The Organic Nanny's Guide to Raising Healthy Kids

How to Create a Natural Diet and Lifestyle for Your Child


By Barbara Rodriguez

With Eve Adamson

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Who needs a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down when professional nanny Barbara Rodriguez has tips to make the medicine go away? In The Organic Nanny’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids, Rodriguez shows parents some simple lifestyle changes that can help them dramatically improve the well-being of their children.

As a nanny, Rodriguez has seen some disturbing trends — toxic foods, childhood obesity, insomnia, and a lack of communication between parents and children. Her advice? Nutritious food and natural remedies to resolve chronic health and behavior issues. The Organic Nanny’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids will help parents put their children on a more natural track and give them a childhood to remember.



I am so incredibly grateful to the extraordinary people who helped make my dream come true.

First, my heartfelt thanks go to my incredible agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, who believed in me from the start and guided me with her knowledge and deep intuitive wisdom.

I am deeply thankful to Eve Adamson for bringing her talent to this project. I knew from our first conversation that she was a sister in my organic revolution and understood my philosophies. I am grateful for her friendship and her hard work.

Thank you to Jamie Babbitt, a wonderful writer, singer, and great friend.

I am also grateful to my editor, Katie McHugh, for her ongoing support.

I appreciate all my beautiful little clients that have touched my heart and made me smile. I am grateful to have shared in their lives. And to all my furry clients, you still live in my heart.

I want to acknowledge all the beautiful people in my life who have inspired and held me together: Susan and Sierra, Anne Dial, and Tommy, Paula Murphy, and Chix Nana, Melanie Banks, LeAna M., Emily L., Cynthia F., and Roxie, Chrissy and Maria, Anne Wilde and her bro Scottie, Sheila, and Angelique, Frank, Nene, Buddy Allen, Taresa, and Brody, Barbara Muncy, Karen Garcia, my teachers Gabrielle M., Natalia Rose, Louise L. Hay, Mama Maria Rodriguez.

And to my mentors: Julia L. for the wisdom and Kenny for the Husband; Bethenny F., you inspired the dream; Nicole K., thank you for the words “Beautiful Barbara”; Eva Peron; and John Lennon and the summer of L.O.V.E.

And finally, to Chris, Andre, and my fabulously organic Nicki—I love you!


A Legacy of Love

Our children are all on a journey and constantly blooming.

—The Organic Nanny

My name is Barbara Rodriguez, and I am the Organic Nanny. For more than twenty years, I have taken care of children as a profession. I have worked with a wide range of culturally diverse children ranging in age from eleven months to sixteen years old, and I’ve forged unique and lasting relationships with them all. I work within a rich and privileged world—many of the children I work with have celebrity parents—but I believe all children can benefit from the changes I help my clients realize. Those changes are all, at their essence, organic, and by that I mean natural, life-giving, and in harmony with the spirit and essence of the individual child. Organic food, organic relationships, and an organic connection with the Earth can revitalize and optimize every child’s life.

In my work as a nanny, I’ve seen many different kinds of children, but I see some common themes, too—stressed-out parents and stressed-out children, chronic allergies and illness, anxiety, a short attention span, poor health habits, estranged relationships, insomnia in both children and adults, hyperactivity and depression even in preschoolers, a sense of entitlement, disregard for others, a deep lack of self-confidence, and generalized unhappiness. I see childhood obesity and children seeking desperately for something they can’t find—something they often mistake for junk food. Many are prone to colds and ear infections. Sometimes they cry for no reason they can understand. I see underachievers who are unable to pay attention. I see anger, sadness and isolation, and families who have forgotten how to be together in the same room—who can barely look each other in the eye.

Our children are all at risk of trudging through their lives on automatic pilot, fueled by fake food, addicted to junk food, mesmerized by video screens, and tied to texting.

Not coincidentally, these problems occur in families that have strayed pretty far from the way I believe we are intended to live. Their diets are full of artificial substances masquerading as food. They don’t exercise. They rarely get outside in the fresh air and sunlight. Some days, they barely speak to one another. They follow the rules society has set out for them to follow, but the spark within them is faint.

