Should Children Eat Whatever They Want?

Should Children Eat Whenever They Want? candy2

Freedom with food is one of the most challenging aspects of Radical Unschooling for most parents striving to live a more peaceful life with their children. Some have asked me, “What if you child wants to eat sugar, all day?” My response is always the same: Control causes an unnatural dynamic to occur between a child and food. A child will want what the parent is attempting to control in abnormal abundance, in an attempt for autonomy. However, parents see this behavior and assume it is children simply making poor choices and without control, children would do nothing but eat, “junk” all day. This simply is not true. When a parent is controlling something, it warps the child’s relationship with whatever is being controlled. A humans’ innate desire for freedom and autonomy is so strong and when being controlled, a person will overdo, abuse and do things that aren’t natural or balanced for them. The need for autonomy, choice, and freedom are at the forefront, always. In short, even subtle control and coercion cause imbalance.

When living in partnership with your children, and not controlling them, they are able to find true balance with what feels best for them and their bodies. This is coupled with Trust. When you’re living with trust for your children and not fear, you usually do not feel the need to control. My children believe me when I share information with them. They do not think that I am inadvertently attempting to control them to control them with fear-based information. We research together, watch documentaries and they truly want their bodies to be healthy! Who doesn’t? This is amazing to those who have never experienced this with children before.

I do think it is important to have balance as a parent yourself and not live in fear. I sometimes crave something like chocolate and do not feel guilty for indulging with moderation. I know that my body is resilient and strong and more often than not, I am supporting my children in their desire to give in to a craving because honoring these moments of desire are where we can be balanced and healthy.

So, my children would never desire to “eat sugar all day long” anymore than I would. I have total freedom with food, as do they. We lead a healthy life where they desire to learn about how to keep their bodies healthy. Devin and Tiff have both done their own research and have the freedom to form their own beliefs surrounding nutrition and wellness.

My children have the freedom to eat what they want. Currently, Devin is Paleo. Tiff is vegan and Ivy eats very healthy. Orion sticks to the few things he likes right now. I eat a high-raw diet and my husband calls himself an “opportunist” and eats whatever is available. We all have the freedom to choose the diet that feels best to us. I shop, based on what the kids want and prepare whatever they’d like.

Based on his own research, Devin prefers that I purchase free-range, organic meat. So, I purchase it at a farm down the street. He has researched homesteading and ideally wants to hunt for his food. Tiff & Ivy, my daughters, are very much against his desires, so at the moment in life, they have many discussion/arguments about who is “right.” They all have fabulous points about sustainability, animal rights, freedom and healthy. I support them all!

I do not judge my children’s choices. I respect them and I know that what they choose to eat is an extension of themselves. I know that if I say that what they are eating is “junk” that they internalize this. What does this do to their bodies when they eat what Mom judges as “junk?” What does consuming what you judge as “junk” do to you? Everything I put into my body I view as nourishing, no matter what it is. I believe that what you feel about the food you eat is just as important as what you are actually eating.

It is through true freedom and respect that my children have balance and have discovered their own path to wellness. They respect what I say and use information that I share as a valuable truth to them. They look at me as a guided resource and believe what I share with them. I am never standing between them and their desires. They know that I value and honor their choices in life. It is through partnership and true autonomy that children discover balance, health and wellness.



  1. Beautiful is you! and your family Dayna.
    You give me so much inspiration and keep me going.
    However, I can’t read this very well (the colour) I’m not old (well 42, expecting child number 6) just a darker shade of the blue would be great : )


    x x

  2. Dayna, I am going to keep reading this message over and over again until I get it through my thick skull that he won’t just eat processed food and come out on the other end a few years with diseases and huge medical bills. I believe what you’re saying – intellectually I know you are right! Obviously my trust issues are interfering at this point. Thank you so much for what you do. You help more than you know.

    • Dayna, I love your approach and thankfully, your children have chosen to consume healthy food. I however was not as fortunate. My mother did not monitor my food, I went to school and grew up in a “fast food” town. Pretty much everything I consumed was junk. 30 years later, prime of my life…with 2 kids, it caught up with me. I have battled for 3 years to get my health back, which surprisingly…led me to switch careers and begin learning again on my own and found a series of new passions and more fullfilment.

      Now, had my mother known more about health and mirrored that in herself as well as educating herself on where the food comes from, then I would most likely have chosen differently. Perhaps taken up cooking..learning more about health…who knows. But, somehow…I did find my path and overall turned out okay.

