Sunblock, car seats, and healthy eating: parents have a love-hate relationship with these things. We love that they keep our kids safe and healthy. We hate the inconvenience and tantrums. Sometimes they even cause the kids to have tantrums too. (ba-dum ching!) The consequence of not using sunblock or car seats are obvious enough that any good parent will agree that they are worth the hassle. But healthy eating? What does that even mean? There are so many choices, studies, and opinions. Plus our culture is so busy, who has the time to figure it out and prepare it too? It's easy to wave your white flag, admit defeat. So we serve another blue box dinner because we're tired, it's easy, and they will eat it without complaining. Silence is golden. But we want to do our best for ourselves and our kids, right?
As a child, my understanding of the food guide pyramid led me to the amazing realization that pizza was indeed the healthiest food of all. It was nice while it lasted. For most of my adulthood, I've relied on nutritional knowledge from my twenties. This includes information I crammed into my head for a Nutrition 101 final in college. The only thing I remember from that class is that a healthy portion of meat per day should be the size of a deck of cards. I also read the book Fast Food Nation and watched the subsequent documentary as well as the documentary Super Size Me. Needless to say I haven't eaten a ton of fast food in the last 15 years.
Then we had kids. Parenthood can wear down your idealism just a tad. You start out with "Only the purest best food for my baby!" A few years in and it's "You want hot dogs and mac and cheese? Sure! Also, can you put yourself to bed tonight?" We did manage to stick with the green dream of cloth diapering for all three babies. You win some, you lose some.
Luckily decluttering the pantry (and our whole house) woke us from our parenthood eating coma. We wiped the sleepy dust out of our eyes and drool off our chins, put on our big kid pants and started making healthy eating a bigger priority.
Let me be very clear. Our kids have had candy. Their favorite places on earth might be Chik-fil-A and Sweet Frog (a frozen yogurt shop). They are not going to dive head first into a bowl of quinoa, kale and various other nutritious foods with abandon just yet. But just like they don't always want to wear sunblock, be strapped into a car seat, go to bed, or a million other things they don't want to do, we have decided it's a battle worth fighting. A secret battle.
The trick is not actually making it a battle at all. To do so takes planning, patience, and heaps of grace for yourself to learn from mistakes and move on...pretty much like everything else with parenting. As my parents always wisely told me (the frustrated little doer) as they tucked me in at night, "Tomorrow is another day." It irked the heck out of me then, but I find myself comforted by those words as a parent.
Tips to get healthier food into kids without much of a revolt:
"Try Me Bite"
We continue to offer plenty of try me bites just like always. Place a tiny amount of the food that is being tried on your child's plate. It can take a dozen or more tries before taste buds acclimate (for adults too and you must lead by example!). I know this for a fact as I have taught myself to like olives, tomatoes, and eggplant as an adult.
I have watched our kids' taste buds acclimate just like my husband's and mine. I used to make their fruit smoothies pretty sweet, but I no longer need to add any dates or honey (not that there is anything wrong with dates and honey) and have increased the amount of kale. They still slurp them up, no complaints!
Make sure to offer healthy food your kids will actually eat at every meal, so there is an alternative(s) to fill up on. Meals with too many try me bites are overwhelming. Don't make it a power struggle or bribe with dessert.
We try to keep things lighthearted. It's not uncommon at our dinner table to have a kid stick out their tongue so we can give their (taste) buds a pep talk or congratulate their buds when the pea has been consumed. I will often arrange the food in a fun way or we pretend to be dinosaurs eating broccoli trees.
Our 20 month old has no complaints. She still eats whatever we throw at her!
When I plan our meals for the week I ask a different family member to choose Saturday's breakfast and dinner. If I can figure out a way to make it healthier without changing the taste, I do it. I do not play the sneaky chef ala Jessica Seinfeld by hiding purees in meals. This tactic doesn't really teach healthy eating habits. This article says why. Saturday lunches are usually leftovers if we are home, birthday party fare, or lunch on the fly. Seeing this week's "Saturday pick" written on the weekly menu board all week gives my kids something to look forward to. That dreaded "try me bite"of sweet potato or green beans is much easier to swallow throughout the week when your choice is coming soon.
