If you follow me on Instagram you’ve seen the photos. My daughter with her mouth full of lettuce; my son gulping down enormous glasses of green juice. At restaurants, people stare in amazement as the children ask to share our salads and indulge in exotic tastes and textures. It’s been a collaborative effort for my husband and myself; in some ways it’s been my full time job — planning, preparing, shopping, and cooking food. I’ve had to withstand the temptations, pitfalls, and judgement of others along this road. And WOW has it all been worth it. I believe with my whole heart that what we ARE what we EAT. A child’s ability to self-manage, focus, learn, and self-regulate are all deeply tied to the food that goes into their body. It’s just biology, really. If they are filled with crap, they are going to act like crap. They can’t even help it. Chemicals, sugar, empty foods devoid of nutrition… they rob a child of the chance to really be their very best. Blah, blah, blah. It’s my personal soapbox.
Friends and strangers are constantly asking me HOW and WHY our children eat the way they do. The truth is, when you’re passionate about something, it’s a pleasure to devote yourself to figuring out how to do it well.
Here’s how I did it:
** We made a family decision that this was something important to us and we stayed the course.
**For years I didn’t allow snacking between meals so they would be truly hungry enough to eat what I fed them.
** I didn’t offer them other choices if they didn’t like what was served. I’m not a short-order cook! This is an area that I don’t believe children should be “asked” about. It sounds like this,“Love, we are having lentil soup for dinner tonight”. “Oh, you don’t want lentil soup tonight. I see. (sweetly) Well, this is what is being served, Love.” Child protests, doesn’t want to eat. “Ok, I will keep it for you if you change your mind.” That’s it. No struggles, no bargaining to “eat one more bite and then you can have dessert”. None of it.
**I wasn’t afraid of their occasional hunger strikes. I figured, eventually they would eat the healthy options available to them because they would get hungry enough. Worked like a charm and I rarely had to wait it out.
**There was no sugar until this year, when they turned 4. No particular reason for this age; I just felt that it was important to guide them with moderation and I observed that they had established adventurous tastebuds and the ability to savor something like a gigantic chocolate chip cookie as a special treat.
**I don’t buy starchy snacks (pretzels, crackers, etc)
** I rarely cook starchy foods like pasta (only when I’m beyond desperate and then I cover it with green veggies)
**I began them on whole fresh foods only; no jarred baby foods. This way, they developed a taste for fresh food and naturally find the other stuff to be gross.
**I buy very little food that comes in boxes or plastic.
** I engage them in food choices at the market, especially in the produce section.
** We share our own love of fresh food with them. We lead by example.
** I hide my own chocolate addiction!
**I involve them in juicing at home. They love to eat what they have made.
**I cook “adult” food for them. They eat what we eat, they eat flavors, not bland beige foods.
**I don’t disguise healthy ingredients.
** I add green to everything!
**When they do eat a sugary cookie, I ask them how they feel. Often times they will say,”My belly hurts” or “I feel wild”. It’s a great opportunity to help them tune in to their bodies.
**We ask waiters to NOT bring bread to the table at restaurants. Instead, I will bring some cut up fresh fruit to hold them over.
**Bread is something for sandwiches. It’s not a food, it’s a necessary part of delivering other healthy ingredients like almond butter or roast turkey & arugula.
** We don’t order off the “Kids Menu”. I don’t cook or order any of the kids menu items; chicken fingers, grilled cheese, quesadillas, pizza, or noodles with butter. Notice any common theme here? BEIGE BEIGE BEIGE. It’s a crime.
** I don’t buy frozen food. That means I have no unhealthy options on a busy day. Instead, I keep fresh cut up fruits and veggies stocked and we snack on those. It’s all they know and they are totally happy with that.
**I have always given them lots of texture. Grains, beans, leafy greens.
**I let food be fun; cutting up green beans with a knife, peeling leaves off an artichoke.
**The only juice they have is FRESH. I don’t buy those sugary boxed juices and milks. Never. We drink fresh juice or water only.
** We make juicing a fun family activity that inspires them to drink kale, spinach, apple juice.
**Dessert is not an expected part of mealtime. I don’t take them for a special treat everyday after school. They don’t get a scone every time I go to the local coffee place. Sometimes they get it, sometimes they don’t. I really believe this is good for them to understand that sometimes the answer is NO. And that’s that.
** As scrupulous as I’ve been about what foods enter their realm, I also believe that anything forbidden is even more enticing. As they are getting older and have more awareness of the outside world, I’m trying to be more “relaxed” around the food issue and trust that their ideas about food are already well-formed. It also helps that since we only have healthy food around, I can say “yes” to everything they ask for at home. Outside of the home, I am learning to say “yes” more often. I don’t want them to have weird food hang-ups or control issues!
This may sound like a massive undertaking but it’s not. You can do one small thing a week to make serious changes in your child’s (and your) eating habits! Our children deserve to be their very best, from the inside out.