Opt Out Of the Food Wars (Trail Blaze #11)

Confession time: I am tired of all the food wars.

Tired, tired, tired.

When I was growing up, everything was low-fat. Now, apparently, that makes you fat, no joke.

This week, it's "eat no carbs", next thing I read says 'trade off only carbs or fats as the fuel for each meal (who the HECK wants to eat a burger with no cheese or mayo?-- don't answer that and make me feel guilty- ha!), next one it's "only eat like the cavemen did." Last year was "switch to whole-grain everything," this year they're saying, "whole-grains have too much gluten." (And probably, you can find current studies saying the opposite of everything I just wrote. Please don't. I don't care anymore.)

I give up.

I don't have the energy to follow the trends.

I have OPTED OUT of the food wars.

I'm a tired mom just trying to do the best I can to feed my family. I refuse to pile guilt on myself when JUST BUYING THE GROCERIES and KEEPING THEM SEMI-IN-STOCK in our home, and KEEPING MY KIDS FED takes about all the mental capacity I have to devote to food.

Here's some things I'm thankful for: 
  • I'm thankful that I can buy real food for a family of eight when so many people are losing their jobs and struggling.
  • I'm thankful that I'm able to be home with them so that my time can be leveraged and make our budget stretch farther by me cooking from scratch.
  • I'm thankful I have learned how to cook a number of things from scratch. (I'm no gourmet, but I can get around in the kitchen all right.)
  • I'm thankful for the easy-peasy convenience foods we use from time to time (to give me a freaking break without freaking breaking our wallet).
  • I'm thankful that I came to this mothering gig before the "your baby needs to eat non-GMOed-fermented-organic-kale as his first food" mantra was in existence. (OK, I don't think that's a mantra. But it's not far off from being able to be a believable mantra, right?) I'm glad I was a mom before this food stuff reached a fever pitch, because now I recognize it as unnecessary and dispensable advice.
  • I'm thankful for the mental space available, and the internet access available to write to all of you ladies about this.
We mostly can't afford organic, and we don't eat the best. But we don't eat the worst either. I try to feed my family real, wholesome food, and limit the unpronounceable ingredients. I've watch the documentaries like Food Inc., Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead, and King Corn. And I try to cut through the hype and learn little bits that will help me make livable, sustainable, budgetarily-reasonable choices for our family. 

I think my kids eat more veggies than I did growing up, and last year we switched out the boxed cereals for oatmeal. Now we're switching to steel-cut. And ya know, maybe someone will release a study this week indicating that that's terrible. If so, don't write me a comment about it.

I'm just saying, we're making changes that we're pleased with.

That's my point-- 

We do the best we can. And that's all we can do for now. I bet you do too. 

I'm not going to let the scary documentaries, bully dietitians on daytime TV, latest fad diets, and baby food diet "experts" (who maybe don't even have kids themselves) make me take on a heap of guilt over something like this. And I want to encourage you not to either. 

HERE IS MY MANTRA, and I offer it to you as well:
Do the best you can. 
Live in grace. 
Drop-kick guilt to the curb every time it rears its ugly head. 
And be grateful. 
And I will too.
The end.

Blessings to you & your family,
Jess Connell

P.S. If you or your child has a medical issue or allergies with certain foods/whatever, please don't think this is an attack on you or your family. The mantra goes for you too. Hang in there. 


Laura said...

YAY!!!! Thank you, Jess! My thoughts exactly. I am sick of the guilt over food. North America is one of the few places that is privileged enough to argue over quibbles like 'organic' and 'processed'... I'm sure there are vast numbers of mamas with starving children who would GLADLY take all that non-organic food and feed their kids.

Erin said...

