This was a response I started to a comment in on my last post. It got so long, I decided to turn it into it's own post. I have to admit answering someone's question like this feels awkward. My kids are still so little, I'm just figuring this stuff out, and there are so many more experienced unschoolers out there. I recommend the Always Learning yahoo group as a great place to ask questions. It is a very *idea* oriented discussion group, not about support or being personal (though they share many real stories of their real unschooling lives!). It's good to read for a while and get the feel for the group before jumping in.
Hi Erin! You said:
"how would a 3 year old know what is healthy if I don't teach it?"
I would ask, what would a 3 year old be expected to do with the information that candy is unhealthy? I wouldn't expect a 3 year old to understand all the complexities of what "unhealthy" means, remember which foods are unhealthy, and make a decision based on that (especially if a beloved family member is pushing it on them).
Besides, what is the definition of "unhealthy?" Someone can say "chocolate is unhealthy." Well, are they talking about a Hershey's bar or my homemade chocolate chips with just cocoa, raw honey and olive oil? Is it the chocolate that's unhealthy or all the additives in the candy bars? What about all the vitamins and antioxidants in cocoa? How about the recent controversy over agave? Some nutritionists claim it's very healthy and a great alternative to sugar, others say it's bad for us. Some people feel great on raw vegan, others feel great on a traditional foods diet.
My point is that while some things are pretty universally agreed upon as unhealthy, like MSG for instance, many, many more things are gray areas. If adults with degrees can't figure it out, I won't expect my kids to.
I also find it ironic that many times parents *do* allow a lot of unhealthy food, but only up to their own comfort level, which many times doesn't make sense. Some people would never let their kid have candy for breakfast, but will allow sugary, processed cereal. Or they won't allow a donut for lunch, but will give them a sandwhich with sugary peanut butter and jelly (same ingredients! processed wheat and sugar, just a different form).
I don't "teach" my kids about healthy vs. unhealthy food. We live life and eat and notice how food makes our bodies feel and learn about how our bodies work and talk about how certain foods work in our bodies.
If I over eat or have too much sugar, I will mention that my stomach hurts or I have a headache or I'm tired or whatever I'm feeling, because of what I ate. I'm sharing my experience, and that may or may not be the experience they have when they eat those foods. If it is, hearing my experience will help them make the connection. If that is not their experience, then I haven't told them any lies by saying "if you eat that, you won't feel good!" and then having them not trust me because it didn't come true.
My 4 year old is very interested in how our bodies work to the point that we have looked at every kid's body book at the library and have moved on to the adult anatomy and physiology books. Part of that has been discussions about our digestive systems and what our bodies need to thrive. I have told her that fruits and veges have vitamins and minerals that we need. We've talked about water cleansing our bodies. We've talked about how sugar can give a person a burst of energy, but then a crash and *maybe* a headache or fatigue.
If we are at Winco and she wants candy, I say that we'll get it at Trader Joes. When she asks why, I tell her about the ingredients in the stuff at Winco vs. Trader Joes.
If she has candy or something and offers it to me, I decline. When she asks why, I tell her why *I* choose not to eat that food.
All of this comes up in the course of every day conversations and interactions.
As far as family members goes, can you just let them know that you're trying to eat healthier and you wold appreciate if they didn't push that stuff on him? If he asks, fine, but please don't offer it. Or buy some better alternatives, like Hansens soda or organic, agave sweetened candy, and either give it to them to give him or just have it with you as one of his options. Or find something truly healthy and sweet that he likes, like dates or figs or raw chocolate bars (Pure, Lara and Raw Revolution are good brands), and break those out when the family starts offering other things. Don't make a big deal out of it to him, just give him more, better options. Expand his possibilities so that he knows what choices are out there.