My goal is to restore that spark.

There is a link between what children eat and how they develop, behave, and interact with the world—in my work, this is as obvious to me as a child’s eye color or height. My goal as an organic nanny, and with this book, is to help you raise your children to be not just healthier and happier than they are right now, but also to be kind, generous, thoughtful people who radiate gratitude, confidence, and intelligence. I believe all children can benefit from the dietary and lifestyle changes I help my clients realize. This book will show you how to lay a strong foundation, put your children on a more natural track, and give them a childhood worthy of remembrance—a childhood that is, perhaps, a little bit better than the one you experienced.

As you look at your own children, no matter whether they are infants or toddlers, tweens, or teens, what are the problems you are experiencing?

What do you envision for your children’s future?

Who would you like them to become?

I’m not just here to help children. As a parent, do you find yourself struggling just to get through the day? Are you stressed, cranky, exhausted, frustrated, even depressed? Do you wonder if you are doing everything right for your children? Do you know you aren’t because you are simply too tired at the end of the day to play June Cleaver?

You don’t have to be June Cleaver—but you can be a better you. I can help you to replant your own two feet on the ground, as well as the feet of your children. This book is about kids and mothers and fathers and even pets, but to a large extent, the mama keeps the family together, so this book is for you. I can help you guide your children better, with less stress and anxiety, and I can help you take better care of yourself, too. Let’s get back in the natural world where we all belong.

My History

She listened from the heart.

My grandmother was a petite, bright-eyed Cuban named Evangelina, descended from gypsies, and the greatest healer I have ever known.

We called her Tata. She was a pediatric nurse at a Cuban hospital during a time when it was nearly impossible for a woman to hold such a position, but she also practiced the wisdom of her Cuban ancestors with folk remedies and the kind of common sense that cuts through the confusion and goes straight to the heart.

As a child, I marveled at her almost magical intuition about children. She could always tell what had to be done. I watched as she transformed fresh whole foods and herbs into teas and poultices that helped and healed. I listened as she spoke just the right words to diffuse anger or rekindle affection. I helped her plant gardens and cook meals for the whole family, and I wondered at how she kept our family together and could always help to heal other families, bringing them together, too.

Most of all, Tata always knew what to do and what to say to an anxious child or to a worried mother. She called it “listening from the heart.” She forged my destiny as a caregiver and I was her apprentice as far back in my childhood as I can remember. Her gift—a gift she passed along to me—is at the heart of this book.

Much of my philosophy about how children and families should live was formed early in life. My family was forced to leave Cuba during the Cuban revolution. My parents and Tata, connected for generations to the Cuban soil, suddenly found themselves uprooted. They moved to Miami, where I was born, but throughout my childhood, as my parents yearned for their home country, we moved to Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and South America.

My older brother Frank and I felt like gypsies, but our nomadic lives always had a constant: Tata, who put down literal roots wherever we went, planting gardens and seeking out the natural remedies of each culture and climate. I learned early how important it is, especially when you don’t have a literal home, to make a home wherever you go by connecting with the Earth.

My family wasn’t wealthy and we weren’t privileged, but I understood what it meant to stand with bare feet in the soil, to rub a healing herb between my fingers and breathe in the green scent, to brew leaves and flowers into a pot of tea, to eat from the garden and let the cycles of the seasons govern my playtime and sleeptime. What I saw, from my naive childhood perspective, were communities of people living close to the Earth, in harmony with the seasons, eating real and whole food, spending time outside, working hard, helping each other in hard times, and because they didn’t have many of the so-called conveniences that tend to distract people from one another, standing together and staying together and looking one another in the eye. I didn’t know any other way to live.

As a child, I didn’t eat processed food—there was no processed food available to us—and I rarely needed medicine or a doctor. I never took vitamins. I ate well, I played hard, and I spent a lot of time outside in the fresh air and sunshine. It was all very natural . . . organic. Tata showed me the remedies I could take from the garden, and she taught me gratitude for gifts from the earth, the family, and the community. I couldn’t imagine spending a day staring at any sort of screen, or taking the little we had for granted, or talking back to the adults in my life (well, maybe just a little . . .).

