As a parent, are you ever amazed at how your toddler seems to thrive just on granola bars and fruit snacks for weeks at a time? You know, when you think they’re supposed to be slamming down greens for nutrients, you find the only green thing they’ll eat is candy (or their boogers)? Yeah, I hear ya.
When we had our first daughter, I had this ideal picture of how she would eat – that I would make all of her baby food from scratch using only organic ingredients, would freeze enough to last for an entire month, and when she was ready for solids, I would incorporate green vegetables in every meal.Yeah,not so much.
Getting kids to eat healthy is hard. Really hard.I find myself amazed at the verbal game/gymnastics/manipulation/desperation I play at meal time to get my girls to eat a decent meal, like not just eating the rice but also the ‘icky onions’ and ‘gween things’ and ‘mushy beans’ as well. Ideally, I should be firm at every meal time so that they know what to expect and have no way around it. But let’s be honest. We all have our ideals, and we’re often reminded of the ideals by (hopefully) well-intentioned people, but life’s not ideal. There’s reality, then there’s the ideal, and we have to be willing to work within our own realities towards our ideals.
And the thing is we all have our own ideals. One family will define ‘healthy eating’ differently from another family. So, each family figures out the best way to implement it for themselves. The important thing isn’t to live by someone else’s ideal, but by your own goals within your family’s reality. This can be hard for parents, particularly for us moms, as we are well-acquainted with the good ol’ comparison game. It’s easy to feel embarrassed around other families who seem to have the ‘eating healthy’ thing down, when you’re happy if your kid just eats something, anything. Finding ways to have your kids eat healthy is slow and messy with plenty of compromise and setbacks, but we believe the effort is worth it.
So as you and I struggle through parenthood together, I thought I’d share a few things our family does to try give you some ideas and encouragement on your own journey towards healthy eating as a family and increase your chances of having more healthy and holistic foods in your family’s diet.
1. Try to eat seasonally – By eating seasonally, you will add new flavors to your palate regularly, as well as save money, support local farmers, and put less demands on the Earth. Just start small. Eat produce that grows in a particular season and incorporate them into your meals: in summer – tomatoes, berries, spinach, green beans; in fall – kale, Swiss chard, cranberries; in winter – parsnips, rutabagas, cabbage; and in spring – asparagus, rhubarb, spinach. You’ll find yourself enjoying certain foods in each season and longing for the return of favorites throughout the year. The anticipation leads to celebration, which makes one happy household! (You should hear our 4 year old when berry season rolls around – she is all giggles when we finally get to eat fresh berries!). I highly recommend a seasonal cookbook titled Simply in Season, which made eating seasonally and locally a lot easier.
2. Plant a garden – It can be a garden in your yard or potted herbs indoors. Start small, and then go bigger as you feel comfortable with the process and work. There’s something so rewarding about planting a seed, watering it, watching it grow, and then eating from it! Children become especially excited when they get to see food grow right in their own backyard. They’ll ask all sorts of questions and love taste-testing as the food ripens. Watching our daughters devour cherry tomatoes and snap peas straight from our garden is one of my favorite times of the year.
3. Shop at a farmer’s market – Not only will it be a fun experience, but you will save money (produce in season is so cheap at farmer’s markets), support local farmers, and enjoy an array of taste samples. Farmers are also more than happy to answer questions and give you ideas on how to incorporate certain produce into your meals.
4. Try to incorporate one new food item a week – My first year and a half as a new cook, I quickly realized how few foods I was aware of, much less knew how to prepare. So I challenged myself to buy and prepare one new vegetable every week. Some of the new foods I tried were beets, parsnips, rutabagas, broccolini, ramps, and watercress. I really enjoyed learning about new foods, discovering new flavors, and finding certain ones become a staple in our home. This benefits the whole family as they too discover new dishes, new flavors, and possibly new favorite foods.
5. Let your kid(s) help prepare a meal – There are days where the last thing you want is to have a toddler in the kitchen trying to help you make a meal. Look for opportunities to invite kids to join you, let them help you where appropriate, and enjoy their excitement as they watch random ingredients come together as a tasty meal. I have found that when our toddler helps with cooking, she takes ownership of it and is more likely to eat it as a result.
And if all else fails, make a smoothie. Throw in a banana, some berries, a couple handfuls of spinach, and any seeds (hemp, flax, chia) for a nutritional boost, some milk (or even water), raw honey, and voila! The bonus is, your kids are getting nutrition, you can add virtually anything, and they won’t notice!
Hopefully these tips encourage you and give you some new ideas. Feel free to pick just one tip and see how that works with your family and lifestyle. The goal isn’t to become perfect healthy eaters overnight; rather, it’s to make progress in your family’s working definition of healthy eating. Start small, go slowly, and enjoy the process.
Here’s to you and your family’s health!
Nikole Mitchell is a wife, mother, and aspiring pastor, who is passionate about living simply and loving creation through a zero waste lifestyle (see zerowastehome.com). She has written for Red Letter Christians and Sojourners and can be followed on Twitter @mitchellnikole.