Sometimes friends ask me why I go to farmer’s markets or buy so much of our food from Whole Foods and the “natural” section of the regular grocery stores. Why do I insist on only organic dairy in my house? Why do I treat “High Fructose Corn Syrup” like it’s evil and ban it from my house?

I grew up eating much of my food from boxes and cans – Hamburger Helper and boxed au gratin potatoes are two that quickly come to mind. I was feeding my family that way, too, without giving it a second thought. Until the day my 12 month old child had a severe food allergy reaction to eggs. We found out he was allergic to a number of foods and I had to learn how to read ingredient labels to avoid feeding him anything that could make him sick.

And a funny thing happened when I started reading those labels. I realized how much of the food I was feeding my family was… undecipherable. So many labels were full of ingredients a mile long that I couldn’t pronounce.

I went from wanting to understand what I was feeding my children to wanting to ENDORSE what I was putting in their mouths. That it was not only edible but good for them and wouldn’t cause anaphylaxis (a severe food allergy reaction)… but also not cause cancer, premature puberty, unnatural breast development in boys, neurological problems, immune disorders, migraines, behavioral issues or the many other things chemicals can do to our bodies.

The changes happened slowly and I’m certainly not perfect. But my goal was to make changes when I could, always striving to make good choices with the emphasis on REAL food. I’ll share some of the changes I’ve made at the end of this post.

Another mom who had a similar awaking, spurred by food allergies, is Robyn O’Brien. She started researching the food industry and has become a popular author and speaker who encourages families to make healthier choices -with the emphasis on doing one thing at a time. If you have a few minutes, I encourage you to watch this video of Robyn speaking about what she learned about our food supply and how it’s changed over the years in America – leading to higher rates of cancer and food allergies. It’s a powerful message.

Robyn encourages people to try to do one thing. It’s not something that happens over night. You can read her simple tips on how you can make little choices that add up.

I’ve been thinking about some of the changes I’ve made in our family over the past four years, I’ll share them to give you some ideas. It didn’t happen over night – these were gradual changes and I will keep making more when I can. These are my choices for my family. We all need to do what works best for us with our own circumstances. Maybe some of these will help you think about changes that are possible.

Dairy -I gradually changed to only using organic dairy products. I started with only buying natural/non-hormone or organic milk. Then my kids and I visited Zweber Farms, an Organic Valley dairy farm, and I was inspired to change all of our dairy foods to organic as well – cheese, yogurt, string cheese, sour cream. It only took reading a few articles about girls entering puberty early and boys growing breast tissue abnormally to make up my mind on this one.

– Home lunch, not school lunch – I pack lunches for both my kids so I can control what food goes into their bodies (no matter how much “better” the school lunches are, they still have a long way to go, in my opinion.) I use bento boxes (these are my favorites) to make them interesting and to help me think through the different food groups and make sure they are all there. I try to focus on the basics – meat, veggie, fruit, dairy, grain – in each meal.

– No high fructose corn syrup – I mentioned earlier that this ingredient is banned from my house. If you start looking, you’ll find this sneaky ingredient in everything from your bread to ketchup to the fake maple syrup you’re eating.

– Choose the healthier option – whenever I’m shopping for something, I always look to see if there’s a healthier version. For example, with applesauce, I always look for the “natural” version that has only apples and water instead of the original version that has HFCS in it (seriously).

– Cooking meals from ingredients, not boxes – this may sound like a no-brainer, but it’s strange for many American families to actually make foods using individual ingredients instead of out of a box or bag. I don’t have the time to be extreme and make my own taco shells from scratch (ha!), but I make my own taco seasoning for the meat using the dry spices in my cupboard instead of a packet full of “stuff.” Instead of feeding my kids Hamburger Helper, now I buy the ingredients and spices separately so they are “mom approved” and make pasta dishes I can feel proud of.

– Limit artificial dyes, focus on natural – I’m not perfect at this one by any means. But when we look at our breakfast cereals, frozen treats, candies, pickles, boxed foods, vitamins… so many foods have a color or dye listed in the ingredients. Check out this post Finding and Avoiding Artificial Food Dyes from Lisa on her blog 100 Days of Real Food. It’s eye opening and will change how you look at food. I opt for foods that have natural coloring (usually from fruits and veggies) whenever possible.

Organics as possible – I’m probably buying about 50% organic fruits and veggies, and even lower with meats and fish. I try really hard to buy them organic when I can – but it’s crazy expensive and I can’t always get to the right store at the right time. When I can make it to the farmer’s market, I stock up on organic meats and fish from the farmers (I love buying directly from them).

My focus in on progress, not perfection. And there are times my son might grab a bag of dye-colored Doritos at Subway with his sandwich and I’m not going to freak out. We do what we can, with what we have, and keep the focus on positive choices for real ingredients.

I’d love to hear what you’ve learned about food and how it’s inspired you to make changes for your family. We can all learn from each other. xo


Interested in learning more about food allergies? You can find more food allergy posts, tips & recipes on my Food Allergy page. I’d also love to connect with you on my Marketing Mama facebook page and twitter. This post, and all posts on this blog, are written from my experiences as a parent of a child with food allergies. I am not a medical expert or a nutritionist. Consult with a doctor on your personal medical situation.

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11 Responses to “the food we feed our families :: do something, do anything”

  1. A few things happened in the past year that moved better eating way up the priority list in our house…

    1. I started vomiting for about eight months after a course of antibiotics officially threw my gut totally out of whack. This necessitated a strict elimination diet (I’m allergic to whey and sensitive to gluten. Who knew?) and a probiotic regimen.

