What we owe our children

Most bloggers get negative comments from time to time, but up til now I have been fortunate to have tremendously kind and respectful commenters. In the flurry of extra visitors to my blog in the last few days, I have gotten many kind and encouraging notes, both on the blog and to me privately. Thanks to each of you. I hope that you will feel welcome here.

There have been a few that have left me feeling a bit ruffled– insinuating that in keeping our food costs low, I might be somehow depriving my children or feeding them subpar food. I only have to look at a plate of food at an average dinner to know that our diet is varied, healthy, and delicious. And yet in trying to understand where the negative commenters might be coming from, I got to thinking about what we really owe our family when it comes to feeding them.

Certainly we owe them enough nutritious food to grow and thrive. A casual glance through the grocery store tells me that there aren’t many folks in America suffering from too few calories, my kids included. They’re all normal weight, healthy kids, who are loaded with energy. At the moment they’re outside eating popsicles, juice dripping down their arms.

(Some people would diss me for feeding my kids popsicles– the sugar! The food coloring! I maintain that popsicles are a lovely addition to childhood summer memories, food coloring be hanged.)

But just what do we OWE our kids? Slabs of steak? Chicken nuggets? Organic everything? Meals at expensive restaurants every week? Pizza every night? There are almost as many answers as there are families, but in general I am pretty comfy letting folks make the choices for their own kids.

As a mom, I work to expose my kids to a wide variety of healthy food. Not only do I want them to be healthy– I also want them to be comfortable no matter what is offered to them in the future. I don’t want them to be crippled by a myriad of ‘I hate it’ foods. I want them to have good table manners so that they will be able to eat a meal any place and not embarrass themselves or others.

My kids gobble Korean-style sushi and Ethiopian-style flatbread with great pleasure, as well as vegetables like cabbage and brussel sprouts and broccoli that many people don’t learn to enjoy til adulthood. But I don’t see a thing wrong with serving casseroles and pasta and rice and other simple hearty foods as well. I would never want my children to go somewhere and turn their nose up at a simple dish of lentils.

In fact, my husband and I talk with our children about the many people in the world who aren’t privileged to have the high standard of living that we do in America. People who’ve never seen the huge array of selection in a Western-style grocery store. People who’ve never owned a freezer, let alone seen one filled with pounds and pounds of beef and chicken like mine happens to be at the moment.

There’s another side to not going overboard at the grocery store as well. It is freedom of choice. In reality John and I could probably afford to buy steak a little more often. (OK, I’ll be honest–if the beef industry was dependent on my steak purchases, it would have collapsed long ago. Hamburger is a different story!) But by not buying steak and lots of meals out and boatloads of prepackaged food, we free up our grocery money for other things.

Things like time to play on the beach with our kids. Big Christmases (every year we swear we’re not going overboard, but every year we do anyway!) Compassion kids. And most recently, a swimming pool. Just ask my kids if they’d rather have steak or a swimming pool. I dare you.

Even IF we could afford to ‘have it all’, I’m not convinced that $50 is better spent on steak when there are children all over the world desperate to go to school. What do we owe our children anyway? And just who are ‘our’ children?

My family is fortunate that our frugality is not born from true desperation. And I am convinced that by spending money wisely, our impact on the world will be greater in the end.

One of my favorite quotes is from Ghandi, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I truly believe that frugality is one way that we can extend our impact on the world.

If we dare.


  1. Mary~

    I am so, so sorry anyone has had the audacity to comment on your depriving your children by feeding them frugally.

    I am so incredibly impressed with your ability to make yummy-looking and healthy meals on your budget. Your pantry is to die for, and I’d be thrilled any day to get to eat what you feed your family. : )

    I’m glad you dare, dear friend. You inspire me. Bless you and your well-fed, healthy family.

  2. Hey Mary,

    Ditto, ditto to what Pam said!

    Also–I noticed today when I tried to visit your blog that I have to add “wordpress” to the address now–I think at home I’ve just done http://www.owlhaven.com. Has something changed? Just curious.


  3. Great post! I agree that every family has to figure out what is best for them. There is no right or wrong answer. My kids are very picky eaters. The get a multi-vitamin every night because I am afraid they aren’t getting everything they need. But they are healthy, happy kids. I am impressed that your chidren eat so well.