Wherever we moved, in each new place, Tata knitted us into the community by reaching out to children and caring for them all as if each one was her own. She radiated love and healing power. Mothers and children gravitated to her. When a neighbor’s child was sick or injured, Tata’s patient voice and gentle hand soothed and healed. I remember waking up in the middle of the night and tiptoeing out of my room to peer out into the main room at Tata, counseling a worried mother who had knocked on her door to bring her a sick baby wrapped in a coat. Or she would go to them, holding a sick or injured child against her heart to listen. She never refused a request. Healing was her life and her divine mission.

Although Tata never charged for her services, the love and service she handed out so freely always flowed back to her and she had everything she needed. Relieved and appreciative parents would mow her lawn, paint her house, and provide other chores to give back something in gratitude. I learned so many lessons from my Tata—the importance of community and of a firm and secure foundation, of a routine that a child can rely on, and most of all, the lesson that the earth contains everything we need.

Tata was part of what I later came to see as a great circle of love that pulses and flows with the rhythm of giving and receiving, generosity and gratitude, a circle that revolves along with the seasons as well as the life cycle. At the heart of the circle were the hundreds of children my Tata nurtured. A child mattered more to her than the richest or most powerful adult, and certainly more than work or money or recognition. To her, every child was worthy of reverence. I still live by that credo.

Throughout this book, I bring you Tata’s wisdom, coupled with my own. What I’ve learned from Tata is how to listen for those answers; to really listen to a child who is sick or unhappy or having trouble communicating, and to find the remedies—whether whole foods, natural cures, or behavioral lessons—that will actually make a difference in that child’s well-being. I’ve used these lessons in my work as a nanny, and also in my life as a stepmom, or what I prefer to call a bonus mom, to two beautiful children. I still believe Tata is with me, helping me when I need guidance and teaching me to listen from the heart in my own way to every child that comes into my life.

Your Child’s Life

Although progress is often a good thing, there is much to be said for the old ways, and with Tata’s help, I want to help you remember the wisdom of your ancestors. For thousands of years, children have lived and thrived on a diet of whole organic foods, fresh water, exercise, sunshine, healthy sleep, close-knit families and communities, and a life in tune with the natural cycles of the Earth.

These children and families certainly had issues, especially those related to lack of the advanced medical care we enjoy today. On the other hand, they also lived free of many of the diseases of modern life—such problems as hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder, depression, obesity, and that chronic sense of entitlement so many kids have today. When you live in sync with the natural world and your survival depends on sticking together as a family and a community, when your only food and medicine comes from the soil in your own backyard, and when you don’t have much more than you really need to live a simple life, many health and behavior problems just don’t occur. Our lives of excess and privilege have spoiled us in more ways than one—we eat too much, we forget what real food tastes like, and we take our easy lives for granted; and our children are restless, unable to concentrate, and in many ways, unappreciative of their privileged lives. This leads to family fragmentation, chronic illness, behavioral issues, and, I believe, a deep sense of restlessness and unhappiness in us all.

But a more natural life is still available to your children. You can have the best of both worlds—our advanced medical care, conveniences, and technology and also a sense of reverence for life, a palate that appreciates real whole food, and a commitment to community and family. Families today have the opportunity and the luxury to embrace the best of both worlds. Isn’t it a shame not to live that way?

Of course, these days, to live a more natural life that feeds rather than depletes children isn’t easy. In some ways, you will be going against the grain of modern society, where fast food, television, cell phone and computer addiction, chemicals in our food and living environments, rebellious attitudes, and easy fixes are the norm. But at what cost do we surrender our children to the temptations of a toxic world? Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past thirty years, according to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. If that isn’t a wake-up call that we are collectively doing something wrong when feeding our kids, I can’t imagine what is. In addition to food, I see children immersed in environments that also drain health away—environments isolated from real human contact, families who don’t communicate, feelings of inadequacy and hesitation and fear.