      Now I unschool my kids and because of my health problems do restrict their food, but we simply don’t carry that stuff in our home or pack it in our lunches, I only shop at the farmers market and make “treats” often to replace others with harmful food dyes at parties. I do this because I can honestly see a HUGE difference in behavior when they consume these products. My 13 year old is beginning to understand that better but my 4 year old doesn’t get it…So for the sake of the family…I regulate it, but they don’t feel restricted. For Instance: No desert, lets make homemade ice cream sundaes at home or whatever..then its a “learning moment” in the kitchen. Its what has worked for us. 🙂

  3. Although I can see validity to your approach I would like to point out that for those who are predisposed, sugar can be a dangerous substance if not managed. I can’t eat sugar at all because once I start I can’t stop – all of the knowledge in the world will not make me stop. Sugar to me is as alcohol is to an alcoholic. I attend a twelve step program for this addiction. It is something to be aware of – the physical response to a substance. I don’t control my desire for sugar though – I work a program that helps me not pick up the first piece of sugar and am therefore relieved of the obsession. It is a topic on which research is emerging but little is still known. I’m 51years old and this approach is the only way that has worked for me after 25years of trying different approaches. Not everyone is predisposed of course but important to be aware of this condition.

  4. I love hearing about your families different diet choices! Food freedom is personally challenging to me because I have a very difficult time eating anything at all. Providing meals and snacks for the whole family is intensely overwhelming for me personally. I try to respect their choices as much as I can though, and it’s never about judging their choices, but more my personal limitations in how many things I can cook at once without burning them all. My husband is pre-diabetic and his whole family is diabetic so we talk a lot about sugar and healthy eating. My girls understand that they are genetically predisposed to this and they desire to eat healthy now so that they can enjoy all the foods they love for their whole lives.

  5. If it is our child’s path to become a sugar addict, we will not be able to protect them from this. They will gravitate toward that learning experience. I too am a recovering sugar addict, and I have learned some of my most important lessons through that experience. It has helped to make me into the person I am today, and for that lesson, I am very grateful.

    • Certainly that is the case Wendy. However if the children aren’t aware of their predisposition they are unable to make informed choices. Despite increasing evidence, most people don’t see sugar as an addictive substance.

  6. April Castillo says

    I’m 12 and I workout for a. Hour and 30 min or more when I feel fat 2 hours doing these mike Chang ab workouts I have been working out for 5 years and have skipped like 1 day or 2 .I have abs can I eat whatever I want I have been on a diet lol and I am a girl.

  7. Chanita baumhaft says

    Would love to hear how your thought on addiction around alcohol and/or drugs relate to food freedom. Some folks can have a drink. Some folks fall in the bottle and drown. And still crave more and more alcohol. I am clear that what passes for food in much of the country is as powerfully craved and harmful as alcohol, if it’s not an actual precursor to alcohol and other “adult” addictions. Despite that I remain more lax than I feel I ought to be with my child’s food addictions. It feels very hard to pull my child out of addiction, and I’m not sure how to go about it often.

  8. This is the one topic of the unschooling suggestions that I battle with myself. As a health coach and weightloss advisor I see the consequences every day of mums who fight with their own sugar addictions and as a result are the overweight role models to their families. I myself have a sugar addiction that I control by choices to uphold a standard of living I want to achieve and to be a role model. But I do so in balance. Sometimes I do not eat it a month at a time. Sometimes my local alternative health practitioner has suggested that my son abstain from sugar for short periods of time due his immune system or with certain symptoms he gets that are uncomfortable. When this doctor suggests this my son chooses to uphold this as he wants to feel better and not have the symptoms which do dissipate when he stops. This is the same with eating dairy… At this point, as my son is 8, I have decided the approach of sharing my wisdom but allowing him to make his own choices which has included eating chocolate for breakfast and a full day of eating nothing but everything covered in cheese. We are still in the early days of this so I am remaining open minded. I still believe there is an element of supply and demand. For example as a vegetarian, I do not buy or cook meat in my house- never have- however I have never labelled Josh as a vegetarian and he can eat meat at any time outside of the house, at other’s houses or restaurants and at this point he only eats chicken, sausages or bacon when visiting my friend’s (another unschooler with a non vegetarian husband) and the occasional peperoni pizza when out. I just don’t see myself as ever buying him meat in the house… if he wants to buy it and cook it at home when he is old enough, I think I would support him in that. It’s a complex subject alright!

    • I think the thing to keep in mind when dealing with it Lisa is that your needs are not your son’s, and vice versa for him. You obviously have some awareness of this already from what you’ve posted, but on another level, I think in the home as much as out he should be afforded the opportunity to eat the way that he feels is best for himself, whether it be vegeterian, meat eater, or somewhere in the middle. If the roles were reversed wouldn’t you want the same respect for how you eat?

      I say all of that with respect to you mind you, mean no disrespect whatsoever, but just wanted to give some food for your thought on the subject so to speak. Dealing with differences like that can be difficult, but I think sometimes we can make them a bit moreso than perhaps they ought to be as well.

  9. Kristina says

    Growing up I witnessed my stepmother constantly monitor and control the food consumption of her entire family and it stresses me out just thinking about it. This perspective is like a breathe of fresh air! Thank you.

  10. Megan DePerro says

    Excellent but be careful for children with severe autism. They will often eat the same thing over and over and make themselves sick. For neurotypical children this is fine, just be sure if they have type I diabetes that they are taught about their disease and how to alleviate problems.

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