Pardon Me While I Feed My Kids Kale and Chemicals

Last night, I posted a picture of my children enjoying ice cream sandwiches following dinner with a caption that said:

“Years ago, I would spend nearly an hour in the grocery store’s ice cream section. Opening and closing every glass door, pulling every carton out and quickly putting it back in. My mind raced as I carefully analyzed every black and white nutrition label. Too many calories in this one, too much sugar in that one. I would ultimately walk out with the lowest fat/cal/sugar ice cream-ish substance I could find. I would also leave in the throws of a massive panic attack. Because of my eating disorder, a task as simple as grocery shopping left me crippled by anxiety.

When the ice cream made it to my freezer, it haunted me. I wanted throw it away. I wanted to eat it all and purge it. But all I really wanted was to stop the monster in my brain. I wanted ice cream to be just that – ice cream. I wanted freedom from my eating disorder.

[Seven years later] Today, I quickly push my cart up and down each aisle, tossing in items on my list: avocados, black beans, chips, crackers, milk. I strolled down the freezer section and caught a glimpse of ice cream sandwiches. “That sounds good!” I thought and tossed them in. I kept my quick pace to the check out so I would make it home to unload the groceries before it was time to pick up the kids.

I often hear from parents they limit sweets or do not keep them in the house at all. It is SO important that we offer our children a variety of foods and do not label food good or bad. Food is food – no moral value. All foods fit! When we deny our children certain foods, it creates a hierarchy of food and can possibly shame them from eating it in the future, associating the food with feelings of guilt. Above all else, it is so important for our children to see us enjoying a variety of foods. This evening, my kids and I enjoyed the delicious ice cream sandwiches. I never take a single moment of recovery for granted and the ability to share it with my children. I am so thankful for my recovery and the freedom that comes with – both in and out of the freezer aisle! “???

The post was shared widely across social media with many ‘YES!’ comments and women in recovery posting about their own journey with ice cream.  However, I knew it was a matter of time before someone questioned my ‘All Foods Fit‘ approach to food.

⇒”I disagree in one respect. Junk food is junk. Chemical filled and not healthy. Once in a while a Twinkie or something junky is fine. But children should learn about healthy foods.”

⇒ “Moderation is so key. As long as my dd eats a balanced meal that covers most of the food groups, I don’t mind sharing my ice cream with her. She’s such a fruit & veggie eater, she’d rather have fresh picked strawberries most days over processed sugars.
The biggest thing I want her to take away from childhood & food, is that she try new things when they are offered (she nearly always has a different meal than me & hubby) and she get a little protein in. (Like I said, she’s a fruit & veggies kid, but getting her to eat a little chicken or pork is tough some days.)”

I began to respond, but soon decided my response warranted a longer reply than a simple social media comment.


Thank you all for your comments. I understand your thought around moderation and labeling food as ‘junk’ because that is certainly what society and many ‘experts’ tell us.

“Don’t eat junk. Childhood obesity is at an all time high! Limit processed sugars. Moderation is KEY!”

I get the ‘Moderation is key’ a lot. And to that, I completely agree 100%. Is it healthy to eat ice cream and pizza all day long every day? No way. And on the other side of the coin, is it healthy to eat kale and apples all day long? Nope. So yes, moderation IS key.

Kupcakes from the Kappas for our awesome nurses

I cringe when I see people talk about ‘chemical-filled’ food. This has little to do with my eating disorder history and more to do with my daughter’s cancer. Two years ago, when my daughter was in the hospital fighting neuroblastoma, I posted a picture of her with cupcakes sent by my sweet sorority sisters. I was shocked when I received an anonymous email warning me to keep ALL sugar away from my daughter.

First of all, my daughter was 8-months and had just spent a week in the PICU, she wasn’t even close to starting solid food yet. Secondly, sugar does not cause cancer. I realize I might be opening Pandora’s box here, but my daughter was diagnosed at 7-months old. All she ever had in her body was breast milk. Cancer just happens sometimes. Sure, smoking causing cancer, but there is very little to connect sugar/processed foods to cancer.

