I feel like this is one of those topics that garner a lot of unsolicited advice and judgment. I think many people without kids or pre-kids imagine that their house would be one where their kids would never eat a processed item of food or a granule of sugar and everyone would go about their days blissfully chomping on raw veggies. I don’t think I was one of those people, but I think I definitely had some unrealistic expectations when it came to feeding my kids. This became especially true once we had more than one child. If you have been able to achieve this lofty goal and your kids eat perfectly healthy, I applaud you and will tell you that you can skip reading this post.
If healthy eating is a battle in your house, I want to help you tackle this in a way that keeps your sanity intact.
First, I highly recommend looking up Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and watching as many episodes as you can. This show came out around the same time my son was born and the timing was important because it drilled some things into our thoughts at the beginning of our parenting journey. We started feeding our son vegetables and grown-up foods from the beginning. He has never known a household that doesn’t eat things like broccoli, asparagus, squash, and brussels sprouts. I do remember a night when we were babysitting a neighbor’s child and they provided the dinner. It was something my son had never had and he pitched a fit. The hysterical screaming kind of tantrum that only a two-year-old can muster. We wouldn’t budge. Neither would we-he had to try a bite. He had a full meltdown and had to take a break in his room to regroup, but eventually, he took that bite and then ended up eating two full bowls of dinner because he loved it. That battle lives in infamy in our house. It was a pivotal moment where we had to miserably stand our ground, but we actually won. He’s never had another fit like that one. He has certainly complained or whined about food, but never again has he flat-out refused to eat. This has impacted my younger kids too because they have always seen him eating the same dinner as we are and they have never feared a vegetable. Now, I recognize that we got lucky and this strategy worked. That isn’t going to be true for everyone, but I use it as an example because we often get comments from others about our kids eating. People will say things like, ‘my kids won’t eat that,” and the like. Our response generally is, they don’t have a choice in our house. If they don’t eat it, they don’t eat (and if they are dramatic about something, they can almost guarantee that I will serve that for weeks until they stop complaining).
Now, with that being said, life with kids, especially as they get older and are in more activities, can get really freaking busy. When my son was little, we made his baby food and worked hard to introduce him to all kinds of healthy stuff. By the time we had my daughter, we had already started running around and we made less food for her than we had for him. Things have picked up from there and we’ve added another kid to the mix. Our youngest has had the roughest go because she is often toted between activities for her big brother and sister. Those precious evening hours become chock full of soccer, baseball, swimming, piano, and all kinds of other sports and activities. Soccer practice from 5-7 doesn’t really allow for a nice home-cooked meal. I guess it could if you were home before and could make the meal and pack it up, or have everyone eat super early, but in our house, we don’t have that pre-activity time. That means that, sometimes, we enter the dreaded world of fast food. Now, fast food in and of itself isn’t necessarily inherently horrible, but too much can definitely become a pretty bad thing.
Processed food can be bad for all sorts of reasons, but the primary issue I have with most fast food is twofold- very little of it is actually “food” and there is so much added sodium and other preservatives. Unfortunately, many easy, fast choices do not have many fruit or veggie options and are very meat and salt heavy. We often choose Chipotle and Tokyo Joe’s because we have some control over what they choose and it has some healthier options. We’ve also found some other restaurants that can provide fast service with less junk. I only point this out to bring attention to the fact that there are healthier options if you look for them, though it may not always be possible.
When we do have control over our evening and get to cook (which we strive for at least 4-5 nights a week), I try really hard to make sure we have good ingredients to provide healthy options. If I open my fridge and there isn’t anything readily available to make, I can get hung up on decision fatigue and just grab a frozen pizza or something else from the freezer. Accordingly, I think it is important to set yourself up for success. Shop for the week and include healthy items that you can make in the time that you’ll have. Think of what your cooking strengths are and shop to make it easier for yourself. If you do have a chance to check out Jamie Oliver’s series, he gives some good suggestions, but that is only helpful if you are comfortable making those things. For us, we’ve found that many many vegetables can be thrown in the oven and roasted, which is not only extremely easy but yummy and kid-friendly. We have also found that our kids really enjoy eating the food we grow. In the summer, we grow all kinds of veggies and the kids help plant, care for, and harvest them. We’ve found this can also help in other seasons if they get to be involved in the process. If we go to Costco, they can choose which veggies we get for the week. There aren’t a ton of options, so we know it won’t get too crazy, but if they help pick what we buy, they’re more excited when we make it. Any involvement by the kids improves their enthusiasm about eating. They love to help prep and cook whenever they can and we intentionally involve them as much as we can. We also have pet chickens, which has not only encouraged us to cook with eggs because we have humane, healthy eggs coming from our yard but also because the kids are so much more excited to make eggs because they are part of the process, hard-boiled eggs have become a favorite after school snack!
I truly believe that we all need real food to fuel our bodies and brains. My kids do not thrive during times when they aren’t getting good, healthy food. I can see it in them- they get fried and agitated and a little crazy. I’m setting them up to have good habits as they grow and get more autonomy. My family ate together and made meals growing up, but my mom was working full-time and was often making quick-serve meals. I often tell people about the fact that I’d never had a real mashed potato until I married my husband. We’d only ever had the kind from a bag. When I went to college, I didn’t have great tools for healthy eating. I knew how to make a couple of things, and pretty much lived off of that. I’m thankful for my husband because he loves to cook and has helped show me all kinds of things to make and different ways to cook healthy food. I want my kids to be able to make real food when they go off into the world. The only way I think I can truly do that effectively is to continue this lesson constantly in their daily lives.
I’m sharing this meandering rant for one reason- to help you step back to look at your own family’s eating habits. Are you proud, happy, frustrated, disappointed, or discouraged? Do you feel like you are succeeding or struggling? Whichever camp you may fall into, evaluate your reasons. Do you feel proud because you are doing the best you can or do you feel discouraged because you think you should be doing something different? You don’t have to start with a complete overhaul, but maybe this week you can add one new veggie into the rotation, or find a new healthy recipe to make one night this week. Let me know where you’re at and let’s support each other!