Your children can have a better life than the one that the twenty-first century hands to them. Research studies now offer hard evidence to prove that what we are eating and how we are spending our time is hurting us, both physically and mentally. I’ve learned why whole foods nourish, whereas processed foods deplete. I’ve learned why dairy products may not be as good as we think they are. I’ve learned about the damaging effects of staring at a screen all day instead of talking to real people, face to face. I’ve also learned a lot about why children need fresh air, communication, structure, community, and a relationship with nature. Our ancestors knew this by instinct. We may have lost the instinct, but we can relearn what nature has been trying to show us all along.

But I believe it begins with food. Food is the first offering of mother to child, and it is the primary reason families come together every day. Food can work miracles, or create disaster. Food is the basis for what can lift up children to become the very best possible version of themselves—or can keep them down beneath a low ceiling of underachievement and self-doubt. It’s never too late to get healthier, and it’s definitely never too late to help your children form better habits. I don’t care if they are infants or getting ready to leap out of the nest. You can start fresh today, no matter what their age. Make small changes with no guilt, and change will come more easily than you ever dreamed. The industrial food system is engineered to tempt us all, but there is a better way. I’ll lead you through it.

In this book, I share my secrets for giving children the gift of a better life. Each chapter provides a framework to help you begin the transformation in your own home, with step-by-step instructions to take you from where you are now to a more organic existence tied to the natural cycles of the Earth, but I’ll show you how to do this at your own pace and based on your family’s needs. No guilt!

I suspect most busy mothers could use an organic nanny, but not everybody can afford one, and that’s why I’ve written this book—to be your support as you navigate through the sometimes treacherous waters of parenting in the modern world. With each step, I’ll be right there with you, and I’ll show you what the Earth has to offer you in the way of help and nurturing.

As your personal Organic Nanny, I will take your hand and lead the way. We’re going to get reacquainted with the real stuff—genuine, whole, and organic food, the way nature made it. I’ll show you how to buy it, cook it, serve it, even grow it. I’ll help you seduce your family with it, and gradually win them over. I’ll help you get the junk out, the chemicals out, the negativity out—and the sweet, delicious, juicy, beautiful stuff in—into your home and into your children.

We’ll go to the market. We’ll visit produce stands. We’ll learn how to choose the right foods at the grocery store. And we’ll take the children along, too, so they can learn what real food really is. It’s going to be fun. Then, we’ll move on to your home, your family, and you.

The Organic Nanny Promise

I’m committed to bringing more life, love, and peace to your family, and that is why this book is my gift to you. Let it be your guide to cleaning up your child’s life and restoring health and vitality. In this book, you’ll learn how to:

•  Wean your family off processed food

•  Give noxious processed sweeteners the boot for good

•  Reclaim your natural-born right to eat whole grains, instead of processed white flour stripped of its nutrients

•  Relearn how to eat real, whole foods and embrace the glory that is Mother Nature’s gift to us all: the plant kingdom

•  Embrace a life-affirming, passionate, cruelty-free lifestyle by phasing out industrial feed-lot and factory-farmed meat and toxic dairy products from your family’s diet

•  Get toxins and chemicals out of your personal care products and cleaning supplies

•  Gently heal your family with natural remedies, when appropriate

•  Take care of yourself so you can best take care of your family. I’ll remind you how!

•  Make gratitude, respect, and reverence for life a way of life in your home

•  Communicate with your kids in a language you all understand by learning to listen and empower children to trust their own inner voice. You can learn to trust yours, too!


Food, L.O.V.E., and Healing

It’s not food if it arrived through the window of your car.

—Michael Pollan, from Food Rules, rule #20

Children whose problems aren’t recognized become problem children.

—Marcelene Cox

The Power of Food

I could tell right away that Harry was a bright little boy with a lot of potential, but to his parents, he had become a constant source of stress. Harry was four and was already reading. He liked to talk to adults and had an impressive vocabulary for his young age. He could charm anyone with his dark blond curls and big brown eyes. However, he had also begun to suffer drastic mood swings. After dinner, he became wild, running around and shrieking, breaking things, and refusing to respond to any requests by his baffled parents to please stop. Bedtime took hours and even after he was down, he kept getting back up. Sometimes he still came into his parent’s bedroom after midnight, to ask for yet another glass of juice or another cookie. His exhausted mother kept a box of cookies on her nightstand, just in case he demanded one during the night.