  4. Melissa says:

    I can’t even fathom how anyone would take your post about affordable meals and twist it into you not feeding your children enough! Especially considering that its the unhealthy, pre packaged, incredibly processed foods that tend to be more expensive.
    Great post 🙂

  5. laurelannga says:

    I love this site, and visit it often. Posts like this one are why. I also work hard to keep our grocery bill down, and feel that it’s part of being a good steward of our resources. I also want my children to learn to eat a healthy variety of foods, and to be able to graciously and sensibly deal with foods that aren’t favorites. Like most aspects of parenting, it’s an ongoing process!
    Again, I love this website, and find it funny, inspiring and thought provoking. Thanks!

  6. This just amazes me. Should be teaching our children ,”If you’ve got it, spend it”? Or that saving money and being frugal is a bad thing?

    If we had a few more savers and a few less spenders, this country might not be in the economic state that it is right now. Just my 2 cents.

    You are teaching your children a valuable lesson. Keep up the good work.

  7. I’ve had some strange comments now and then but I had one so cutting and hateful a few months ago that I had to respond to it in a post. What I can’t understand is why someone feels they have to make a nasty comment at all. No one is forcing them to read a blog.

    I think the way you feed your kids is up to you and the fact I agree with it is beside the point. 🙂

  8. Shame on them! How many families have home-cooked meals like yours instead of drive-thru dinners twice a week? How many Whole-Foods-eatin’ families save children from uncertain futures like you did?

    I, too, have struggled with the question of what we owe our children–the most optimal diet we can afford, or a balanced diet, one parent at home full-time, and an emergency fund.

    I happen to think the latter is better for all of us.

  9. Oh, please. Your kids sound great. People always find it easy to make comments about other people’s lives when in reality they ought to be focusing on their own.

    With that, I’m going to go feed my son a popsicle…

  10. {standing ovation} Bravo, you tackled a subject that is difficult with such grace. I don’t understand why people think it is acceptable to make snap judgment based on only seeing a tiny little portion of someone’s life. I would never admonish someone about what they feed their kids…last time I checked the Trinity wasn’t accepting applications for the Holy Spirit…so some things I’ll just keep my nose out of.

    And I say kudos to you for being able to feed your family healthy meals and be able to afford it. 🙂 {I think they’re just jealous they don’t have your mad shopping skillz}

  11. Way cool on the CNN thing! I had to come back and count kids to be sure I was right about how many you had. (I was.)

    Excellent post, Mary. How picky we are is a direct reflection of how spoiled we are.

  12. Not only have we Americans lost track of how to eat healthfully, but we are totally out of touch with portion sizes as well. A serving size of protein is 4-6 oz, roughly the size of a deck of cards- not the 12 oz steak (or larger!) served at many restaurants…

    You are doing a great job of raising your kids with Godly values. Keep up the good work and keep on inspiring the rest of us!

  13. Mary,
    Well done!!

    The Darlings

  14. You rock, my frugal friend. I’d dine at your house any day of the week.

  15. Well said! I think if we would go back to eating simply and quit worrying about organic or not, but just eat food that is really food, we would be healthier. Most of the children who eat fried food on occasion with all the exercise a normal child should get, will be fine!!!

  16. Everyone needs to read Hungry Planet:What the World Eats. seriously.

    Depravity–imagined or otherwise– does not exist in most homes in the U.S.

    Your tips for food on the cheap are part of what drew me to this blog to begin with.

    That and your winning smile. 🙂

  17. Well said! A quote I am sure to be misquoting is something like “if the label says ‘healthy’, ‘nutritious’, ‘all natural’, or similar, it’s almost surely not.” Our understanding of food is really warped. We, too, choose to eat simply and keep portions reasonable and limit beef and focus on alternative (vegetable) proteins not for lack of money or access (my parents own a beef farm, for pete’s sake!) but because we want to model healthy and reasonable portions and a diverse pallet. And because we feel healthier. This is somewhat new to us, but has become much more important as our daughter grows up (she’s 3 this week). I grew up on meat and potatoes every. single. meal. It’s boring AND I was well into my 20’s before I learned to enjoy any other kind of food. I want better for my kids.

    And I think you are SPOT ON about the prioritizing.

  18. I agree with all you said, Mary. Well said.

    And I read most of the comments on the CNN article. I saw the negative ones and I wondered, where do these people come from? Some people have too much time on their hands and need to keep their negativity to themselves.

