How I taught my kid to curse…and why I blame Big Food

We’re very pleased to bring you this guest post from Ali, as we’ve long been fans of her blog. Ali says she was once a nugget-snarfing, soda-guzzling, TV dinner kind of gal. Since then she has come to her senses, and is doing her best to raise healthy kids in a Froot Snack world. When she’s not at her local farm or co-op, cooking in her kitchen, or trying to convince her daughters not to swing from the light fixtures, she’s a freelance writer. You can find her at the Cleaner Plate Club.

My 6-year-old learned her first curse word recently: crap. I’d take more pride in the fact that she lasted six years without learning the word if it weren’t for this: I’m the one who taught it to her.

We’d been discussing what she likes to eat. She and I had a few good years, foodwise — years in which strawberries were the tastiest treat imaginable, and she did not know the meaning of the words Froot Snacks or Cheetos. It all came to a shattering halt at about age two and a half. I trace it to the moment when I caught a friend’s husband slipping her some M&Ms and whispering, “Your mommy doesn’t want you to have these. But they’re really, really good.”

Since then, it’s been a rapid downward slide.

We’ve done all the recommended things. We don’t get TV reception; right there, we’ve cut her exposure to junk food marketing by about 11,000 commercials a year. She doesn’t use the computer yet, so we’ve managed to dodge adver-gaming as well. We also send her to a school that does not have a cafeteria, one where the closest thing they have to a school anthem is the Compost Song (oh we compost, so we make the most, of our gar-den, yeah, the plants will sing…).

But this is 21st-century America, and crap food is everywhere. It is being handed to my kids by well-intentioned gas station attendants and bank tellers. It is at the local pool, skating rink, and pharmacy. It is in airports, movie theaters, video stores, and barbershops. It’s what’s on the menu at most restaurants, and it’s what’s in the cabinets of most of our neighbors. It is quite literally 77% of the food we pass in supermarket aisles. Even at her broad-minded school, she sees classmates pull puddin’ cups and Disney Princess snacks from their own lunchboxes. At a recent birthday party — in honor of the 5-year old child of two physicians, mind you — sugar soda was the only available drink.

But I haven’t given up hope. Not yet. While it’s true that she won’t voluntarily reach for Brussels sprouts over anything with the image of Sponge Bob Square Pants, this child has also danced to fiddle music at farmers markets. She has picked green beans from the vine at our local CSA. She has filled her belly with berries fresh from the bush. She has grown her own carrots, and she has watched her mother happily haul canvas bags filled with dirt-crusted vegetables.

And she sometimes even forgets to be skeptical of the green stuff that lands on her dinner plate.

If nothing else, I can say this: I have showed her what real food is. Someday, sooner than I want, it will be up to her whether she chooses real food, or some kind of imitation of it. Even if she chooses the imitation — the cheez-products in aerosol cans, the nuggets, the Slurpees and the Frostys — she will at least understand the difference between these items and the real thing.

Which is what brings us to the word in question. It had been a long day — one that had included a trip to the mall (nothing good there), a birthday party (copious amounts of birthday cake and ice cream plus goodie bag chock full of candy), and a visit with friends whose hearts are far purer than their pantries. As she asked for a cookie, which by my calculations would have made her 10,987th treat of the day, I exploded. "No!" — explaining she’d been eating “nothing but crap all day long.”

Long pause. Then: “What’s ‘crap,’ Mommy?” The word sounds so wrong coming out of a kindergartener’s mouth.

“Oh…it’s a bad word, honey. I shouldn’t have said it.”

“But what does it mean?”

“Well, in this context, it means, like, potato chips. And cake, and cookies, and jelly beans and stuff. Food that doesn’t have anything good for your body. Food that doesn’t make you healthy. Empty food.”

“Ah,” she replies, nodding sagely. “I understand.”

Then she pauses. “Mommy?”


“I really love crap.”

And she does. For now. But maybe not forever.

23 Responsesto “How I taught my kid to curse…and why I blame Big Food”

  1. Tammy says:

    I love this post.

  2. Lesley says:

    What kind of nut feeds sugared sodas to little kids? Aren’t they energetic enough? I fear that when I have kids, I’ll be that “weirdo hippie mom that doesn’t feed her kids fast food and Cokes” and people will mean it in a derogatory way. Ugh.

  3. Sarah C. says:

    You sound just like my mom. :) She made dinner from scratch most nights and in my lunch I always got little bits of fine cheeses, real meats (not the processed kinds), and a piece of fruit. I might get a mini Hershey’s bar in my brown bag if I was really good that week. What killed most of my friends was the fact that we would only get 10 M&Ms for dessert. Dad was a softy and would occasionally let us have 15! In high school I went through a phase where I would go over to my friends house and eat lucky charms until it made me sick.