Trust me, I have tackled every doctor and nurse on our oncology floor and beyond, asking them what caused Marjorie’s cancer. I asked them what I can feed my children to prevent it from coming back or to keep my son from developing cancer. Unfortunately, there is very little I can do. Cancer just happens sometimes.

My dear friend/earth angel and beloved oncology nurse ‘Two Knock’, once told me, “McCall, I have had two kids on the unit before, both with the exact same cancer. One of the patients came from a family that was vegetarian and ate everything organic. The other child was of a lower socioeconomic level, with two working parents. His diet consisted of a lot of fast food. Extremely different diets and home life – exact same cancer. You can’t keep Marjorie or Manning from getting cancer based on what they eat.”

Again, is it good for us to eat processed foods and lots of sugar all day, no. MODERATION. Kale and cupcakes. Hell, kale and chemicals if that is what you label cupcakes and ice cream sandwiches. And to be completely honest, I do buy organic meats, dairy, etc. That is just my personal preference. You will also find non-organic bananas and oreos in my pantry too.

At the end of the day, we can’t deny our children and ourselves what our bodies want. You can’t tell me that at the end of a hot summer day, an ice cream sandwich didn’t sound amazing! I don’t think I’ve met anyone who craved frozen kale after a hot day on the beach.

Food is food. Sure, some foods pack more nutrient punch than others, but it is SO critical not to create a hierarchy. When we limit or deny our children (or ourselves) certain food or food groups, that is all we will crave. When we can truly listen to our bodies, it will tell us what we need. Our bodies might signal us to want leafy greens or they might crave a burger because our iron is low.

My children are small, but they understand that food is food. My son sometimes turns down cake for bananas and sometimes it is vice versa. The bottom line is we are born with an amazing hunger/fullness system that gets distorted with every diet or food denial. Often times we unknowingly pass that guilt on to our children. We love our children and want to see them healthy and happy, so we limit sweets or fast food. I can’t tell you how many young people I meet who feel like they have to sneak McDonald’s because they feel so ashamed about it. What if we drove through McDonald’s with them? No, seriously.

I recently gave a parent presentation with Oliver-Pyatt’s amazing director of nutrition, Mary Dye. A mom challenged the All Foods Fit theory, saying that if she allowed her daughter to eat whatever she wanted, her daughter would go through McDonald’s every day.

“Let her,” I said.

“She will kill herself with it,” the mother responded.

“No she won’t. I promise,” I said. “She will get tired of it. It will lose it’s novelty. She won’t eat it forever and it will not kill her.”

Mary then elaborated with a story that gave me chills:

“I once had a patient who struggled with Binge Eating Disorder,” Mary said. “Her father was a cardiologist and she grew up in a house that shamed and labeled food bad, especially fast food. My work with her was to normalize food and to eliminate the shame factor. In fact, as a therapeutic exercise, we drove to McDonald’s. Fast food was something she would binge in secret and shame, alone in her car. I wanted to normalize the fast food experience for her. So we drove through, ordered, parked and mindfully enjoyed our meal. The more we deny, the more we want.”

I have told that story countless times. And what I would give to one day meet the brave patient who did the hard work of recovery, changing not only her life, but maybe her family’s as well.

I know the thought of keeping a variety of foods in the house or even you yourself driving through McDonald’s is outlandish, but try it. You might even surprise yourself. I never thought I could have ice cream in my house. Today, I have ice cream, candy, cookies, bananas, kale, crackers, chips, cheese, apples…you name it. And guess what? I don’t think about what I have in my pantry or freezer – unless, of course, I’m heading to the grocery store and need a list!

My motivation to recover was to not only be a mom, but be a mom who led by example. I wanted to be a mom who could eat ice cream and kale and everything in between. I am proud to say that I AM that mom today. There is also no doubt I am screwing up motherhood in a thousand other ways, but I make a conscious effort every day to do my best to live and lead by example.

My hope and prayer is not to raise healthy kids, but kind kids who love and live life, kids who forget there are cookies in the house unless their bellies tell them they want one. I want my kids to listen to the amazing bodies God gave them. Moving their bodies when they have bursts of energy or when the sun is shining just right, eating when they are hungry, stopping when they are full and if they eat too much, well, then they know next time to stop.Food is not the focus of our lives – it is important, but our day does not revolve around it. Our daily focus is on loving and living – playing outside, building towers, chasing lizards and avoiding shoes flying through the air when Marjorie throws them in her daily tantrum!

