Have you ever fed a toddler breakfast/lunch/dinner? Man, it’s a wild ordeal. At themes, the mere presence of nutritious food insights disorderly conduct. Because, how dare you put a tomato on my plate?!
What about ice cream? Have you ever given a toddler ice cream? Never has there been an easier task. Am I right?
I wish every meal could be ice cream. (While I’ve never bothered to ask, I bet they do too.) Because, the transaction is just so easy – no arguing, complaining, protesting or wasting. Just eating.
Well, ice cream is not the answer. #noduh But, what is? How do we get our kids onboard with a nutrient-rich diet?
With a two year old and a three year old, I have been asking myself this daily for the past few years. Vera will eat anything if it has either ketchup or syrup on it, but Mama’s not about to play that game. Reece will devour salmon if it’s cooked at a restaurant, but ain’t nobody got cash for that.
It can be tricky to get our kids to eat nutrient dense foods. And I don’t have an answer, but I’m determined to keep working to find one.
I’m sure this was not an issue for parents living in the stone age. When you have two options (nut or berry) things are pretty simple, at least that’s what I tell myself. If nuts or berries were all that filled my pantry, there would be far fewer battles in mi casa. Yet, we are surrounded with non-nutritious options galore.
Back when I was working, we had a wonderful nanny caring for Reece and Vera. We all adored her. She spent four days a week at our house and made herself at home in our kitchen, just like we wanted. On a few occasions I noticed a small Slurpee (that sugary junk from 7 Eleven) in our virgin freezer. I just figured it belonged to our nanny and didn’t give it another thought. One day after work, I was chatting with our nanny about the day’s activities as I started on dinner. I reached into the freezer and saw another Slurpee. I brought it out and asked her if she wanted to take it home. She said it wasn’t her’s, but that it belonged to Reece! (Oh hell no!) Just then 2 -year old Reece strolled into the kitchen reaching for HER Slurpee, meanwhile I was in a puddle of denial repeating, “Oh no no no no no.” Which induced an enthusiastic tantrum from Reece and a confused, “that’s not okay?” from our nanny.
The experienced served to remind me of two things: 1) the occasional Slurpee won’t kill a small child and 2) while I try to serve up the most nutritious food for my kids, I will not always be by their side to cater their every meal (once they’re out of tiny-personhood, I mean).
We live in a world where crap food abounds. We must teach our kids how to make decisions, not just the decisions to make.
I know that kid’s taste and likes/dislikes change. So, I try not to fret when my 2 year old refuses to eat a kale salad. Yet, I also know that habits are easily created – while kids may be young, they are old enough to get set in their ways, good or bad. So, I am intentional about what they eat. But, ice cream, cookies, donuts aren’t completely banned from their diet. Because I’m still trying to figure this whole feed your children well thing out and am not sure that the answer to healthy kids (with healthy mindsets) is to create a list of “off limits” foods.
But, how do we cultivate healthy food habits without creating a bunch of dietary rules? I want my kids to learn how to make their own decisions, not how to follow rules. I want to equip them to eat their best and feel their best.
While my kids are still very young, I have more control. And as I serve up food, we talk about what the food is for and why we eat it. The conversation is simple – food is meant to make us big, strong and fast. There is food that tastes good and makes us big, strong and fast and there is food that tastes good, but does not make us big, strong and fast. I focus my energy and enthusiasm on the big/strong/fast food, of course. Also, we talk about where food comes from – whether it growns on trees, plants or comes from animals. My kids are in the food mix (whether I like it or not) and see me prepping fruits, veggies, chicken, fish, etc. We cook together and I hope their involvement keeps them engaged in their own nutritional wellbeing.
And as they get older, we will continue to talk and the conversations will deepen (one would think). I always want the message to be clear – eat your best and you will feel your best.
I’m early in this whole childrearing process and would love to hear from those who have gone ahead. How do you equip your kids to eat well? For those in the trenches, have you any successes to share?