    I’ve “known” you here in Bloggityville for over 2 years now and I think you do an excellent job of feeding your family a varied and nutritious diet while doing it as frugally as you can.



  19. Oh my goodness Mary, I just read your (wonderful!) CNN article, and then started reading some of the “sound off” comments, and had to stop. I was UTTERLY DISGUSTED by what these people (with nothing better to do) were saying. Yikes. I could go on and on about why they are clearly confused and downright mean, but I won’t. 🙂

    Your beautiful family is part of what got us so excited to adopt, and continues to inspire me. You obviously know what life is about, and what matters. I for one think you are doing a GREAT job and your children are so blessed to have a mother like yourself!

  20. OH yes- right on. I wish I could say it more eloquently, but right on just seems to fit! : )


  21. If any of these people read the posts about your garden, they would realize that you’re feeding your children a healthier diet than many (I would even venture to say most) children in the US. You’re doing a wonderful job raising healthy, down-to-earth children.

  22. Amen and amen.

  23. give me a break! the negative commenters clearly don’t have a clue. (have them drop by my house as i sit here eating pretzels for dinner) xoxox

  24. What a wonderful post you have written – very well said. I know how it feels to receive a negative comment or e-mail and as much as I’d like to brush it aside, it instead causes a little ache in my heart. Thankfully there are so many wonderful commenters out there to make blogging such a wonderful, positive experience.

    What you wrote, “but in general I am pretty comfy letting folks make the choices for their own kids.” RIGHT ON, SISTER. Now just if everyone would feel the same way…

  25. I guess “Ditto” is all I can really add.

    Sheesh! Some people!

  26. Great post! From the photos you’ve posted it’s obvious your children are happy, healthy and thriving so I can’t understand how anyone could consider them anything other than lucky to have you as their mother 🙂

    I too am currently working on making vegetables, rather than meat, the focus of our meal so I’ll be following your recipes with interest.

  27. Well said.

    I agree.

    ANd you say it so… gracefully as well.

  28. It is your choice and you just stick by it, you hear!

    I know we shouldn’t bother with what other people think (not really), but still… It is hard to let nasty comments go by without replying.

  29. kazzles says:

    You sound like you are raisng your family in a very similar way to how I was raised and I applaud you for it. I’m sure your kids are eating more nutritious food than most of the western world and probably learning how to cook without opening packets too which will be a great skill (not to mention being a lot healthier).

    In NZ growing up in the country we had a huge (and I mean huge) vege garden, chickens, fruit trees and neighbours with farms who would swap veges for lamb and beef. My mum made all our baking and home made tomato sauce, chutneys, pickles etc. I look back now and realise how privileged I was. What an amazingly healthy start in life! And I know in tougher financial times our family never once went hungry.

    Good on you! I’m sure more and more people are going to be looking to people like you for tips as the impact of raising food prices and petrol costs impacts more and more families.

  30. Don’t worry there is always someone out there who will criticize. You are raising happy, well fed, much loved and well educated children – keep it up! You grow your own food, and bulk buy. I can see nothing wrong with your families life style (although don’t think it’s my place to judge), so don’t let those people make you feel bad.

  31. You are right on the money! It is a blessing to hear that someone wants their children to have healthy eating habits…we see so much of the opposite these days. Now how in the holy heck did you get your kids to eat brussels sprouts? =)

  32. I am one of those that wondered over from CNN. As a SAHM of a 9month old and a military wife with frequent deployments, I have often wondered “what can I do to help others”-but felt stuck in my own craziness! Your blog and frugal living ideas have inspired me to do a better job of reaching out and using our money wisely. Thank you. God Bless.

  33. Very well stated!

    We choose a healthy lifestyle and people comment all the time about my “standards,” shockingly I even force them to eat correct portion sizes.

    Just curious….did these people read previous post about your beautiful and abundent garden?

  34. Sending my love.
    I truly appreciate you Mary. Your voice has made a difference in my life. Keep posting. Keep doing what your doing. I too would eat with you any day. Whether it be lentils or steak.

  35. Shannon says:

    Dear Mary,

    Your blog has been a source of inspiration for me for over a year now. I know that hurtful comments like this can really and truly hurt and no matter how many of us comment to support you, you probably still feel a sting!!
    I will pray for peace in your heart.
    These hurtful and mean people are on a completely different level than you. They are victims of cynicism and fear and ignorance. They are an unfortunate by-product of our massive culture of wealth. What would their grandparents say!!
    The positive messages that you convey nearly every day in your blog are such pure and positive messages of wealth and peace and love. I thank God for your influence in my home!!
    You are an angel. Thank you again.