You took the words right out of my mouth Jess. It's tough to feed a family of 6 (or 8, or even 3 or 4) healthy foods on a budget. Here are my "rules" for my family, right or wrong:
. No high fructose corn syrup - except those special, fun occasions where we have soda or ice cream, but we keep it out of everyday foods.
2. No partially hydrogenated oils - unless I simply can't find an affordable alternative.
3. Cook from scratch whenever possible - we don't eat ANY boxed, pre-cooked kind of things (it takes 5 minutes longer to make homemade mac and cheese than box mac and cheese).
4. Use fresh whenever possible, realizing that canned tomatoes are just as healthy as fresh and taste better in the middle of January.
5. Limit added sugar. We try to eat only "sugar" rather than corn syrup or HFCS, but even then we limit. I would rather enjoy baking and eating a batch of chocolate chip cookies (made from scratch) that buy boxed cookies or candies. And seriously, fruit snacks? There is not an ounce of nutrition in those and they barely qualify as a snack.

Thankfully kids are great eaters. We serve veggies and/or fruits with every meal, and again, we eat REAL foods.

Shelley said...

I love this post! Long time reader here, first time poster.
I try to live my life with the standard "all things in moderation." Time and time again I find that this little quote is totally applicable to how I live my daily life. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

Noele said...

Thanks so much, Jess! I really appreciate your perspective on such a touchy subject. It's funny how we as women try to add so many rules and regulations to an already huge task of raising a family. Most of us didn't grow up being trained to be homemakers, so it's already a big adjustment learning to take care of a home and family. Why we decide to elevate certain amoral decisions is beyond me. I struggled--and still do a bit--with the constant guilt heaped on mothers concerning what we feed our families. My family loves fruits and vegetables, try to steer clear of certain things we know are really bad, still enjoy the occasional Kraft mac and cheese, and love our sweets!

The obsession with what we put into our bodies almost borders on idolatry. Whether it's stuffing our faces to feed the idol of pleasure/gluttony, or abstaining from a laundry list of items to serve the idol of a healthy body, we are so prone to seeking out things other than God to find fulfillment.

If you haven't read Nancy Wilson's book, "The Fruit of Her Hands," I'd highly recommend her chapter on principles and methods. So well put! Women, especially, have a tendency to look for rules to assure ourselves that we are doing okay. No need to look to Christ when your checklist of do's and don'ts adds up!

Thanks again--I always appreciate your take on things!

Joy said...

Amen!! I appreciate this so much, my friend! You basically took the words right out of my mouth. We try to make healthy choices like having fruit and veggies readily available (talk about something to be thankful for!!)but the something always comes along to tell me "you're not doing enough - food/nutrition needs to be your god" and THAT is why I opted out of the food wars! I still want my family to eat healthy food and to be active, but realize that focusing too much on this completely steals my joy (not to mention sanity!). Thanks for yet another encouraging post!

Kelli said...

You can dismiss this comment if you'd like, but I think if you fully understood GMOs and what they do to your body and recognize that we are the only developed country that allows them to be unlabeled, you'd maybe have a different tune or at least wouldn't be so offensive in your reference to disposable advice, as to imply a mocking of your fellow saints who have a passion for natural, God given food, that's not laced with chemicals. GMOs are hidden in almost every food item. I get that it's not important to you, but whether on purpose or not, you have belittled your readers who actually do care.

Hannah said...

After three years of living in north India, I heartily say: PREACH IT.

Kondwani said...

Refreshing as alway. I think cooking everything from scratch is by far the best and healthiest (as well as usually cheapest) way of eating, and also by cooking there is a whole home education curriculum in there (reading, measuring, planning, some science, some economics, some artistic type things, some more experiments etc). You also will have a far more active lifestyle than many if you home educate, and so you are unlikely (or less likely) for the children to become fat. And we eat just about anything we want and are all quite slim and healthy (compared to people I know who are shocked at me taking sugar in my tea but are much more overweight). Moderation is key I suppose (you could cook pork pies from scratch and live on them if you want). We're both physicians - not that it necessarily means much, but a lot of the parenting advice out there is quackery.

Lots of love, and keep up the blog.


Jess Connell said...

Oh Kelli, I think you misunderstand. It IS important to me. I desperately hate that GMOs are so embedded in our food system.

