Why healthy eating cannot be forced (and what to do instead)

Why Healthy Eating Cannot Be Forced (and what to do instead). http://www.aliceinwonderment.com

Not long ago, we toured a grocery co-op with our homeschool group. The kids sat on stools around a high table, kicking their feet and squirming with excitement as the tour guide passed around a plate of brilliant red blood oranges. Homemade peanut butter was sent around next. And then snap peas. Everyone took at least one bite.

Everyone except my son.

Gus turned his nose up at the blood oranges. He shuddered at the texture of the peanut butter. When the snap peas came by, he looked up at me with mournful eyes and wailed at the top of his lungs, “Where’s the ketchup?”

I swear, we never put ketchup on snap peas before that day.

Healthy eating doesn’t happen easily in our home. I don’t have the kind of kids who chow down on asparagus or ask for seconds of kale chips. True, the boys aren’t eating cookies and Cheetos all day, but I do have the four-year-old who, when he thinks I’m not looking, scoops honey straight into his mouth with a spoon.

As Halloween approached this year, I wracked my brain for a way to get rid the candy before Gus devoured it all. Some of our friends have traditions that encourage their kids to ease up on all the sugar. Some ask their kids trade in their Halloween candy to the “Switch Witch” for a home-baked treat. Others exchange the candy for a new book.

When I suggested these options to Gus, he looked at me as if I had two heads.

Not gonna happen, Mom.

No one wants to be the mom wringing her hands, muttering “artificial coloring… red dye 40…” as the kids count out their candy. Unlike others, who have real and serious reactions to these chemicals, I haven’t seen any proof my kids are affected the handful of times a year they eat this stuff.

And so I laid off.

I knew that if I gave Gus information about healthy eating, like I have been all his life, and modeled good nutrition, he would eventually develop his own limits when it came to junk food.

I knew this.

I just hadn’t seen any proof yet.

This week, when Gus was sorting through his candy for what felt like the hundredth time, he asked, “Which one of my Halloween candy has the most sugar in it?”

One thing I love about project-based learning is that I can never predict where an inquiry will take us.

Here’s what we did:

We researched and charted the sugar content in Halloween candy.


Gus wanted to know which Halloween candy had the most sugar. A quick google search led us to this website with information about the sugar and calorie contents of popular Halloween treats.

I wrote the amount of sugar in grams (7 grams up to 15 grams) on notecards and read the values out loud. Gus found the numbers and matched each piece of candy to its correct place. This is numeracy, people!

Can you believe that the fruit snacks had the most sugar? Chocolate bars like Hershey’s and Kit-Kat had the least.

We experimented with candy.

Preschool science experiment with Halloween candy
Preschool science experiment with Halloween candy

After Gus finished charting his candy, we sat back and looked at the results. “Now what?” I asked him.

“I want to squish it up and pour things on it,” he said. “But just the really sugary candy. I want to eat the chocolate.”

You got it, kid.

Gus recently got a set of test tubes that he loves using. In project-based homeschooling, the kid is in charge of the project, so Gus chose his own materials. He asked for baking soda, vinegar, food coloring, play-dough, and lots of bowls.

There was lots of mixing, stirring, and pouring. He used a syringe to squirt liquid and scissors to cut open the wrappers.

We played candy shop and built and delivered lollipops. 

Building with Spielgaben

Oh, the Spielgaben. A hefty investment, and to be honest, I was starting to worry that it was a waste of money. Every time I took out a drawer, Gus would sift through the pieces for a few minutes, then bound away to jump on the couch for, you know, an hour or two.

But then he turned four.

Now, Gus plays with it every day. In the picture above, he’s building lollypops that also shoot magic powers.


Strewing is a key element of project-based homeschooling. After observing and documenting Gus’s work, I set out relevant books, media, and other materials to help him expand on his learning. It’s as simple as spreading out a few books or art materials on the kitchen table. Gus, who is always in charge of his projects, chooses when, how, and if he will use what I’ve suggested.

This week, I strewed…

The History Channel’s History of Halloween Video: How Candy Corn Is Made 

We talk a lot about factory-made food versus homemade food. This 3-minute video was Gus’s first glimpse into mass food production. We both thought it was pretty interesting!

Watch it here on History.com.

Cookbooks for Kids

It’s been said that if kids help prepare nutritious food, they’re more apt to eat it. I know that’s true in our house. Gus loves these books. We’ve been making the recipes together since he was two.

Here are some of our favorites.

Preschool cookbook with pictorial recipes
Preschool cookbook with pictorial recipes
A follow-up to Pretend Soup using all vegetarian recipes.
A follow-up to Pretend Soup using all vegetarian recipes.
In-depth book explains the science behind healthy eating and includes several recipes.
This in-depth book explains the science behind healthy eating and includes several recipes.
Catchy, musical book gives the recipe for Bee-bim bop, or mix-mix rice, a traditional Korean dish. Gus and I started making this recipe together when he was just 2 years old!
Catchy, musical book gives the recipe for Bee-bim bop, or mix-mix rice, a traditional Korean dish. Gus and I started making this recipe together when he was just 2 years old!
















And in the end, Gus never did eat any of the sugary candy.

What did your family do with your Halloween candy? And does anyone have any sure-fire ways to get a 4-year-old to brush his teeth? I’d love to know them!