Change Comes to the Woz House

Posted April 20, 2009 by

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My husband has taken to calling me the Corn Queen after my subsequent manic food label reading frenzy.

After reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I learned that essentially, the addition of corn in some form of processed sugar — or as a staple in the diet of the animals we consume — has successfully put to use all the corn over-production that is going on across the U.S.  I love farmers, but this might be a stretch even for me to support this corn-crazed dietary system. I learned about corn-filled food creations like yogurt, bread and cereal which I didn’t think contained corn until reading the ingredient labels and seeing all the versions of corn syrup that make the convenient-food-world go’round. I hadn’t recognized that corn can be listed on the ingredients label as High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) or plain corn syrup. Often it is called other things like sucrose, dextrose, fructose and is responsible for many more, unpronounceable, unnaturally created ingredients.

Mostly, the lesson I learned was about recognizing the need to provide food for our growing children from sources that are nutrient-dense:  simple foods that are delicious because they are fresh and not processed, packaged or prepared with 10+ tablespoons of sugar. The interview with Barbara Stitt’s, formerly of Natural Ovens, educated me on the concept that Plain Jane style food is delicious, affordable and will promote well- behaved kids because they feel good fueled with real food.

I began at home. Home is where the heart disease is. I tossed boxes into the trash if the label listed high fructose corn syrup or plain old corn syrup near the top of the ingredient list. I could not believe where I was finding it either — in tomato soup! in bread! in ketchup! in my half-and- half! What was shocking was how little remained in the cupboard after the purging.  The Stitts told me that not only would I be eliminating unwanted sugars, but I would also be tossing additives, food dyes, preservatives, hydrolyzed this, stabilized that and the odd container of may-or-may-not-contain-one-or-more-of-the-following in the ingredient list.

I imagine these ingredients may someday be linked to behavioral issues, attention issues and emotional disorders. I know they have already been linked to increased rates of childhood obesity and diabetes in children.

So the Corn Queen’s first experiment was to take the real eaters in the house and turn them into guinea pigs to test whether feeding them good food could result in good behavior at school. I sent my kids to school with carrots that still had their greens attached, the tail root still showing, no chopping or peeling required and clearly labeled organic in the grocery aisle.  I did manage to run them under water and get the dirt off of them — but you know, when I was a girl, I just pulled them out of the garden and wiped the dirt off on the front of my shirt and ate them. (Sorry Dad, we did not have that many rabbits…yes, I stole many carrots from the well-weeded rows and confess I may have been HFCS-avoider way back then.)

Yup, reports were filed at the end of the day.  My children told me they enjoyed the carrots and the best part was that they loved whapping each other with the long green stems! Well, so much for good food eliminating bad behavior problems.  My whole purpose for switching was to get well fed, cooperative kids who not only felt better but behaved better.  But then my daughter said, “They were awesome carrots mom, can you send more tomorrow?”

And while I was at it, I became the anti-corn queen browsing the upper shelves of the grocery store looking for whole wheat hot dog buns without HFCS.  It took me fully 10 minutes of searching, reading, rejecting, up and down an entire aisle before it hit me. Oh yeah, let’s serve some all natural, high sodium, unidentified processed “meat” dog on a nutrient dense bun! I started laughing out loud at myself right there in the store.

Well, I still think I might be on to something.

Next week I am going to see what else I spy in the grocery store. I hear going around the outside is best. Produce, milk, eggs, cheese, yogurt, even meat all located on the outside wall of the store…focus on the packaging that nature gave it.  Hmmm. I also know I am supposed to read the labels on packages to see if all the ingredients are recognizable.  Real food has very few ingredients, actually, and the ones on the list should also be things that I would already have at home like flour (not bleached but whole wheat) and plain old sugar (not corn syrup or HFCS or sugar substitutes ) and milk and eggs (not partially hydrogenated anything).  I had been told that buying fresh automatically eliminates ingredients like additives and preservatives. Could it be this simple?

The next biggest change I made was to chuck the syrup. First ingredient, HFCS. I was mortified. Here I was making pancakes, cornbread, waffles, all from scratch but I had been pouring the potentially-mercury-laden liquid gold all over them. Then I saw the price of real maple syrup and did a double take. We compromised on two less expensive bottles of maple syrup- one that is half honey and one that has cane sugar instead of corn syrup and one jug of the pure stuff. Taste tests on waffles were planned for Monday’s breakfast.

The jury is still out on whether this is truly a choice that a fresh HFCS-spying Corn Queen needs to make, because now my kids love the real mapley-flavored syrup and won’t go back to the bargain stuff.  My husband… not so much. But then I don’t worry about his emotional state or his behaviors. Why try and change him? The Corn King will still be the kind of guy who can eat whatever he wants because truthfully, he already knows that daily exercise might be more beneficial than just eating in fear of the label.

Has anyone tried this kind of  around-the-outside-of-the-store grocery shopping? Is anyone else eliminating the HFCS, additives and preservatives in search of  real food? Anyone noticed how your kids are behaving or if they are feeling differently at all?


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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