Recently I asked my family for help with ideas on what to blog about and my son chimed in “what about a post about healthy eating for kids.” I thought it was a great idea, but wasn’t sure if I was qualified to write on the topic. I’m not a nutritionist, my kids do eat junk food and if they could choose they would probably eat pizza or chicken nuggets over a carrot or celery stick. But, I am a mom who does her best to help her kids make healthy choices, so I thought I would share a few of my tricks.
I started to get really tired of telling my kids no to the constant barrage of questions about food. “Can we have fruit snacks?” – No! “Can we buy Lunchables?” – No! “Can we have candy for breakfast?” -No! (I swear my 3-year-old ask me this at least twice a week) When told no to candy, “can we have marshmallows for breakfast” – no, no and NO! I honestly cannot understand the endless asking for things that are unhealthy. And then it dawned on me, I really just answer their questions, but I’ve never really sat down and explained why food is important, how it fuels our bodies, what are healthy foods verses unhealthy and why it’s so important to make smart choices about what we eat.
Talk About It!
This is a really important step. We started with a very open and ongoing dialog about food and our relationship with food. My husband grew up eating four Reese’s peanut butter cups and a milkshake for breakfast. He was allowed to eat whatever he wanted and top it off with a bag of chips. He didn’t branch out and try new foods until he was in his 20s. Needless to say he has some unhealthy relationships with food and has spent the last 20 years retraining himself, but it is a constant struggle for him. Thankfully for me, my mom taught us about balanced meals and good nutrition so it’s something that has come a little more naturally for me, but I still have my vices. My husband and I both talk to our kids about how we feel about food and our bodies and the struggles we each face when it comes to food. We want to help them understand the relationship you form with food now will more than likely effect how you feel about food in the future. We want it to be a good one. We talk to them about food as fuel and who the feel when they make poor fueling choices verses good ones. This isn’t a onetime conversation, but rather an ongoing discussion I’m sure will continue for years to come.
Give Them the Power!
Everyone likes to make choices for themselves. As my kids get older they want to be more involved in their food choices and quantities, but they don’t always make good choices. So, I turned to my trusty friend Pinterest and found some great free downloads that helped me give each kid the power to decide while still making good choices. My favorite is a food tracker, found here. It not only helps them feel more in control of their choices, it also helps them understand the differences between proteins, grains, dairy, fruits and vegetables. I printed one per kid, laminated it, and they love it. I love it because I don’t have to remind them to make healthy choices, their check list does.
Another great trick is getting them to help cook. Usually when my kids are involved in the making of food they are much more willing to eat it, even if it’s something new and different. I recently got a zoodler and made a sweet potato spinach dish with it. Normally my kids would throw a fit, but they all got a turn using it and were anxious to eat their creation.
A friend of mine recently turned me onto an awesome free app called Fooducate. There are a lot of resources within this app, but the one I use the most is called the food finder. Essentially you use this at the grocery store to help you make smarter and healthier choices. You scan the barcode on a product and it gives you a score from A+ to D-. Obviously you can decide what parameters you are comfortable with, but for us, we don’t buy it unless it’s above a C+. This is a lot of fun to do with your kids. It stops them from constantly asking for junk cereal and pop tarts. Once they see the score they know if it’s off the list. I don’t have to be the bad guy and they enjoy being part of the decision making process. Yesterday we were at the grocery store and my son asked for my phone and started scanning before I even said anything. (I consider this a win.)
Prep You Snacks
One big thing I realized is junk food is so easy to consume. You don’t have to work for it, you don’t have to wash it, cut it, or do any work. You just open and start eating. Who doesn’t love that! So, now, when I go to the grocery store I come home and I take an extra 20-30 minutes to wash everything, and prep it so it’s easy to eat. Grapes get washed and bagged into smaller snack size bags so you can easily grab them and run out the door. Cucumbers get peeled and sliced, peppers get washed and cut up. My kids love to eat all of these things if I make it easy for them to eat.
There are so many other things I could add, but like I said, I’m no expert. We still eat pancakes for breakfast every Saturday morning and have desert on Wednesdays and the weekend, but we do strive to make the healthiest choices possible.