I’ve read a lot of posts in unschooling groups and on unschooling websites that say you cannot have any rules for your child (other than life-or-death safety rules) in order to call yourself a “radical unschooler”. You must allow them to watch however much TV they want, sleep whenever they want, eat whatever they want, etc. Personally, I think these can be life-or-death situations, just not in the immediate way we usually think of them. I think there are peaceful, respectful solutions to moderate these (and other) situations, without encroaching on the rights of your children as humans with free will. You don’t have to set arbitrary limits to guide your children to make choices that won’t be detrimental to their health, physically or mentally; whether the detriment is effected immediately or over the course of many years. I will get around to addressing the other issues at some point, but for now, let’s talk about food…
First off, if you’re like almost everyone, you have at least an idea of how much money you can spend on food per paycheck. Let’s face it, your funds are limited. You only have so much left after rent/mortgage, utilities, gasoline, insurance, and toilet paper. I have 4 kids to feed. That’s a lot of mouths! And they eat a lot. If I let them choose what to buy at the grocery store, I have no doubt I’d be buying at least $100 worth of junk food each week. At least. I simply cannot afford $400 extra per month for crap. And that’s just what it is, crap! The problem with junk food (chips, candy, ice cream, etc.) is that it’s all full of empty calories.
Empty calorie foods offer no fiber, vitamins or minerals that our bodies need to feel satisfied and perform properly. When foods are processed, they are stripped of nutrients and high amounts of sugar, salt and fat are added…If our diet consisted solely on soda, white bread and candy, we would constantly feel hungry. Highly processed foods are often over eaten because they have no fiber and satiety. Fried foods, chips and candy may temporarily fill you up but just an hour or two later you will be hungry again because they offer little protein, fiber and nutrients that the human body needs.
This is why so many people say “but I can’t afford to buy a bunch of fruit and vegetables!” Well, no, you can’t afford to buy both junk food and fruit and vegetables. Because if you are supplementing a mostly processed food diet with some fruit and vegetables, you’ll still eat a whole lot of dollars worth of empty calories every day, with nothing to show for it except poor health. On the contrary, if you cut all the processed food from your diet and only buy whole foods (fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, meat, etc.), you will feel full with much less quantity, and you will be healthier!
Now, that’s not to say that I just buy whatever I like and my kids have to deal with it or starve! I am always thinking of what meals and snacks I can make that they will be happy to eat. I can’t please all of them all the time, but I do always have snacks around. And I never force them to eat anything I make. I encourage them to try everything, but I don’t try to coerce them into it if they don’t want to. I don’t mind if they pick out just the meat or rice or whatever to eat. I will readily list alternatives if they say they don’t like what I’ve made, or are still hungry. I never force them to eat if they aren’t hungry and I never disallow them to eat when they are. If the food I’m making will be ready soon, I communicate that to them and let them decide whether they can wait or not. And when we go grocery shopping, if they say they want something like yogurt or cereal or cheese, I almost always oblige. I even ask them what we need when making my shopping list. I feel that this is no different than I would treat guests staying with me for a time. I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy them junk food, but if they expressed to me that they had certain food preferences, I would seriously take those into consideration when making my purchases.
I might add that my older kids have had ongoing discussions with me about food for a couple years now. Ever since I began researching food, processed food in particular, I have been honest and open with them about the changes I’ve made. I’ve told them what certain ingredients really are. I’ve told them what’s in fast food. I’ve told them what “artificial” and “natural” flavorings could be (since those are trade secrets, no one really knows for sure, besides the people who concoct them…and they sign oaths of secrecy). We’ve watched documentaries about food together. They’ve watched me read labels in the store and do research online. And now, they read labels, too! They don’t want me to buy certain things. However, they have their own money that they earn or are gifted. They are allowed to spend it on whatever they choose. My nearly 9 year old chooses to buy candy often. She knows full well what’s in that candy. But it’s her money, so it’s her choice to make. At least I know it’s an informed choice! But that’s part of my original point…the money I spend on food isn’t their money. Ultimately, it belongs to my husband and I; and while I am considerate in how I spend that money, it’s still my decision in the end. I have read recently that some radical Unschoolers give each of their kids some “free money” to buy whatever food they choose, and I have considered implementing a similar system. Although, I don’t see anything wrong with our current one at this point, so we’ll see.
Now, as for the reason I say that allowing children to choose to eat whatever they want is actually a life-or-death situation, consider this: nutrient deficiency is a very real problem. When people fill up on empty calories, devoid of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need to not just survive, but thrive, they are most certainly suffering from more than one nutrient deficiency. Poor immune system, memory problems, muscle aches…these are just a few of the negative health effects that can be traced back to nutrient deficiencies. (http://www.naturalmedicine.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=8580:the-most-common-nutrient-deficiencies-in-children&Itemid=166) Yes, your kids could survive eating nothing but packaged cookies and chips. They may even appear to be healthy. Eventually, though, that diet would lead to serious health conditions, and possibly even kill them. (http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/children-poor-nutrition-6555.html) I wouldn’t let them drink chemicals from under the kitchen sink, and I won’t let them put the poisonous nutrient-deficient, chemical-laden “food” they crave into their bodies, either.
At the risk of an outcry of “that’s not radical unschooling!”, I’m going to go ahead and say again, you can moderate food choices and be a radical unschooler!