Finding Balance: Healthy Eating and Autonomy in a Family with Food Sensitivities

Finding Balance: Healthy Eating and Autonomy in a Family with Food Sensitivities

An Interview with Guest Blogger D'Anne Dougherty.

Tell us a little about your family and what healthy eating means to you.

I am a single mom of a 10-year-old. My daughter has food sensitivities and also chooses to be vegetarian. For us, healthy eating means eating food that, first, doesn't cause allergies or other issues, and second, is as close to preservative-free and fresh as possible. We eat organic as much as we can and try to have plenty of quality protein and vegetables in every meal.

I think about healthy eating every day and some days I come closer to accomplishing it than others. Because my daughter and I have different diet restrictions, it can be tricky to plan for meals and snacks, but we talk a lot about what we need to have in every meal or snack throughout the day. For my daughter, food choices need to be vegetarian and gluten-free. For me, for health reasons, they also need to be grain-free and sugar-free. These restrictions can make for grain-heavy snacks and meals for my daughter. Chips are so easy to grab when she just wants a quick snack and nuts are not her favorite, but I try to have her think about making sure she has a good quality protein and a vegetable in every meal and most snacks.

I believe healthy eating is a lot more than making food choices that are good for our bodies. I think it also has a lot to do with the attitudes we have about food and the beliefs and attitudes we instill in our children. I want my daughter to be mindful of what she's putting in her body, but I don't want her to feel limited or stifled as she explores different food choices. I think it's healthy for her to make not-so-healthy food choices sometimes, so that she can see how it feels better when she eats food that really fuels her body. I think part of eating healthy is being able to listen to what our bodies are asking for and I'd rather teach my daughter how to listen to her body than to just impose a restricted diet on her.

What's the biggest challenge you've faced encouraging healthy eating with your kids? Did you resolve it or are you still working on it?

By far, the biggest challenge I have faced encouraging healthy eating with my daughter has been finding balance. I want her to experiment with how different foods make her feel and to hear what her body is asking for. I think this is a skill that will serve her the rest of her life. I don't want to stifle her exploration by imposing my own ideas about what she should be eating and overriding messages she may be receiving from her own body. On the other hand, she is still young and developing this ability, and needs guidance while making food choices.

I have done research and have ideas about what is healthy for her, and it is my job to share what I know and often to insist that she eat foods I believe her body needs. I think the challenge comes in finding the balance between the two and in the communication with her that hopefully allows her to make informed choices and listen to her intuition about what she should be eating.

I also don't want to impose beliefs about food onto her that won't serve her down the road. I don't want her to be afraid of certain foods or to have such extreme diet restrictions that she "breaks bad" one day when the restrictions are no longer there. So for us, that means allowing a certain amount of "junk" from time to time, so we can be a little more laid back about it.

What's your biggest success with your kids regarding healthy eating?

I think my biggest success with my daughter regarding healthy eating is probably seeing her make healthy food choices as a result of watching me. I try to communicate a lot, not only about what we should be eating, but why. I make personal comments about how food is making me feel or what I think my body is telling me it wants. I talk about how sometimes I eat things that I knew wouldn't make me feel good, but that I ate anyway because I had such an impulse to eat it and how I didn’t feel great later. Sometimes I can feel my blood sugar getting low and I realize I haven't had much protein so far that day and I say so out loud. I think it's important to say these things and I have heard my daughter make comments that show me that she is internalizing a lot of this.

I have heard her comment that she was making certain food choices because of the way she was feeling and because of what that meant her body needed. And I have heard her say she wanted to eat something sweet, but thought she should probably eat some "real food" first. In making this choice, she was acting on what she truly felt she needed, which is very different from having a sweet as a reward after forcing herself to eat something healthy that she didn’t like.

Could you share a recipe or an idea that's worked well for your family?

One thing that has really helped our family has been having healthy snacks available and easy to eat at all times. Since our challenge is mostly with protein and vegetables, I try to keep various kinds of nuts and yogurt handy. I also have chopped vegetables in small containers with things to dip them in.

Another thing that has saved us, with our vegetarian, gluten-free diet, is quiche. I don't even use a recipe any more, I just use up whatever vegetables we have, or put vegetables in that they wouldn't ordinarily eat. I use lots of eggs, cream, cheese and herbs. The quiches turn out different every time and are a big hit at our house. We usually have it hot the night we make it, but it is still yummy the next day cold, right out of the fridge.

About D'Anne:

D’Anne Dougherty is an intuitive counselor with 20 years of experience helping people gain clarity and harmony with the energies of their environments. She is a parent coach, specializing in support for intuitive parents and parents of intuitive children.

D’Anne has studied curative education of young children, and she completed her Waldorf teacher training at Sunbridge College in 2000. She spent 9 years in a Kindergarten classroom and helped to support families of young children.

Since experiencing the loss of her husband, D’Anne has been inspired to offer grief support, and intuitive counseling for the bereaved.

Additionally, D’Anne received formal herbalism training from Susun Weed, and offers training on the subject, as well as remedies from herbs she has wildcrafted herself using old folk remedies.

D’Anne Dougherty lives on the Gulf Coast of Florida with her daughter and several animal friends. To learn more or to connect with D’Anne, visit her website:

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