Chick-fil-A was buzzing in a typical fast food fashion on a Saturday afternoon when my family of five stopped in for lunch. We ordered, grabbed a booth and our food quickly arrived. Famished after a morning of karate and basketball Jeb, my 11-year-old son, took a big swig of his lemonade. His eyes grew large and he looked at my husband Jeff who was drinking the same thing. “Dad, this is sooooo good! It doesn’t taste anything like the lemonade at church.”
Jeff laughed and said, “Yes, that’s what lemonade is suppose to taste like. It’s made with real lemons and real sugar.”
Our kids aren’t new to whole or organic foods. We shop weekly at Costco for the nice selection of organic produce and other green products and visit Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods regularly. However, something happened that day. Jeb realized there is a difference. We could see his wheels turning the rest of the weekend. When we went shopping at Costco I noticed him peeking at the back of products to check out the ingredients. When we arrived home he searched the ingredients of “fake” (as he described it) lemonade. When he saw Yellow Lake 5 (“lake” is applied to pigments or dyes that are precipitated with metal salts such as aluminum, calcium, barium…) he looked that up. The scary C word “cancer” kept popping up as did ADHD and hyperactivity in children. “How can people eat things that have been linked to cancer and behavior problems?” he wondered out loud.
We explained that most people think that if something is on the market it’s automatically safe, but that’s not the case. We also explained that he had the power to educate himself on the topic so that he can make the best decisions.
During this time Jeb was encountering the typical holiday candy at every turn. He started reading or looking up ingredients. If there was a dye in it, he threw it away. He even found some colorful sprinkles in our pantry loaded with artificial dyes and you know those little cinnamon flavored red hots (I used them for Christmas cookies)? The ingredient list does not include real cinnamon. Jeb was floored. “That makes no sense!” The disgust in his voice was obvious.
He even read the back of his shampoo bottle to find artificial dyes. The curiosity continued and he went online and started researching more on the topic of artificial dyes. He couldn’t believe the amount of artificial flavorings and colors allowed in our (processed) foods. Luckily, he discovered, companies like General Mills are replacing the “bad” stuff with better options.
Then he realized some of his favorite candies were infused with chemicals. “Mom, do you think there are organic candies I can still eat?”
I said, “Google it.”
A search revealed that yes, there are organic candies as well as options with no artificial flavors or coloring, one brand called Surf Sweets had packages sitting on the shelves of our local Nature’s Valley health food store. They were delicious! I would even eat the Watermelon rings all day long and I’m not a big candy person.
Jeb’s inquisitive mind led him to entering a science fair on the topic of comparing artificial and organic or natural candies. He gathered a taste panel to offer their advice on their favorite candies (there was no comparison – the Surf Sweets were the best flavored). In fact, my daughter and I couldn’t eat the artificially flavored and colored gummies (gross!). His next experiment was putting the candies on construction paper to see if there would be any noticeable changes over several days.
The organic and natural candies left a damp mark, except for the wax coated jelly bean, but the artificial candies didn’t leave any hint of resting on the paper (likely preservatives).
Jeb also soaked each candy in water. The organic candies dissipated (jelly bean) and natural candies drastically changed colors (gummies) while the candies made with artificial coloring certainly increased in size like the natural but hardly changed colors at all. (There was more to the project, but this is my mom summary so you can tell what’s happening in the photos.)
Jeb did all of the work himself and he was proud of his display. The final tally: He earned a red ribbon – 2nd place in his age division.
He earned it!
His hard work payed off but what’s even better is his curiosity has been tapped and he’s taking responsibility for his choices, especially when it comes to food.
In answer to how to raise curious children (in my experience): Expose them to new things, like cucumber water and apples baked in coconut oil. Let them smell all of the lotions on your vanity and pick their favorite. Encourage them to zipline, snorkel, and compete in sports. Let them bring home as many books as they want from the library. When something piques their interest buy them the best shoes you can and let them run free. Cheer them on as they sprint faster and whisper a reminder when they distracted or hesitate. Let them know they have a safety net but never let them give up. Then it will happen. You, parent, will stand speechless on the ground while watching them take flight and begin to soar. But whatever you do, don’t try to prod or steer. They have finally found their wind and their minds are their wings.