How to identify & actually avoid the three bad foods for your kids

food rules Feb 18, 2022
Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD
How to identify & actually avoid the three bad foods for your kids

Well before I had any idea about the power of words around food, I made a fateful choice. My kids would grab for my drink, as toddlers do. I drank far too much of the low/no-calorie sodas back then, so they had access. I let them take a sip and when the carbonation hit their mouths… it rolled out. 

And we said, “Ew, yucky soda.” Instant conditioning. There was an association made with carbonation and nastiness: they didn’t want to touch soda.

It was nasty, it was yucky: soda.


Fast-forward to when we moved to Okinawa with the Navy. I kid you not, on the first day of their preschool there, I asked the kids what they had for lunch. My eyes popped out of my head when they said, “Yucky Soda! It’s yummy!”

I was about to lose my mind. My master plan was broken. WTH had happened?

The next day I asked the teacher, perhaps with a bit of indignation more than curiosity:  “Why are you serving soda at lunch?”

“Ah, Wendy-San, it’s yakisoba. Yaki-Soba. Okinawan noodles. It’s yummy. No soda for children. No soda at school.”

Egg-meet-face. Wendy meet cultural literacy. And being grateful that I am wrong!


This got me thinking about how we label food. Yucky vs yummy, healthy vs unhealthy and the notorious good vs bad.

What is bad food?

  • Food that has spoiled (you know, smells funky)
  • Food that was left out (it’s no longer hot, no longer cold, pets or bugs have been in it)
  • Food that is burnt beyond recognition
  • Deep fried grubs sold by street vendors in Thailand

Bad food is not:

  • Coming from a package
  • Fast food
  • Treats
  • Food that has certain macros, carbs or lack of nutritional content
  • Food you don’t like. This is really important to teach ourselves and then teach our kids. It’s just not for me now.
  • Even… soda.

The reason to not call foods bad - is because:

1) that means that there’s a good - and it’s either or, 

2) glorifying and vilifying foods creates rules - and our toddler brain wants to break those rules every time. I want the BAD food, I want the treat, I want the food you tell me that I can’t have, and 

3) when we label foods as good or bad, we are practicing that label over and over again. It’s why picky eaters stay picky eaters. If we call them picky, we feed them certain foods. When the kids see foods as bad, they avoid them and do not try to expand their choices.

So labeling as bad can work against you as a parent trying to encourage a variety of foods.

Stepping away from the either-or approach to food, this helps us see that there are all sorts of other ways to look at food: food that we are trying, practicing, exploring, ones we look forward to eating, ones that are tied to celebration, ones that we don’t like as much one way or another (boiled vs roasted Brussel sprouts… yum). And another to consider: foods that aren’t yet your favorites. If we just focus on certain foods, we don’t get to try all the new ones and see what our next favorite food might be.

Check out this handy-dandy flowchart to figure out if your next food is bad. 

Next time we'll dive into the Yes - No - Not Yet!


Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!

Listen Now!

Stay connected with news and updates!

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.
Don't worry, your information will not be shared.

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.