There are some things that as a parent can be a real challenge. Eating habits is definitely one of them. For those of you with picky eaters or sensory eaters, my heart goes out to you. This has been a huge evolution for my family and it was a bumpy road. (WOW was it bumpy!)
There are lots of habits that kids have that are lost over time (nose picking, weird faces, etc.), but eating habits will prevail if they are not properly addressed at a young age.
There are three rules that I am particularly conscious of, and I wanted to throw them out there. Perhaps they will change how you think about your meal planning, spark your interest in thinking about your child’s food differently, or perhaps they are just good reminders of what you are doing already. Regardless, I know our kids are THE MOST important parts of our lives, and nutrition is a crucial way we set good habits for future success in all areas (learning, growth, health, success, etc.).
1. kid food- If there is one idea I would like to break in western society, it is this idea of ‘kid food’. To me that means ‘void of nutrition and over-processed’. Hot dogs, chicken nuggets, fish crackers… there is typically little to no nutrition in these foods and a whole lot of preservatives and chemicals. Our kids need nutrition as much or more than we do- they are building brains and bodies!
There are very few countries in this world that make separate meals or foods for kids- they simply eat what everybody else is eating. If this just seems too unattainable at this point, focus on ‘kid friendly whole foods’ such as chicken legs, meatballs, eggs, etc. with veggies- things that you eat as well. That way you only have to make one meal and your kids get to upgrade their diet to more healthful, whole foods options.
2. constant snacking- There are two problems I have with the constant snacking habit. First and foremost is the quality of snack food. Crackers, cereals and cookies are essentially all sugar (flour products convert to sugars often faster than sugar itself since they are so refined). If you wish to do snacks (some cultures like France don’t really snack at all), focus on foods that you would want them to eat at mealtime- fruits, veggies, dips like hummus or guac, or cheese are great, easy options.
Second, is the idea of ‘constant’ snacking. This ongoing grazing does not allow children to recognize or identify feelings of satiety (fullness) and hunger. This is an important skill kids will need throughout their lives.
3. sugar overdose- This ties back to a points I mentioned already- kid foods are pretty much synonymous with high sugar. Did you know that there are almost 4 cubes of sugar in one chocolate milk carton? One bowl of honey nut Cheerios contains 2 1/2 sugar cubes per serving of cereal, and if you take the simple carbohydrates into account, it is 6 cubes worth of sugar that your body has to process?! Shocking, right?
You might be thinking ‘but what about all the good stuff that is in there, too?’ Let me just say that if it can sit on a shelf for a year without spoiling, it does not contain much natural nutrition.
Aside of that, sugar has a LOT of side effects. It is very addictive, a huge contributor to poor focus/performance and behavioral challenges, and greatly compromises immunity. As you can see, there is much more to this picture than simply keeping track of whether your kids are within the ‘normal weight range’ for his/her age.
So now the question is how to get started on this- how to move from ‘kid foods’ to real food?
-Start simple. You don’t have to remove all the junk at once like I did (though for me it was easier than trying to negotiate the constant nagging of how many treats and when they could be consumed).
-Slowly incorporate more whole foods- put out a veggie tray just before dinner (sometimes they eat more of them if there aren’t competing foods on their plates)
-Upgrade their favorites (check out my almond flour chicken nuggets- you will like them, too!)
-Set a schedule for eating so that the snacking is managed, and start to look at the sugar/carbohydrate levels of your foods and looking for healthier options. (4 g sugar = 1 tsp or 1 sugar cube- same applies to carbohydrates, particularly if they are from refined flours as whole grains process more slowly.)
It can take a while for kids to adjust to the new routine, but if you keep the conversation open about how they can best take care of their bodies they will come to understand why these new rules are so important. You are your child’s best supporter and it is up to YOU to help them form healthy habits for the future!
What did you think of this post? What healthy changes have you made for your family that have made a big difference? I’d love to hear!
And as always, if you think this article is helpful please feel free to share with your friends and family!