How to Begin to Teach Your Children About Real Food – A Mac & Cheese Lesson

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The issue of food can be a hot topic. It can be as sacred as politics and religion.

We each have different convictions regarding food and that’s okay.

I’ve made it clear in many posts that although I do my best to feed my family nutrient dense foods free from hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and other chemicals; food is not my God.

For that reason, my husband and I never speak badly of any foods within our home. We don’t call boxed foods, junk. We don’t call hydrogenated foods, cancer in a tub.

Instead, we choose to lead in our home by example.

Leading by Example

As I’m writing this, the memory verse that my children have been learning in school this week comes to mind.

Pleasant words are like a honeycomb

Sweet to the soul and healing to the bones

Proverbs 16:24

We’re teaching our children to begin to watch what comes out of their mouths – that it’s sweet and healing.

We don’t want to raise snarky little boys with an I’m holier than though mentality. Especially, when it comes to food that many people are dependent on.

For that reason, we haven’t spoken much about the dangers of certain foods to our children.

Instead, from pretty much birth to now they’ve seen how much time and energy we spend in preparing foods at home.  How much effort we put into our gardens and backyard chickens. They help us grow and make our own food.

However, my oldest is now six years old and beginning to ask me more questions about why we don’t buy certain products.

A Mac and Cheese Lesson


The above picture is of mac and cheese.  Not homemade, but boxed.

As a busy mama, I appreciate many of the organic options that we now have. The kids love mac and cheese and I LOVE that I can find a good option that my kids and hubby like.


When I’m scrambling for time, this works for my family.  But let me tell you, my kids notice that it’s not orange.

Worse, they notice that they’re not in the shape of Cars, Phineas and Ferb, or Spongebob. Goodness, the color of the box above doesn’t hold a chance to the vibrant blue they see on the shelves screaming at them at their perfect eye level.

Praise God for Trader Joes. Now that we have a TJ’s, we don’t visit Walmart often and I love that they don’t have all the crazy, vibrant options that big stores have.  For me, the less to choose from, the better.

But let me tell you, when we did visit Walmart more often, my boys always asked for a cartoon box of mac and cheese.  Usually lingering on the end caps.

“…but why, mama, why?”  “Why can’t we have this kind?” “Can’t you see, it has McQueen on it!”  My reply was always, “Because we get ours at Trader Joes. Put it Back.”

Honest to God, this was my oldest sons reply to me one day. “Well you know what, when I’m older and I have children, I’m going to let them get whichever kind of mac and cheese they want.”

I had to laugh at that and responded to him, “Mijo, when you have children, we’ll see what your wife has to say about that.”

I knew though that it was time to start teaching my children why we don’t buy certain products.

Our Lesson

My intentions are not to bombard them with information regarding our food system, instead to illustrate to them something simple so that they can see and begin to understand why we don’t eat certain products.

Since the only boxed food we really buy is mac and cheese, I decided to use this to illustrate why some foods are not good for our bodies.

Step 1. I made my boys Mac and Cheese.

Step 2. While they were eating, I asked my boys what kind of mac and cheese they prefer – white or orange.  They both replied, “orange.”

Step 3. I then showed them the cheese that we buy and asked them what it was.


They replied, “cheese.”

Step 4. I asked them if they could tell me how cheese was made. They replied, “from milk.”

Step 5. I then asked them what color is milk. They replied, “white.”

Step 6. I then brought out some macaroni and cheese in a bowl and some orange paint. As I did, both of my boys looked at me oddly.

I then took some paint and mixed it into the macaroni and cheese, painting it orange.


I then asked them, “Would you eat this?”  They both replied, “no.” I asked them, “why not?”

They both took turns replying, “It has paint in it. Paint is not food.”

From the mouth of children, they clearly understood, that food with paint in it could not be good for our bodies.  I took this example and began to explain that most mac and cheese, although it looks pretty and has awesome cartoons, is made with special paint that is not good for our bodies to eat. God made cheese that is white and healthy for our bodies. That’s why mama buys them white mac and cheese.

I asked them if we should buy orange mac and cheese to eat?  They both replied, “no.”

I know that organic yellow mac and cheese is made with natural annato food coloring from the achiote plant, however, this was an easy way for me to illustrate that many foods are made with things that although look good and appealing are not good for our bodies.

They are now beginning to understand the differences between processed and real foods.

I’m sure when we see those bright blue boxes with McQueen and Mater, they’ll ask again; however, now we can go back and reflect on orange paint.

How do you teach your children about real food?  I’d love to know your strategies and cute stories you’d like to share :)

39 Responses to "How to Begin to Teach Your Children About Real Food – A Mac & Cheese Lesson"
  1. As a new mother of a 13 month old boy, I love every aspect of this post and can not wait to channel your wisdom when he starts asking questions. THANK YOU!

