The first time that my four month old son pulled away from the breast mid-feeding and craned his neck as far back as he could manage in order to watch his older brother skip through the living room it dawned on me~ from the moment they are able, children will work to take control of what and when they eat. As soon as big brother made his exit tiny slobbery baby opened wide and headed straight back for the target. Dealing with his food control issues is easy once he is not distracted by the ever-attractive call of play. The only decision to be made is shall we dine on the left or right boob first?
But, what happens when the options are more plentiful? The call of play is great, but so is the screaming invitation of sugar filled cereals, brightly decorated boxes of processed garbage, and candy-lined isles. Just as a nursing baby is distracted by the commotion around him, a child’s attention on his broccoli can be snatched away by the hope for a forty three-ingredient honey bun.
The question remains, “What is a Momma to do?”
Find the Source
Before purchasing any edible item ponder for a moment the journey that it has taken from it’s beginning to your hands. When fingering through bins of tomatoes I can see in my head the crops growing with sunlight and water. I know, especially when buying local and organic produce, that it will be fresh, nutrient filled, and that I am eating exactly what I think I am eating. A tomato after all is a tomato. Now, take a gander down the cereal isle with me. Before tossing those frosted cartoon shaped berry bops into your cart think hard. Have you ever seen a field of fruit loops glistening in the sun?
Help your children eat healthy by only purchasing food that is in fact healthy. Take it a step farther; only buy food that is actually food. The general rule of thumb is that if a food item has more than five ingredients in it, it may not actually be as edible as it looks. You children will ultimately eat the food that you serve them. They will eat the food that is available in your home. Momma, buy good food and your children will eat it.
By making your children partners in the growing, purchasing, and preparing of the food that you desire them to eat you are giving them a larger sense of control. In general, this will make for a successful dinner time together with minimal power struggles over exactly how many peas they have to swallow.
I know that it is difficult, but taking your children to the grocery store with you has several benefits for them. Not only are they participating in a family activity, learning math skills, and practicing self-disciple, but through this often weekly chore children can learn about food. When he was two years old my eldest son would ask for unhealthy things at the grocery store. He had, by all means, fallen prey to all things bright and shiny. Grocery trip after trip he began to change and learn. At age two he begged. At age three he began to say, “Mommy won’t let me have that.” And, now at four years of age he is the one telling other children that they should not eat food that is not good for their growing bodies.
Rather than teach your children words such as fat intake, calories, portion control, and diet. Teach them words such as nutrition, whole, organic, stamina, energy, and sustaining. As you learn about which foods coincide with the second list of vocabulary terms, pass that information off to your children so that they have the knowledge and control to make good eating decisions on their own.
Sit your little ones on the counter (be safe though!) or nearby you in a chair and have them help in every way that they can with the preparation of the food. Little hands are great for stirring. Talk with them about the food. Children are more likely to be invested in something that they care about, so create in them an appreciation for the food. At our house there is not an herb that goes into a food that first has not been smelled, touched, and talked about. Let them be the official taste-testers, and if they do not like the food, ask them what might need to be done to it to make it better, perhaps just a hint of sea salt?
Buy as much of your food as you can from local farms and markets. Day trips to the farms are monthly events in our household and an hour in the garden each day is normal summer activity here. Involve your children however you can!
Recreate the Concept of A Treat
Consider ways to make whole and healthy foods something valued and anticipated in your family. A juicy fresh pear can be a wonderful desert. A teaspoon of honey can be a sweet treat. Freshly picked summer berries can serve as the perfect ending to day. Shopping with the seasons will make those fruits only available during small windows of time a real treat that your family can become excited about, anticipate, and define as the best of all treats. For my family, this is strawberry and peach season. We cannot wait and we take full advantage of the harvest by making pies, jams, breads, and freezing all season long. And, if you are going to indulge in something decadent and unhealthy then do so well and with intention. Need an example? My children just went to bed and my husband brought me a square of 70% organic fair trade dark chocolate heaven. I am going to eat it well and with intention right about now…
Meal Planning Mommies is a blog written by three different gals. Sarah, Alisha, and Katie (that’s me!) cook differently, eat differently, and think differently. But, we are the best of friends and have a blast learning, loving, and living. Our blog features weekly meal plans and new recipes every single day. Visit Meal Planning Mommies for ideas, flops, and encouragement. Here is a healthy idea straight from our kitchens to yours!
The Dipping Dinner (The Ultimate Kid Friendly Healthy Feast)
The concept of this dinner is easy: Dips and a array of healthy things to be dipped. There is no real right or wrong for this meal which makes it incredibly easy to throw together!
First, make your dips. Then slice up fresh fruits and vegetables to go along with the dips. Cut up pieces of whole-wheat bread and diced chicken also go great with this meal, making it heartier for dinner time.
Place the dips and the dippee's (I made that word up!) into muffin pans for a fun way to serve this meal to your little darlings. They really enjoy the presentation and have fun dipping.
An example "Dipping Dinner" ~ Bananas, Strawberries, Grapes, Green Peppers, Celery, Broccoli, Whole-Wheat Crackers, and Carrots dipped into home made Guacamole, Hummus, and Yogurt.
For more meal plans, recipes, and to see what happens when the tips above do not always work (The Chickpea Disaster) visit Meal Planning Mommies.