We eat party food at parties and pizza and ice cream on the boardwalk. We try not to be total weirdos (anymore than we already were). At home we find alternatives. Here are a few we love...
Frozen Desserts When we want to have a dessert at home, banana "ice cream" is usually first choice. It's deliciously cold, creamy and sweet and made from only frozen bananas. All you need is very ripe, peeled, frozen bananas and a food processor. Eat alone, topped with fresh berries, or try one of the many recipes out there. A handful of chocolate chips on top is pretty yummy too! Of course frozen bananas and fruit are great for smoothies too. In the summer we like to make our own whole fruit popsicles.
ChocolateI love chocolate. Who doesn't? Lily's Chocolate is sweetened with Stevia (a natural sweetener), organic and fairtrade...perfect on every level! They even make vegan chocolate chips (for on top of the banana ice cream!). It's pricier than a Hershey's bar, so it's a treat enjoyed in moderation, as treats are meant to be! (Historically, sugar in moderation has been hard for me!)
Baking Blogs I love to bake. When we want a good-for-you baked treat, there are a ton of blogs out there with wonderful recipes. I often turn to the Minimalist Baker when the mood strikes. My girls love to help me bake up a batch of yumminess.
Kettleless Corn A pantry full of ingredients minus processed foods really inspires creativity. Just look at the number of healthy eating recipe blogs out there. Perhaps reading these blogs inspired my invention of the easiest recipe ever. One family movie night I decided to top our popcorn with melted coconut oil, a sprinkling of coconut palm sugar, and a dash of Himalayan salt. Yum! My kids ask for this every Friday movie night and this is the perfect amount of quick and easy for a Friday night.
Talk About It
Our kids know we have their best interest at heart and we are all on the same team. (Team Travis!!) There is no "us against them" mentality. They are learning that we do what we do because we love them, even if it's not always easy, fun, or popular...just like anything else with parenting. We want them to understand our decisions, not because we need their approval or are trying to negotiate, but so they can learn and apply what we are teaching them. We try to lead by example too.
Use Their Curiosity
Kids are naturally curious creatures. When we get stumped with their scientific nutrition questions, we look it up together. It's totally nerdy and I love it!
We have learned a new dinner time mantra around here which is "The salad is the main course!" We start every dinner (and most lunches) with a giant salad usually with some raw sauerkraut thrown on top. In an effort to save some green on our greens (sorry), we decided to take gardening more seriously. In the past, we dabbled in gardening, but now we are more motivated than ever to grow our own food.
My husband built our raised beds using the Square Foot Garden book. He filled the beds using the book's recipe for a soil mixture. The book is basically gardening for dummies. I love that it uses space efficiently to get the most yield for your space. The kids still have plenty of room in our yard for playing. We have cold hardy greens, beets, and carrots sprouting in the beds and seedlings started and ready to transplant before too long.
Southern Exposure We bought our seeds from this company. Ordering seeds is fun and makes you feel like an old timer.
But I Don't Want to Make My Bed!
Raisedbeds.com and squarefootgardening.com Even if you aren't handy enough to build them yourself (or are lucky enough to know someone who will do it for you), you can still have raised beds. Some require very little space (apartment balcony) and no assembly.
Maybe your apartment doesn't have a place for planters or window boxes or doesn't get good enough light. Some farms let people work for food. Meet your local farmers (at the farmer's market) and find out. You never know unless you ask. You could also find a community garden or start a neighborhood garden with a friend. Nothing like a cold kombucha with friends after weeding. (Haha)
Maybe you don't really want to garden or have the time (declutter and you might find some). Join a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). As a member of a CSA, you purchase a “share” of produce from a regional farmer. Many CSAs will give you recipes for the produce you are receiving each week. Of course you can also purchase fresh produce and support local farmers by shopping at your local farmers' market.
Bottom line: do whatever it is you have to do to eat your greens!!
Do you have any tips for getting your kids to try new things or gardening advice?