    2. My daughter was diagnosed with ADHD.

    3. My daughter started developing breasts…at eight (even though we’ve only served her hormone free dairy and meats)

    While we’ve always been healthy eaters, I’ve needed to take a much closer look at labels and am doing a lot more homework.

    My conclusion? The food we Americans eat, makes most of us sick. Period. Like you, I guess I’m just trying to start at home and do the best I can to make informed choices. It’s tough.

  2. Missy says:

    Thanks for sharing Jen. Most of us have to be “shook” into making changes based on illnesses or strange things happening to our bodies. I hope the changes you’ve been making have made a difference. It is incredibly challenging (and expensive) to feed our families real food. xo

  3. Thank you Missy for mentioning our farm. We really enjoyed it when your family came to visit. Even though our farm is organic, my kitchen is still a work in progress too. I get really frustrated at the lack of quality organic and whole foods at main stream grocery stores like Rainbow and Cub. They tend to hide the stuff, sell just a few items, and most times the items are close to being expired. I have found shopping at a natural food coop to be a much better experience. Thankfully we have two within 20 miles. I know that is not the case for everyone.
    And don’t get me started on school lunch. Tomorrow our school is serving wiener wrap, French fries, onion rings and pears… No thanks, my kids will bring a lunch 🙂
    Thank you again for supporting our family farm!

  4. Kate says:

    You know I could really open up on this topic. It’s my passion and my most vocal outrage.

    The hardest part of working towards healthier eating is eliminating the elitist tag that’s been slapped on it. It does cost more, but can you really place a price tag on the health of your family? Can you look them in the eye, knowing that simple changes can make an enormous difference, and yet say to them ‘We can’t afford that.’

    My response to that is always ‘You can pay good money for your food, or you can pay for the doctor visits and the health care you’ll need for the effects of the poisons your pumping in to your body.’ But I get it. We have eliminated almost every extra in our lives and focus a large amount of our monthly income to the food we eat. We don’t need cable. We need to eat well.

    And while the foods we eat are so very important, more so than what we put in our body is what we slather all over our body, and that of our children. The chemicals in lotions, body wash, shampoo, conditioner, soaps (especially anti-bacterial soaps, which I feel should be banned permanently) facial products and all other personal care items can be so deadly and toxic on the body that all the pure and organic food in the world could never support a body that’s being inundated with poison from the outside. While I have seen great results in my own health from consuming better quality foods, it was switching to natural beauty products that made a far greater impact on my well-being. Remember that your skin is the largest organ of your entire body, and absorbs everything. It’s well worth reading about phthalates, sulfates and petrochemicals, what they do to our endocrine and immune system. And while no one talks about it, there is evidence that our trend away from fresh, whole foods to packaged, processed garbage is cause for the rise in ADD, ADHD and other behavioral disorders in children.

    You make some great points here, and it’s sound advice to follow. The prevalence of sugar and wheat is so high, and hidden in so many foods that everyone consumes. Hardly anything qualifies as ‘natural’ any longer, unless it’s fresh produce. Everyone has become a label reader, but how many people truly understand HOW to read labels? The information is convoluted on purpose to trick us.

    The systems in place to protect consumers has turned food in to a death trap. It’s subversive, under the table and horribly wrong, and the only way out is with the dollars we spend.

    And we all need to be having these conversations.

  5. kala says:

    I like that you used the work “awakening” in your post, that is a perfect choice of words for my situation as well! It wasn’t until I discovered that I was lactose intolerant that I started to examine my food choices. Having to read about food led me to think about all of the choices I was capable of making and how those choices effected more than just myself. Eventually, this introspection led to my decision to go vegan.

  6. Jenn says:

    What a great read! My 2 year was diagnosed with food allergies to dairy, egg and nut around 6 months of age and it has totally redefined how we eat in our house. I have become the master of reading food labels and have become so much more aware of what we are all putting into our systems. I know we have a long way to go and this really motivated me to keep reading and educating myself about what we are putting into our bodies!

  7. Kira says:

    After reading Fast Food Nation and The Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching Food, Inc., I swore I’d do better, but, like you said, organic is so expensive. I do what I can, where I can (made-from-scratch meals, avoiding foods with HFCS, etc.) but it’s hard to do it all. Whenever I read these posts I feel a renewed desire to work on our eating and food-buying practices, though.

  8. Hi Missy, I couldn’t agree more! Food allergies and Robyn O’Brien woke us up too. Of course there are some people that think I’m crazy for spending the extra money on organic foods but I think it’s worth every dime. Thanks for the great post! I’m definitely sharing this one!

  9. Fabulous post Missy! Food Allergies truly woke me up. I am a foodie through and through but was fine if food was organic or not. Label reading, calling companies and learning about the manufacturing process made me want to cry.

    Even more scary–when I look back over the last 13 years of managing life threatening food allergies in my household and being involved in our food allergy world, I have noticed something striking. The families that have lived the cleanest, meaning organic, no chemicals, etc. have children that are out growing certain allergens.

    Those who are not lean, mean and green are still with their original list. I just can’t help to think that all those toxins are not helping!

    Great topic and thanks for bringing it up and vindicating our insanely high grocery bills.

  10. …although, I forgot to add that I don’t shop Whole Foods, I had issues with them as well and complained to FDA. But that is a whole other conversation for another day!

    • Dee says:

      Yes, yes, yes. Thank you for sharing all of this. I totally agree and this kind of information must be shared as much as possible. Looking forward to following more of your posts and digging into your old ones!



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