  36. You are so so right to teach your children these values.
    Here in England I hear so many children being taken around the supermarket whining ‘I want’ – and they seem to get every one of their request.
    It breaks my heart to see trolleys piled high with ‘junk’ and the fresh veg section of the shop has been totally missed out.
    Need not greed has always been my mantra – and my vote goes with the swimming pool every time!

  37. Mary, so, so well put and written without being judgmental of others, just your simple ways that have influenced me.

  38. Good for you, Mary. Don’t let the jerky commenters get to you. I think blog commenting can be a little like road rage–people have the nerve to say something baseless and unfounded they’d never say in person.

    You’re doing fine, my friend.

  39. Very well said! I love making new things for my kids, and on a tight budget it isn’t alway easy. Your frugal ways teach your children such important lessons, and all readers as well.

  40. Amen. Just amen.

  41. Giving our children a sense of entitlement is never the answer. Nutrition should be at the forefront of our minds…but you can go too far with that as well.

    Popsicles are not evil, and too much of that “fine red meat” isn’t great for families with heart health issues. There aren’t many clear-cut lines in parenting…and mealtime is no exception.

    I can’t believe anybody would have the gall to comment negatively on what you feed your children. Boy would they have a field day at my house!

  42. I too LOVE Ghandi’s words! And what a wonderful way to teach your children – and through your blog others who have children – to be responsible inhabitants of the planet. To think about the effect your family’s decisions have on the entire world now there’s a thought that most of us don’t think about often enough.

    Recently we added up how much we’ve spent on extraneous purchases this year and it was over $1000 – hello with an unemployed hubby for several of those months. We got nothing out of that money but it sure would buy alot of something for someone who had nothing.

    Hugs and your words as always are wonderful!

  43. Thanks, Mary, for writing such a candid, truthful post without being defensive or rude.

    I wish all kids could be so “deprived” like yours are. 🙂

  44. I agree completely!

  45. Mary – I have only recently discovered your blog and I love it!! I agree with many of your other commenters in that you should never worry about what the rude people say. They are just ignorant. I think it’s so great that you use your time (and money) so efficiently in providing such a great meal plan for your family. I am going to try to do the same. You are truly inspirational! You amaze me how you can do all you do for so many kids. I only have 2 kids and have found myself complaining about how hard it is before…..but I am going to try my hardest to remember you and your large family next time I want to whine. Thank you for posting! And thank you for having the courage to speak your mind. I look forward to reading!!

  46. I just recently found your blog via the CNN article. I love what I’ve seen so far. Ignore those negative comments; people like that usually need to be taking a deeper look at their own lives rather than concerning themselves with what others are doing. From the pics I’ve seen of your family, they look healthy. Balance in everything, right?

  47. Kate in NY says:

    Mary, In one of the wonderful “Tightward Gazette” books, the author tells about a (rare) trip her family once took to an ice-cream shop at the mall. She takes pride in her brood for the way they relish their simple, junior cones, and she contemplates how easy it would be to fall for the temptation to give them such treats frequently, or to buy them bigger, more elaborate cones the next time. But to do so would be to ruin the simple pleasure of the experience. In America, we tend to think we need to constantly give more, give bigger, give better. But you are doing your children a FAVOR by letting them live frugally most of the time so that they can enjoy the odd treat with abandon. They key is that they don’t require these indulgences on a daily basis to bring them happiness – their joy in life comes from a much deeper source.

    Kate in NY

  48. You go girl! I love this post on SO many levels…especially the “And just who are ‘our’ children?” You hit the nail on the head with the notion that you want your children to be able to eat anything anywhere – that is classy, my friend! 🙂

  49. I totally admire you and how you raise your family. I have really learned a few things from you. You have been a blessing to me. And I KNOW you daily bless those wonderful kiddos who you have been called to mother.

  50. I’m a recent new reader to your blog, but I admire the way you raise your family, and think you’re doing a wonderful job! Brush off the nasty comments by people who have too much time on their hands, 😉 and move on.. go have a popsicle by the pool with your beautiful children! 🙂 *hugs*