  2. Jason says:

    That’s adorable! They’re bright boys. If what matters is what’s on the box (and why shouldn’t it-they’re the children of two designers for heaven’s sake!)maybe you could just carry “Etnies” or “eMerica” stickers to TJ’s in your purse and slap them on. I guarantee that they’d think it was cooler than anything some corporate shill mother-of-their-peers came up with!

  3. Elissa says:

    Great thoughts. Great lesson. We are an 80/20 family and I find that that works for us. I am not happy when my father takes them to McDonald’s for chicken mcnuggets but I don’t freak out about it because it’s only once or twice a month and they are getting some solid nutrition at home (and of course the up side is that they are speding time with Papa). Thankfully, my reply to their requests for fake food is enough and whining is minimum. My reply is: “That is not real food and I will not buy it.” However, I do let them have occasional treats so that I and they do not feel like I am depriving them totally. I’ll confess my real food sins: moon pies when we go to Bass Pro and gummy sharks when we go to Gander Mountain and occasionally a hot dog or ice cream cup when we go to Sam’s Club or Costco.

  4. Monica says:

    Oh my goodness! I am so happy I found you! I live in Iowa and I have never seen a real food blogger from Iowa! I took a look at your resource page and I am very excited. I have another good resource, I know the farmers personally.

    They attend my old church. They deliver to your door and have great prices. The eggs are amazing! Their 3 oldest children run the egg business. :)

    We are about to buy our homestead; our closing date has been pushed back twice, so we are very excited to be getting closer. We will have chickens, goats, and garden. We should contact via email. :) I’m telling you,I am so excited!

  5. Cara says:

    This is a refreshing post :) I’ve been careful not to say anything bad about what other people eat, as I prefer they not tell my children that our food is ‘yucky’ either :) I feel like teaching my children manners is a part of teaching them about good food.

    I love Trader Joe’s ‘convenience’ food too, for those busy days. My kids are still okay with the ‘in our house we don’t buy xyz’. When we were on GAPS it was ‘that will make you sick’ but thankfully that’s not the case any more. I like to focus on what the good food has too; this kind of Mac n Cheese has better ingredients in it that will make you big and strong and give you lots of energy to play :)

  6. grace says:

    I love this, luckily my kids have not started asking about that (5 yr, 3 yr, 20 month) and I try to frequent stores (tjs, whole foods etc) where I don’t say a lot of “no we don’t eat that”….my kids love Cheese, real strong cheese…so hopefully when the time comes they will understand this example. Thank you! The other day my 5 yr old had a conversation in the back seat with his sister about why we don’t eat at that place with the gold start (carls junior i think) he said it will make you sick and that a good snack was green apples and almond butter :) kids are smart…it sinks in! thanks again!

  7. Teresa W says:

    Very smart, mom!!
    My 11 year old daughter is learning to cook and Mac & Cheese is one of her favorites to make on her own. She will get the macaroni out and measure it and all. To get the “orange Cheese” color, we use an old family secret ingredient – Seasoned Salt.(I make my own)it has Paprika in it, so mixed with the cheese it gives it that “orange” color. Her great grandmother use to do this back in the day before the blue box even came out.

  8. Jessica says:

    Great post! I don’t have kids yet but, this made me think about the way I talk with others about healthy and nutritious foods. I don’t want to come across in a negative way and turn others off. You’re correct, leading by example is SO important.I LOVE the part about food not being your God! Sometimes I have to remind myself of that.

  9. Alla says:

    or better yet put some turmeric and paprika – great colour and no icky taste that kids won’t like, it’s extremely mild :)

  10. Foy Update says:

    This is something I am just starting to consider as now I have my own little one. How will I teach her about food? The most important way will be by example.

    I think back to my time in Peace Corps when we ate a lot of things we didn’t agree with to fit in and be good guests. I learned to like chicken feet and cow stomach! We did draw the line at eating endangered animals. That was never a good conversation because it made us look judgmental which we were being, but Jeff was a Community Education Conservation volunteer for crying out loud! Thankfully it only happened a handful of times. We had many friends who were volunteers who would just lie and say food they didn’t like “dañado mi estómago” (damages my stomach). I hope my children will take after us and eat what is prepared and served to them.

    How will I teach my daughter about food that is both healthy for her body and respectful of our natural resources? I like where you are starting from and I’ll keep thinking about it. I’ve got a couple more years at least!

