Well, once again my SFT isn't coming on Sunday...but it's just easier to keep calling it the Sunday Fresh Take! I want to keep this segment up because I've been getting a lot of positive response on this section in particular.
Today I want to talk--yet again!--about diet. As a stay-at-home-mom with three very healthy, beautiful kids, it is quite common that I get asked, "Molly, what do you feed your kids?" Sometimes they ask because they notice how spunky and healthy my kids are and sometimes they ask because I think that is just a hard topic for a lot of parents, especially new parents. This should come as no surprise to my followers, but my answer is usually, "I just feed them a balanced diet! Lots of variety, I try to incorporate new meals regularly, and much of our diet is based on healthy 'snacking.'" And that is ALL that I do!
Yes, our kids eat meat--not a lot, not every day, but some days and in an appropriate-sized portion (and it's an unspoken rule that when we eat it, we only have it once during the day). And I do try to avoid processed meats as much as possible (I personally have never really liked these that much so this was an easy one for me) . Yes, our kids eat dairy--I typically only give them a couple of ounces of milk at meal times, and if they are thirsty otherwise, they can have water. Yes, our kids eat eggs--but more and more I am trying to use the eggs as the vehicle for getting more veggies into their mouths! (Pepper, mushroom, tomato, and onion omelet anyone?) Mostly, however, our kids eat quite a bit of plant-based foods. I try to feed them whole grains; not whole grain crackers, etc, but THE WHOLE GRAIN. Rice, oatmeal (these are common), and sometimes others...we are working on adding a little variety in that department. The thing I like about grains is that you can swap grains out for new, different grains and keep seasoning them the way that you would the old grain! As for veggies, since we still have developing teeth/jaws in our household, we do serve a lot of cooked veggies versus raw. My kids actually love salad, and if I am eating one and don't offer it to them, they usually ask me for some of mine. Salad is a great way to get kids to eat more veggies...most kids like it, and if you don't smother it in an overdose of dressing, they are of course quite good for your children (and you). Fruits are easy. I haven't met a kid who doesn't like fruit. They're sweet, they're colorful, and are often a lot easier for them to chew than raw veggies. Use fruit as a bribe to get them to finish the rest of their food--fruit is dessert! I also like to give my kids nuts. For little mouths, stay away from these, but once they get enough teeth to handle them, give them nuts one at a time and monitor them closely. There's no reason to wait too long to give them these. We're currently working on adding more beans into our diet. The number one place we add them in is soup--luckily for us, I make quite a bit of soup, so that helps to up our intake. I find that my kids and I eat them a lot more readily if they aren't cooked within an inch of their life. So when your recipe tells you to cook them for 3 or 4 hours, try cooking them only 2-and-a-half...they're more "al dente" this way. Maybe that will help you, too!
I have never been one to cook with only low-fat methods; we use butter, oil, etc, but the key is, don't use too much. A little goes a long way. One way to make an animal fat swap is by using avocado! Now, it doesn't work to use it in place of cooking oil, but I have used it in place of certain condiments. Put it on something that you would normally spread with butter, place a slice of cheese on, or smear with mayo/cream cheese. The texture is similar, it has a very mild flavor (I'd call it mildly tangy, at best), and since it is a fruit, it has a lot of fiber and nutrients. If you find it too bland, just sprinkle a little salt on it. If you are eating the type of diet that we typically do in our household, a little self-added salt shouldn't hurt in any way.
How do I get my kids to eat this way? Now it's not a challenge at all. Some days it may still take a little poking and prodding, but once it's instilled in them, they will pretty openly eat anything I put in front of them. We have a policy at mealtime: You get "blank" amount of time to eat (a reasonable amount), if you haven't finished by the time the timer beeps, you get this at your next meal and can't rejoin us for the next meal until you've finished. It feels a little cruel at first, but as your pediatrician will probably tell you, your children will not starve themselves! I have never had to have this go beyond one meal...and as most parents of young'uns can probably relate, even the best of eaters will protest a meal or two in a day from time to time!
Also, if you think getting them to try new things and eat more fruits and veggies will be tough, you may be right BUT if you are willing to make any necessary changes in your own diet, this will come along a lot quicker. You can't really force your kid to eat broccoli if you won't eat it, too! Rarely I will have to tell a temporary small white lie to get them to abide--"Look! Your potatoes are orange! Isn't that COOL?!" Or "Mmm, yup, buddy, that's cheese on your crackers" (instead of avocado). And of course, after they devoured it, I let them in on what they've really just eaten, but I act really excited and proud of them for eating something new.
We do have treats, but they have to be well-earned. A day of really good behavior, good eating, and a little sunshine certainly warrants a family walk to the ice cream place down the street! This probably equates to a once-a-week occurrence when you factor in special occasions (which happen a lot when you have as many cousins as they do!)
One thing I do NOT let them get away with is telling me that they don't like a food. Okay, so you try something and you're not nuts about it the first time, but when you are eating something that's very foreign to you, that is an expected response. Have them try again. And again. And again. At least have them try a handful of times. They may not still love it, but this way you can typically get them to eat it when you serve it and not have to worry about avoiding cooking certain meals or becoming a short-order cook for a picky family. And if you persist and they still tell you they don't like it, then you can tell them to "pick it out" themselves! This doesn't mean that I push a food or force it down their throats, but that I just keep presenting it to them and insisting that they try it. (See three paragraphs above.)
The awesome thing about all of this is that you do not have to be a gourmet chef to get them a balanced diet. Raw, whole fruits and veggies are just about the easiest thing to "prepare." Grains are no harder to cook than pasta. Veggies are no harder to cut up than meat. You will not wind up with more dishes (unless you were previously eating all pre-packaged meals) and it's actually easier to vary what you eat this way than when you serve meat-heavy dishes. Fruits and veggies, nuts, grains, and beans all have their own unique flavor and when you accept that fact, your meals never have to be boring.
The most important point to remember? Balance. And yes, that means having your lazy, screw-up days, too. There are plenty of days where I feel like a bad parent because half of what the kids ate that day came out of a box. There are lots of times that I could kick myself for giving them sweets right before bed. But you know what? That's part of balance. If you didn't have your failures to set you straight, you might not come back to what's good, right, and balanced.
Feeding kids can be a lot of fun. It has to start with you--you have to take the initiative to give them what's good, but you also have to lead by example. Make sure they're also getting adequate rest and adequate play-time/exercise. I can't prove this yet, but I believe that some day your kids will thank you for your consistency and persistence. And for the days that you feel like a flop as a parent? Give them hugs so tight that they giggle!
Have a great, healthy, balanced week everyone!