    We kids, we do grow out of it. All your hard work and attempts at raising us right do payoff. I didnt really get it until I started living on my own though. Just this morning I thought about how my mom would be so proud that I added fresh fruit to my grocery list and that I dont buy any snack products or foods with processed sugars. Its silly, but it really did cross my mind.

    So I guess I commented to encourage you to hold out. Your kids will truly appreciate it one day. I know I do. :)

  4. Don’t give up. You’re doing the right things and just keep at it. Our kids have a great understanding of good food vs junk food. We raise most of our food so most of what they get is the good stuff. We also do enjoy treats of candy or soda on occasions and the kids learn that those are treats, not real food. Set the example and follow it. Don’t be fanatical, just live the good life and she’ll keep seeing it. It sinks in. It is wonderful to hear our kids from 4 to 15 explain their understandings and see just how well they’ve learned.

    By the way, my ReCaptcha this time is “truly pointless”. Was that appropriate or what for a post about crap??? :)


    Sugar Mountain Farm
    in the mountains of Vermont

  5. Ali B. says:

    Thanks, all. I love the positive messages, mostly because there are so many times when the “right” thing to do isn’t clear. It’s a weird thing, raising kids in a society that just isn’t healthy. But I like the idea – keep at it, model well, be positive-not-fanatical…live the good life, as Walter says… and they’ll be okay. From your lips to God’s ears, friends!

  6. Kei says:

    Ahh, yes. Crap. We all know it well. Even if your daughter loves crap now, I would be willing to bet that as she grows older, she’ll definitely appreciate the food that you make for her. When I was her age, I used to long for Crap and my mom would never oblige me. But at least now I know how to cook a real meal for myself and stay away from the Crap aisles in the supermarket. You’re doing good!

  7. pattie says:

    Hang in there! Time’s are changin’. The lights are going ON in America. And the habits your children learn while young will sustain them through a lifetime. More and more healthy, organic, fresh, real options are available every day. Training your children’s palates to appreciate these options, know how to find and choose them, and be empowered to advocate for them as they get older, is one of the greatest lifetime gifts you can give them.

  8. Anna says:

    As the others are saying, you absolutely are on the right track, though it will have lots of bumpy parts. My third grade son is a lot like your daughter – he gets real food at home, but is exposed to “crap” all the time away from home, and sure, he likes the “crap”. But I’ve noticed this year that his taste is expanding rapidly to include more of the “grown up” foods my husband and I like, and he can more easily distinguish on his own the differences between real food and fake food.

    He had no problem giving out pencils for Valentine’s day instead of candy, and while he loved having the candy from his classmates, I noticed he mostly ate the chocolate ones, and said I could toss the hard candy, pure sugar stuff like lollypops and “novelty” candies. He’ll happily eat the 72% chocolate that my husband and I like, too.

    And just a couple nights ago, I really saw a sign that thinks are really sinking in. We went out to a popular casual restaurant, Chilis, for dinner. 15-20 years ago I loved Chilis, but that seems like eons ago. I think I ‘ve only been to one twice in the past ten years (and even then, it was someone else choosing). So Chilis is not a typical place for us, but my son had a certificate for a free kids meal that he had earned at school (that’s another rant) and I had $40 in gift certificates that came bundled with some nature center tickets from a school fundraising auction. It had been one of those busier than usual days afterschool and I had nothing prepared when we all arrived home just before dinnertime. Normally I would just make a quick egg frittatta and tossed salad or something like that, but we had these Chilis things burning holes in our pockets so we decided to go out.

    I encouraged my son to get something off the regular menu instead of the kids menu (it is improved with a somewhat better range of side dishes than the ubiquitous french fries or tortilla chips) but he really wanted to use his certificate. So he got the kid’s pizza and black beans as a side, neither of which we have much at home. I suggested the steamed broccoli, but he has that all the time, so I let it go. He was very happy with plain carbonated water with a lemon slice (our latest “happy medium” on soda and what I often order since I gave up drinking Diet Coke).

    But about halfway through his pizza, he asked if he could have some of my salad (Southwestern Cobb with grilled chicken breast instead of breaded) and some of my husband’s fajita meat and peppers. He said the pizza was terrible and he didn’t want to finish it. It truly was a horrible anemic, pathetic excuse for pizza, and I was soooo glad to hear him recognize that. Truth be told, our dinners weren’t that great either; the fajitas had some overpowering fake “smoke” flavor. We all agreed Chilis would have to get along without us after this. I think the kid’s pizza really left a bad taste in my son’s mouth that will serve him well and remind him in the future. I have $10 worth of gift certificates left over, so I guess I’ll find someone else who loves Chilis and give them away.