Raising healthy kids isn’t as important to me as raising kids who love themselves. At the end of the day, if we love ourselves, like truly love ourselves, we will honor our body. We will nourish, move and rest it as it desires and needs. When we love our bodies, we take the time to take care of it in all aspects: mind, body and spirit.

So ahead, eat the McDonald’s, the kale shakes, the daffodil sprouts and yes, even the ‘chemicals’. Because in the wise words of our Ole Miss SMASH Ambassador: “Life is too short to count calories…enjoy the cupcake!”

For parents wanting more information on childhood nutrition, download my list of resources: Body Awesome Parent Resources. (Highly recommend Ellyn Satter and Katja Rowell!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You Might Also Like

  • Julie
    May 10, 2017 at 1:50 pm


  • Brynna
    May 10, 2017 at 5:08 pm

    Amazing post. My household growing up ran on the “good food, bad food” philosophy and was full of food police and judgement surrounding body, food, and weight. After struggling for 14 years with anorexia and bulimia I finally had a dietician who spent a summer (and several months afterwards) teaching me how to eat. I had to learn how to listen to my body and not force it to eat certain foods but to eat whatever foods it craved. I had to learn how to trust my body for the first time in my life. This was the key to recovery for me. You are giving your kids such a gift to grow up in a house where they are not just taught but shown by example healthy, intuitive eating involving all types of food. I hope I can one day do the same when I have a family.

  • R Mitchell
    May 10, 2017 at 9:01 pm

    Just wanted to say I saw the first comment on your Facebook and almost responded myself. This was much more diplomatic, but the same sentiment.

  • Lisa
    May 11, 2017 at 6:57 am

    McCall, my daughter grew up in an environment of a diverse array of foods, fresh fruits and vegetables ( they called my husband juice because he was rarely seen without a piece of fruit. We loved our meals and growing up in New York City the diversity of food was our backyard.
    My daughter was breast fed, I made her own baby food and she ate almost anything we offered her with a preference of fresh fruits, lobster and hot fudge sundaes.
    There were no bad foods on my house.
    She grew up strong and healthy. She beat the boys in sport regularly with her speed strength and determination.
    She also developed an eating disorder. Anorexia. Probably triggered by several factors, energy calorie expenditure was probably the most prominent.
    Being a very active child and eating freely didn’t protect her.
    That said we have learned that that is her path to recovery. Eating without food rules and enjoying again the diversity of a diet rich in all foods that come her way.

  • julialoha
    May 12, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    Glad to hear you recovered from your food anxiety. Maybe you are now over correcting. I don’t exactly believe you are giving junk food a free pass, but you come close to it. You are making food too much of a social experience. Food is basically for sustenance. If I ate everything my friends bring to potlucks, I would be a diabetic. The trick is to not shame, don’t even mention it. Find what you can eat that is healthy and let other adults have their freedom and enjoyment too. Kids refined carbs should be restricted – just as they shouldn’t consume alcohol. They shouldn’t be forced to eat meat if it is obnoxious to them. Family cook should make food palatable. Please don’t force children to eat end of summer green beans with strings that would gag a horse. There are some common sense things to remember. Food should not become an emotional battleground.

  • Sarah Farrell
    June 7, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    I so appreciate this perspective and this post. Well done, Mama.

  • SB
    January 14, 2019 at 11:00 pm

    This blog post and another you wrote about giving your son a cookie on his plate with all of his lunch at the same time have truly resonated with me. I have an 11 month old and he was getting in the habit of whining and refusing to eat any of the foods we put in front of him except fruit (blueberries, especially). I worried he would be a ‘bad’ eater and we would fight battles over sugary items from Babyhood on. But after reading what you have written, I decided to experiment and put all of his fruit in front of him with the rest of his meals rather than holding it back. His eyes got big and at first he crammed as many blueberries as he could in his mouth, but then he realized I wasn’t taking them away. And he paused and ate everything else too. Now we always start with a few bites of fruit, but it’s just another part of his meal. Thank you for giving perspective.