  11. My kids (and grand kids) LUV picking fresh fruit and produce from our garden. They were elated to discover that those little blue flowers on the borage plants were edible (and even tasted like cucumber). Spearmint, peppermint… fun herbs to smell or chew- start to give them the idea of where real food comes from!
    Love your paint idea 😀

  12. Jacqueline says:

    Thank you so much I really enjoyed this article! My son who is 5 just started Kindergarten this year was in class and it was someone’s Birthday and the Mom brought cupcakes for everyone. When they asked my son if he would like a cupcake he just put his hand up and said sorry I’m not allowed we don’t eat that! I was so proud of him,as he could have eaten it and I wouldn’t of know any different! I’ve taught him from the get go that we don’t eat color or chemicals because it will make us sick. He’s had french fries from a fast food place once in his entire life and I don’t take him out to eat unless there is a real food option. He gets plenty of treats from home as I make most of them and a few from the health food stores.Children “Learn what they Live”!

  13. Renee says:

    LOVE LOVE this post! You are awesome! And I’m keeping this idea in my back pocket for when my girls start asking questions! Thanks!

  14. Stephanie says:

    Great post, great ideas! Thanks for sharing. My son is almost three, we are just starting to get into these areas, so I’m keen to learn more strategies!
    I overheard one strategy which I’m using with success so far, “That’s not growing food.” I also sometimes add, “That food will make your poops hard. It’s OK to eat some, but you need to eat other types of food so that the poop doesn’t hurt when it comes out.”

  15. What a clever lesson! However, I can’t guarantee that my 5 and 2 year old wouldn’t think adding paint to their food was the greatest thing ever and want to try to eat it! :)

    • Diana Bauman says:

      It’s kind of funny, Anna. I thought my four year old would think it’s awesome and want to eat it as well. He stunned me when he looked at me seriously and told me that he couldn’t eat it because it was paint. It was a pretty exciting moment for me ;D

  16. Ann says:

    Orange maccaroni cheese must be an American thing…I have never seen or heard of it!WHY is it orange??
    We just make it from scratch with pasta ,cheese ,milk and onion ,bacon etc( add whatever you want,sometimes I add extra veges).

  17. Natalia says:

    This was fantastic! I’m going to remember it just in case–my kids range from 19 down to 3 and they’re already familiar with my processed food issues, but still fuss about it occasionally (and now that many of them have their own money they buy it for themselves sometimes. :/ So this paint thing could still be a great object lesson. Loved it.

  18. Jessica Moore says:

    Great idea! I haven’t done any great visual explanations like this, but I have taught them about the ingredient label and they ask me to read it to them all the time. My oldest is also six.
    So when I’m reading the ingredient label, we look for items we recognize as food and things that we know do not come from a plant or animal. If they have questions about what an ingredient is, we look it up online and read about it, how it’s made (usually in a factory, definitely not on a farm!) and we often read about what it can do to our bodies. Of course, I do have to be careful with this though. I don’t want them figuring out later that all the kids they see eating those things do not have cancer, diabetes, chronic head aches, etc. Or even telling their friends at church that the food they are eating is bad.
    The balance comes in explaining how real food works to benefit our bodies and how those things offer no benefit at all.

  19. Isaac says:

    Great post, Diana.

    “Phineas and Ferb”? My wife and I have really attempted to give our three-year-old a high-quality entertainment diet, which meant for us the exclusion of many “processed” and “unwholesome” shows and music. I’m really amazed by some things that we find that he enjoys, like the energy of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony.

    It’s so important to do this as early as possible, too, since their tastes in art and entertainment are being formed by the choices we make for them right now.

    • Diana Bauman says:

      Yeah, it’s on the boxes of mac and cheese if you look at them. In our home we only have 13 channels as yes, our kids aren’t even aware of the many kid network shows out there. I’m really thankful for that and that they’re not exposed to the crazy advertisements directed towards them as well 😉 My oldest enjoys Spanish classical music as well as many other genre’s. They’re pretty well rounded :)

  20. JEN says:

    I love the way you explained this to your kids. I look for creative ways to get ideas across to mine and this might be something I try :)

  21. Lynn says:

    This is excellent! Teaching kids where food comes from, etc. is so important. Check out the CA Food Literacy Center that my friend Amber set up to do just this

  22. whimsy says:

    Thank you for teaching your children that you can have convictions without being a jerk. More like you, please!

    Same goes with homeschooling. We refer to non-homeschool as “awayschool” but without any negative connotations.

    In fact, the rivalry between the public school and the parochial school (across the street from each other) is much more intense than anything my kids grew up with. They’ll be friends with anyone as long as that person is respectful.

  23. Sarah says:

    Great lesson! I mix our mac n cheese noodles with some sweet potato or butternut puree and it gives it that orange look plus some extra nutrition.

  24. Sandra says:

    Hi this is a great lesson in what not to buy at the store in the way of processed foods. We stopped buying packaged mac and cheese a few years ago and now make our own from scratch. It is so easy and tasty and at least you know what is in it. There are plenty of recipes on the internet. My daughter loves to cook and it is one of her favourite meals to cook. The difference between home made and store bought it just incredible.

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