    Now if I could jsut get him interested in cooking…

  9. Omniwhore says:

    You are my hero.

  10. ExPat Chef says:

    Wow, what a scrooge I was for my child’s birthday!!! Not only did they “have” to do an hour of gymnastics, but the only option for beverages were organic milk or water (one whined for kool-aid)! THEN the only thing besides cake was cheese, fresh fruit and whole wheat crackers. Oh well, they can get crap at home, apparently. Or they all get crap candy at school, school staffers seem to be doing their best to foil my efforts.

  11. David B says:

    I sympathise with you. My sister has brought her boy up vegetarian and cooking everything herself. The number of times we saw some twit try to turn the kid on to crap was amazing. Luckily, the only thing he developed a taste for was chocolate. Everything else sugary makes him gag. At 8 years old now he’s very articulate and when someone tries to push something on him he’ll make it clear that the reason he doesn’t want it is because it’s revolting. I love it when he asks for a piece of cheese or an apple instead.
    Keep doing what you’re doing. I’m sure that even if she does eat crap occasionally, the day will come when she’ll thank you for bringing her up on real food!

  12. Sara says:

    I remember when I started college and I would go for dinner at the dining hall. While I got my glass (or two) of milk with dinner, I looked around and felt like I was the *only* one. Everyone else had soft drinks or overly sweet “juice” drinks. And I wondered why. Is this actually what they had at home? Or was this the “finally out of the house rebellion?”

    As it is, I struggle with food and my weight. I’m known for eating my share of crap. But I was raised to know the difference. And I choose the good stuff *most* of the time…bring apples or carrot sticks into the office for my snack instead of raiding the vending machine.

    Now that I’m pregnant with my first, it’s even more important to me to set the *right* example for my kids. Raise them to choose the good foods most of the time, understanding that a guilty indulgence is fine, as long as it doesn’t happen regularly. I’m glad I read this post.

  13. Jane says:

    With my 4 year old and 2 year old, we often encounter ‘crap’. But I have taught them that some food has Artificial Ingredients and artificial is not actually food. Since we don’t eat things that aren’t food we don’t eat food that contains artificial ingredients. They can even spot things at the store that have “artificial ingredients”. We get some strange looks at the store.

  14. I sent this post to my husband with a note that said, “This is going to be us talking about our kids some day!” But the truth is, your daughter will come back to these healthier ways; they’ll be what represent home to her when she’s older.

  15. Todd Howard says:

    Ali you rock. Great great post, and such truths. My Mom was like you are with your kids, and there was a period of backlash after I hit college (pizza and candy bars form the vending machine, and no one to say me nay!), but over all my life has been one of balancing the crap with the good. Also, when eating more crap, trying to also drink more actual water, and dose up on my B, C and zinc, and stuff like that… I love that your daughter told you she loves crap though. Even though you told her that it was the “bad thing” she still just told it to ya plain. I love crap. What a good kid. :) -T

  16. Belle says:

    I admit to having the same argument with my son just yesterday. He wanted to eat at McDonald’s and I told him I wasn’t eating that crap. He looked at me and said “chicken nuggets aren’t crap”. I explained that the food wasn’t good for our bodies and we weren’t eating it. We went home and had beet and millet cakes, steamed Bok choy, and pasta with tomatoes and kale. He loved everything. He does have a container where we keep holiday candy and I let him have 1 piece per day. Other than that he snacked on a banana and homemade bread.

    I’m also lucky that his school bans sugar treats. When we weant to the new parent orientation this year, I remember a parent was freaking out because she wouldn’t be able to send cookies or cupcakes for her child’s birthday. Th teacher calmy explained that she could send fruit but the parent complained for another 5 minutes about it and how ridiculous it was. I was thrilled. He does sometimes get unhealthy snacks at his after school program and his grandparents love “crap” but I am trying to encourage them all to give him healthy food.

    Thank you for the post, it really brings attention to how much “crap” our kids are exposed to.

  17. Anna says:

    I described chicken McNuggets to my 9 yo son as bit of chicken trimmings stuck together with “food glue”. That sort of did it for him. He wanted no part of “food glue”.

    My son really likes the cheese burgers I make at home on the grill with grass fed beef. They are big and juicy (my husband and I eat them without buns, with knives & forks). I use real cheddar slices on my son’s (we get bleu cheese). He is really noticing the difference between real food and manufactured foods on his own now.

