Over the weekend I posted the following photo on my personal Instagram account with the caption "Parenting success= 4 year old willingly eating steamed greens, navy bean and veggie soup and a smoothie."
One of my friends commented "Teach me your ways, oh wise one".
It got me thinking, and the thinking evolved into this post on "keeping it (eating) healthy" for your kids. Currently, Katie and I are both participating in a 6 week "reboot" with our life long friend and dietitian, Katie K (post here for all the details). One of the dialogues happening in our "reboot" group is about kids and healthy eating, so the timing of this all seemed serendipitous.
We talk a good bit on C&C about diet and exercise. We share our favorite healthy (and sometimes not so healthy) recipes, and we talk often about how we integrate these things into our daily lives, but never have I addressed how to encourage healthy eating for kids.
And I will say, my kid eats pretty darn well.
So, how do we do it?
First, let me begin with some historical perspective. Up until about a year ago, we had "snacks" in our house; goldfish crackers, banana chips, bunny crackers. You know the "snacks" I'm speaking of. Then, during the barre3 Spring challenge, I decided to "cut the crap" out of my diet and get rid of nearly everything processed and containing sugar. The decision was as much for me as it was for the Mini Fashionista. With that, nearly all "snacks" left our house and have pretty much remained off our shelves since.
So my first tip...
1. Cut the Crap- This is probably the hardest and the easiest step you will make towards healthy eating for you and your children. It's hard because you may find it difficult to imagine your pantry without these things, but it's easy because once they are gone, they are gone. Once you take this step, it's up to you to fill your fridge and your kitchen with healthy choices, which will be the only choice when the crap is gone. By ridding your life of processed and packaged foods you will open up space mentally and physically for nutrient dense, whole foods. And read labels. There is sugar in nearly everything that comes in a package.
This is what the Mini's lunch looks like on an average day. I give her all whole foods. Usually there is fruit in her lunch for something sweet. I'm guessing she had an orange or apple on the side this day. And that's not ranch dressing. It's Trader Joe's cilantro salad dressing, her favorite! She doesn't even know what ranch dressing is because it's loaded with sugar, and therefore not in our house.
2. Start Small- I realize for most people big changes are daunting and unattainable, so I recommend starting small. Say your goal is to get your kids to eat more veggies? Think of ways you can integrate veggies that doesn't cause total rebellion and meltdowns. For us, that started as a daily smoothie. Each morning the Mini drinks at least one smoothie (sometimes 2 or 3 throughout the day) with organic carrot juice (Costco), tons of greens (that I freeze), Greek yogurt, frozen fruit, hemp or chia seeds and a banana. If she didn't eat any vegetables the remainder of the day, it wouldn't matter
3. Plan Ahead- I'm assuming that most of you are busy and nearly always on-the-go, which makes it hard to eat well. It takes planning and preparation to have healthy food when you are away from home. If I know we are going to be out and about most of the day, I pack a cooler bag with my lunch and snacks and the Mini's lunch if she is not going to school. Things I bring with me might include, cut veggies, fruit, nuts, Larabars and leftover smoothies.
This photo is from a car trip to Idaho. We packed all of our food so we didn't have to stop for "fast food". The Mini is eating a pickle, tofu and apples.
4. Cut the Snacking- Kids often don't eat the meal they are offered because they are too full from snacks eaten just prior to a meal. If kids are hungry enough, they will eat. So when your child is asking at 4:30 p.m. for a snack, say "it's okay to be hungry. We are going to have dinner soon." And if they MUST eat something, offer fruit, vegetables or some nuts.
5. Keep trying- Kids are finicky. One day they like avocado and the next they hate it. For that reason, you have to keep giving them the foods they refuse. We have a "one bite" rule in our house. The Mini has to take one bite and if she doesn't like it, then she doesn't have to eat anymore. A few nights ago we were at a friend's house for dinner and their son was eating raw bell peppers. The Mini originally said she didn't like peppers, but after trying one, she realized that it wasn't so bad. And just the next day she requested peppers in her lunch and for dinner.
6. Lead by Example- You can talk until your blue in the face about the importance of eating healthy and fueling your body with good fuel, but if you don't actually do it yourself, they will never truly understand the importance. Actions speak louder than words. I try to eat some sort of vegetable at every meal, and try to get the Mini to do the same.
7. Teach moderation- There is nothing wrong with eating sugar and things that are "bad" for you, but it's important to do it in moderation. We make sure that the Mini has eaten nutritious food before she is offered a "treat". The last thing you want is your kid to be the one binging at a birthday party because they feel deprived at home. The Mini is a lover of pudding cups, dark chocolate and ice cream. All of these things she gets, but not on a daily basis.
8. Involve your kids in meal planning, shopping and cooking- Every week we get a CSA (community share of agriculture) from a local farm. When the box arrives, the Mini helps me unload it. We talk about what each item is, smell it and put it away. She also loves to help my husband and I cook. Encouraging your children to be a part of the process will help them feel more connected to the food they are eating. We have even visited the farm to see exactly where our veggies are coming from.
I would love anyone's questions, comments and feedback on this post and topic!