It is not mockery, but rather for me something I have had to come to grips with in the here and now. While still *caring*, I can't let it rule me or impose guilt and horror and self-loathing.

For example, just before we moved to China, I read an article about how they had just found places in China that used human excrement to fertilize veggies. When I lived there, we bought veggies. When we moved to Turkey, we had natural EVERYTHING… oh the tomatoes were so red and juicy it's almost sinful to think about it from afar. When we came back here, I definitely had to *gulp* big time upon realizing that there was no way for me to know what I was putting in my kids.

It matters to me. I just refuse to live in shame over being on a budget or not being able to do everything to the most precisely perfect state that food was ever meant to be grown in.

I say that as an owner of 10 Buff Orpingtons who are just beautiful and happy as clams to perch and play in our bushes and grass… clearly, chickens aren't meant to be grown in cages and live their whole lives there never seeing the light of day before they are slaughtered. I hate hate hate that.

I just have had to come to be OK with imperfection and nuance in our food selections, and the fact that my God knows our budget, sees our groceries, and loves and is good to me and my kids despite the fact that we can't afford to do everything "Just so."

Not sure if this helps or hurts the discussion, but these are my thoughts anyway.

Anonymous said...

Thank you so much!! I was just struggling with this today--I know I could feed my family better (and I have a bit of [probably] proper guilt over being lazy at times in what I feed them, but on a budget and getting my kids fed it your words were from God to help me have a little grace. Thank you!!!

Allison said...

A year or two ago, I came across a broadcast on Revive our Hearts (Nancy Leigh DeMoss's radio program) where she was interviewing Elise Fitzpatrick about her book Love to Eat, Hate to Eat, and I greatly appreciate the way she handled this issue. She encouraged women (or anyone, I'm sure) to adopt the "Thankfulness Diet" where you learn to ask yourself, "Can I give thanks to God for what I am about to eat?" If the answer is no (perhaps because you know you're being gluttonous or putting excess junk into your body when you have other options available), then you should refrain from eating it. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, then you should receive it with thanksgiving.

I agree with you and most of the commenters on this post in that we try to eat an overall healthy diet by cooking (almost) from scratch, avoiding buying things with a large amount of ingredients I can't pronounce, and eliminating sugary drinks, etc. Yet as an example of how the thankfulness principle has played out for me, I work part-time as a nurse and often am so busy at work that it's hard to carve out time to eat as frequently as I need to with baby # 3 on the way. One morning a month or so ago, one of my co-workers had some doughnut holes that she did not want, and she offered them to me. I was hungry and didn't know when I was going to eat, and so I accepted. I remember thinking, "I know these aren't good for me. They're sugary and processed," but then I remembered that according to the thankfulness principle, I could give thanks for these doughnuts as a provision from God. I needed something to eat both for myself and for my unborn child, and doughnut holes is what God had given me. So I ate them with a thankful heart (and it was only 5 or 6 of them, not a large quantity).

Erin said...


I try to base my family's diet around "real food" (I supposed that's a trend in and of itself, but hopefully a true and lasting one?) and buy minimal processed stuff, but I am so tired of feeling guilty over the occasional convenience food that may be processed but saved my sanity one night and kept us from eating out.

I totally agree with a previous poster who said this is such a first world problem.

I absolutely believe in being good stewards of all God has given me, but man, this idea and word gets thrown around so much that I wonder, at what point does it become an idol? I have seen stewarding our bodies turn into an obsession over ingredients and pride over how "granola" one can be. And I say this as someone who has been guilty of it.

I really appreciate the balance you strike and that's what I'm trying to strike too.

Polly said...