  18. Indefatigable says:

    Add my voice to the ‘keep it up’ crowd. No, you’ll never teach her to completely refuse junk food, and you’ll never keep her from developing a taste for it. The problem is when kids grow up unable to eat anything but crap, because their parents never taught them that real food also tastes good. Just like any other animal, humans develop their tastes based on what mommy feeds them.

  19. Tara Petty says:

    I loved this post. And keep it up. I love seeing (or reading about) parents that are actually feeding their kids real food. And they care. Your daughter will have to decide for herself what kind of food she wants to eat as she grows up, but you have laid a foundation that will make it easy for her to choose good, real food.
    I was raised in a family (like many people) where hamburger helper was often served, as well as macaroni and cheese. I loved chips and dip, and we always had a cupboard full of little debbie snacks.
    This has made the decision my husband and I have made to eat real food extremely difficult. We are not only breaking old bad habits, but we are learning everything from the beginning.
    So kudos to you. And keep on plugging away.

  20. Great post. Even in our relatively educated and progressive urban neighborhood,  parents vary wildly on what they consider nurturing, both nutritionally and emotionally. While I love to cook and enjoy the challenge of obtaining, preparing and serving wholesome meals to our kids, I know that not everybody bends that way, and try not to be judgmental about it. No doubt some parents who think we are neglecting our kids by not taking them to Europe or giving them Japanese or violin lessons. (Wish we could.)
    I’m always open to ideas for improving my own and my kids’ diets, but I get turned off by smugness or extremism. (The day my friend Jeff snatched a cafe’s lemon wedge from our happy toddler because he wasn’t sure it was organic was the day I stopped trusting Jeff’s sense of proportion).
    Perhaps because I grew up in a strict, shaming household, I value moderation, and try to lead by example, not words.
    Alas, our kids are less restrained, and don’t balk at words. When our 7-year old had a sleepover and was offered sugary cereal for breakfast, she gave her hosts a lecture (even as she gobbled up their Cocoa Crisps). Fortunately, the hosts were amused. The next time, she was offered pancakes and fruit. I like that.
    Things that work for us: the fruit bowl is always front, center and full. It offers a first stop for snacks and desserts. For making vegetables tasty, my husband swears by Asian seasonings (fish sauce, black-bean garlic sauce, sesame oil, soy). I swear by undercooking and truffle salt. For our son it is lemon juice. Our daughter, mayo. Brown rice and whole grain bread is “every day” and white rice or bread is for “weekends.”
    Grocery shopping with the kids was difficult (all that cartoon-festooned crap!) until a friend offered a trick from dog-training. Allow the unwanted activity — but restrict it to one area. In our case, Wednesdays.  On Wednesdays, each kid gets one dollar to spend on anything they fancy. Naturally, they call it “Candy Day” and for several cavity-courting months, they tried out every variety of crap offered at our market.
    I’m sure it hurt me more than it hurt them (there’s only so much you can get for a dollar).
    But sure enough, the thrill faded. Now they typically buy bagels or fruit!
    I don’t know if this is a good policy, but so far it seems to be working for us. Good luck y’all!

  21. Kendra says:

    I love the last part, “Mom, I love crap.” That made me laugh. My oldest son is days away from being four and while we’ve kept him away from commercials and as much junk food as we can, he told me the other day that his favorite foods are “Cake, cookies and ice cream.” I can’t blame him really. I love carrots and salads as much as the next person, but how can you pass up cake cookies and ice cream!

    Of course the challenge is to keep the processed junk foods out of their mouths. That, I’m sure, will only get harder as he gets older and gets exposed to more. At least we’re trying our darndest to get him eating as well as possible now.

  22. WIlla says:

    Once while at a end-of-the-season soccer party for my older son (held at a McDonalds) my younger son was fussing.  He was less than a year old and completely breast fed at the time.  As I was moving to a booth where I could nurse him, another mom stuck her finger in the cake icing, scooped up a bunch and jammed the finger and the icing in his mouth, saying “This will quiet him down”  I thought I would stroke out.  I swear this set the bar for food choices for this kid-  at 24, he still loves fast food and sweets, while the soccer playing brother doesn’t

  23. sudsy says:

    I was always a scratch-cooking mom, taking pride in my REAL mashed potatos,  and always sneaking whole grains and nuts or seeds into the treats I made for my kids.
    My older son really hated it when I put nuts in cookies…and at 34 still does not like nuts other than almonds. But, lo and behold…he is a nutrition-freak and body building (Natural, no ‘roids) personal trainer, who really pushes nutrition on his clients.  But, he said (just last night) that he always appreciated that my cooking was the “real deal” while his friend’s moms always used processed food.
    During our overnight visit this weekend, he told me I was the best cook he had ever known.  They DO listen!!