Feed Your Children Well (but how?)

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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?

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  • Reply
    Mohamed Allam
    10/10/2014 at 11:52 am

    This is really a good article !!

  • Reply
    10/10/2014 at 12:05 pm

    My food “rules” with my kids are that they eat what I eat, I continue to put food on their plates that they have previously rejected and then as they get older I enforce the “try one bite” rule. That last one is hard to enforce with little ones, but I’m able to uphold it as they get closer to two.

    We’ve been really successful with this and my kids are great eaters even though they don’t like everything. Some foods have taken then around 30 tries before they are it willingly, even asking for more (avocado) and others I’m still working on, having to enforce the just try one bite rule each time it’s on their plates (beets).

    I never give up and declare that they just don’t like something and I never make them a separate meal from what we’re eating.

    I also make sure to most often offer foods that I know they like (broccoli, grape tomatoes, kale salad) so they’re getting adequate nutrition.

    Good luck and I hope these tips help!

    • Reply
      10/11/2014 at 7:07 am

      Thanks for the input. This is similar to what I aim for, however sometimes I probably give up too soon with foods they refuse. I probably didn’t give my kids enough credit in the post – they are pretty good eaters. However, they still don’t eat the crust of their sandwiches! 😉

  • Reply
    10/10/2014 at 3:14 pm

    I agree with the woman above! I never make the boys separate meals, they always eat what’s in front of them. Sometimes only taking one bite! I think I’ve been pretty lucky with both boys and their eating habits…… I know some kids won’t even give certain types of food a chance! We make (I make lol) salmon once a week and believe it our not, thats one meal I know they will always eat. You mentioned dipping and not wanting Reese to dip all the time. Hummus saves me when I put a vegetable on their plate that they aren’t too excited about and I feel like it’s a pretty healthy option, right?

    We too talk about all the good in food and the bad. Especially Rob….he’s pretty much all paleo so Tyler knows allllll about eating his protein ha! Sometimes when his tummy hurts he says, “Maybe I don’t want to eat any sugar anymore.” You’re a healthy mama! I’m pretty sure you know what you’re doing :).

    P.s. I would flip out if I found a slurpee in my fridge too!!!! Or fast food in my trash. So gross and why?!? I believe “everything” in moderation, but everything does not include crap. Cookies, ice cream, cake, cupcakes mmmmm, candy that’s what we call special treats and that’s what I think is fine in moderation. I never noticed that the treats above start with the letter ‘c’. Random.

    Lunch soon!!

    • Reply
      10/11/2014 at 7:10 am

      Lunch soon for sure! You have T and B on the right track for sure. I agree with your approach on moderation… But not crap. Except, Isaac seems to enjoy treating them to the occasional donut though. But, not mama.

      • Reply
        10/11/2014 at 11:13 am

        Rob likes to take the boys to get donuts sometimes on the weekends too. Must be a daddy thing😉

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