In the mornings, Harry was tired, cranky, and refused to eat breakfast. His mother told me that the only thing she could get him to eat was a frosted Pop-Tart and a glass of chocolate milk. When I came to help Harry and his family, I could see they were in trouble. Harry’s parents were no longer able to enjoy their brilliant son because he was literally running wild and they didn’t know how to calm him down. But I did.

Hannah’s parents had a different problem. Their once energetic and rosy-cheeked little girl had grown sullen and sad. She cried easily, at the slightest frustration, and had to be forced outside to play, where she would sit on the front step, chin in hands, until her mother gave up and let her come back inside. She began to have trouble getting along with other children, and told her mother she didn’t have any friends. She looked pale and tired, more like an exhausted adult than a normal, healthy eight-year-old.

Hannah was a picky eater. All her mother could get her interested in were hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and chicken nuggets. At least she was eating, her mother told me when I came to help them. Hannah barely responded to me until I changed her diet.

Food is life. Food is health. Or food can be the source of frustrating behavior problems, debilitating energy loss, even sickness. What you eat, and especially, what your children are eating on a regular basis, is absolutely crucial in determining their health, well-being, and behavior. They are such beautiful beings—and they rely on us for so much.

The good news is that you get to decide: What will you feed them?

I get incredibly passionate about children’s health issues, and as a nanny, when I come into a home for the first time, I’ve seen the whole spectrum: from kids glowing with life to those saddled with physical, emotional, and behavioral problems. I get so excited when I see the kids that glow. For many of the others, my heart breaks—often because I see what they eat.

Many of the children I’ve nannied have been raised like typical American kids, even those with celebrity parents. We are all in a hurry, and healthy food sounds complicated to most of us, especially when fast food and convenience food is so, well . . . fast and convenient. In my experience, the average child, from toddler to tween, eats just a few things most of the time:

•   Macaroni and cheese

•   Hamburgers or cheeseburgers

•   Hot dogs

•   Breaded, fried chicken pieces (nuggets, strips, fingers) or patties

•   Soda and other sweetened drinks (even energy drinks!)

•   French fries

•   Ketchup

•   Ranch dressing

•   Candy

•   Packaged cookies and snack cakes

•   A select few fruit and vegetables, mostly baby carrots, bananas, apples, and grapes

Does that sound like food to you? From my Organic Nanny vantage point, it does not look like food at all. The foods on this list are extremely limited as well as (except for the fresh produce) extremely high in fat, and highly refined carbohydrates. It is by no stretch of the imagination a healthy diet. It will not fuel a child’s energy needs, but it will encourage fat storage, including arterial fat storage. According to the well-known Bogalusa Heart Study, many children already have fatty buildup in their hearts before they reach the age of ten. A similar study of children in a small Iowa town showed that many young children already have risk factors for heart disease. A report presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago in 2006 further supported the notion that our kids are at risk. This report combined data from multiple studies, revealing that an increasing number of children already suffer from such conditions as high cholesterol and diabetes, which may lead to heart disease. Among these children, many already showed signs of narrowing and hardening arteries. Many doctors are already putting these children on cholesterol-lowering statin drugs!

More specifically, according to a study by the University of North Carolina of obese children between the ages of one and seventeen, 40 percent of obese three- to five-year-olds participating in the project had raised levels of C-reactive protein, and by age fifteen to seventeen, 83 percent of the obese teens had this same inflammatory heart-disease risk factor. Another famous study called the Framingham Children’s Study had better news. This study tracked kids through the end of adolescence, and it showed that children who got more exercise had lower body fat when they became teenagers. Children who ate four or more servings of fruit and vegetables every day had lower yearly blood pressure increases. At the end of the study, children who watched the least television had the lowest body mass index number, an indicator of overweight and obesity.


On Sale
Feb 28, 2012
Page Count
256 pages

Barbara Rodriguez

About the Author

Barbara Rodriguez has worked as a celebrity nanny and national spokesperson, and she blogs regularly at She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband and their two teenage children.

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