My approach is to just try to eat unprocessed foods. I buy things like rice, oats, beans in bulk via a co-op w/ some other women (who all have much larger families than I have!). We grow some food, but not much. Our farmers' market (year-round) provides our inexpensive veggies. We buy (pasteurized) milk from a local dairy, but we mostly use it in baking. It is delivered to our doorstep! I get eggs from a friend w/ chickens and a friend and I are going in together to buy half a cow from the farm just behind my house. Very local. ;)

We rarely eat chicken b/c it is so expensive. I buy canned salmon and use quinoa, eggs, spices and the hand blender to make highly nutritious, but inexpensive, salmon burgers that my children love.

That's how we eat healthfully on a budget! I think Americans complicate this unnecessarily. I agree that all the 'rules' and 'studies' etc are confusing and irritating. Keeping it simple is effective and also inexpensive!

Polly said...

(And I hasten to add that we do eat some processed food at times! I'm not a legalist re: food at all. My children eat chocolate chip pancakes and chicken nuggets sometimes.{My oldest cannot eat gluten, so everything is gluten-free, but that's not food legalism, it's just dealing w/ his little body.} For snacks I try to do apples, cashews, and sometimes Larabars, although they are very expensive, so I limit them. You can make your own larabars, but I honestly haven't found the motivation for it. ;))

Moderation in everything. And simplicity!

dawn rowe said...

Bless you Jess. Bless you!!!! for clearly articulating how I feel. This subject is such a hot button for me. The pressure to eat this and not eat that...to feed your kids this and don't let them eat that....is just terrible. Can you email if folks just channeled the same energy into helping those less fortunate than themselves?

dawn in sac

Jennifer said...

Great post! I like to cook wholesome food for our family but everyone needs a break without the guilt. I get so tired of the wars too and generally think to myself what would my grandma do? She would just cook something balanced and not research everything to death! I don't want to try so hard to be healthy that I miss out of the joy of living. That kind of food stress is not healthy at all!

Jess Connell said...

YES! Jennifer, "What would my grandma do?" is a GREAT question-- love it!

sandra said...

Yeah for steal cut oats!

Evie said...

Thanks for this! I am inundated with food commentary on Facebook & Pinterest. It's hard to take it all in. But I still find it surprising in the comments section on here that most women are saying "Yes, I agree!" and then mentioning their house food rules, which are same things your blog says NOT to get too hung up on :) (Not that it is wrong to eat healthy! But isn't that missing the point of your post?) I am left discouraged. I'm reading some other commenters' and realizing I don't even come close to those standards :( Frequently, dinner for us *IS* something like boxed mac n cheese (at least it's Annies sometimes!), and some precooked frozen chicken tenders. My husband wont touch vegetables. On a busy day when I'm extra tired - it's a frozen pizza. I know, atrocious right? With a busy toddler in the house, no cooking experience, and limited grocery money... like you said, Jess, just getting my son fed and/or having dinner ready for my husband in the evening is a huge accomplishment for me. My brain just cannot handle all of the food "no-no's" i see all over my pinterest feed and the "warning" articles posted in Facebook. I am tired of feeling like I am poisoning my family and ruining my baby's future by not serving perfect food. Yes, I have researched. I'm not ignorant to the implications of what we eat, which is why I am trying to at least give my son a headstart. I'm trying to do the best I can. I'm sure I can do better. I do feed my son healthier than myself, because he eats like 1/16 the amount we do so it's not too costly to give him an organic diet. I can't afford to shop at Whole Foods for all of our staple items and elaborate ingredients for cooking from scratch... especially not knowing how to cook from scratch (and have my husband eat it). :) I'm sure cooking a home-made pizza is healthier, but I have tried and I mess it up every time, which gets costly as well. Plus my husband has preferences, and I assure you none of them include anything raw or green!) As an aside, I do find it interesting that so many people I know say they do not eat "processed" foods. Almost anything has to be processed in some way; it doesn't always mean it's bad. That raw, grass fed butter you're eating didn't churn itself. Even cooking is a type of "processing". What they probably mean is something with a lot of artifical ingredients & preservatives that has way deviated from anything that occurs in nature. I digress, but my point is, thank you for this post. It definitely applies to ME and the season I am in right now :) :) (maybe I should've stayed away from the comments!) :)