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I hold myself to a high standard of eating, because it feels good and I know it’s best for my body. With every meal I prioritize lean proteins, lots of fruits and vegetables, lots of healthy fats and some whole grains. I do my best to avoid overly processed foods or foods that are high in sugar. Balance and moderation is always my motto, so I don’t feel guilty when I have a burger and fries.
When it comes to feeding my kids, you would assume that I have an even higher nutritional standard than even myself. They're growing, developing and laying the groundwork for lifelong habits.
But they're also terrorists. And I can only wage so many wars in one day. I'm not as picky as my kids...I will stuff my mouth with a handful of raw spinach if I need to, but ask my 3 year-old to eat a carrot and the battle begins. Sometimes I'm up for war, and sometimes I'm not. Some days call for mac n' cheese.
Occasionally, it's going to be pirate booty and fruit snacks, and that's just going to be ok.
It’s important to model very good eating habits for your kids and provide them with every opportunity to eat healthy. But, as moms, we often feel like we're failing our kids on so many levels, and providing good nutrition is certainly one of the levels. We’re embarrassed and ashamed every time we rip open a package of fruit snacks, especially in front of certain judgmental moms. You know who I’m talking about.
Here’s the deal: good nutrition is important for kids. But your overall sanity is equally important. If preparing elaborate whole food snacks and meals with cucumber pin-wheels and radish rosettes pushes you over the edge, then just relax. You don’t need to be doing this to be a good mom. Just do your best and see if you can improve in one or two areas.
Just like with your own nutrition, sometimes tiny changes can make a big difference for your kiddo’s health.
How I feed my kids. My kids eat nearly the exact same thing every single day, so it’s easy to give you a rundown. No this isn’t perfect. And yes, this could be better. I don't need anyone to tell me that. But I’m always teetering on the edge of sanity. Know what I mean?
Breakfast: Small bowl of cereal, either Honey Nut Cheerios, Raisin Bran or granola with 2% milk (sometimes they don’t want the milk…it apparently makes their cereal “wet”.) Sometimes breakfast is plain Greek yogurt with berries and honey. No matter what, they always get a banana and whole wheat toast with butter and jam. They refuse eggs, otherwise I would make a bigger version of my own breakfast for them, too.
Mid-morning snack: They usually start asking for this snack about 5 minutes after breakfast, regardless of how much they ate (what's up with that?!). I try to hold out on them until about 9:30. This snack is typically just a fruit snack (I buy the Mott’s fruit & veggie fruit snacks) or a Nutri-grain bar. I don’t eat these, but I'm ok if they do. My 5 year-old will usually also eat a banana. I’m typically working in the morning so making them a snack is not going to happen.
Lunch: This is almost always a sandwich on whole wheat bread, mayonnaise, turkey or ham deli meat, cheese, and sometimes spinach. At lunch I always also give them a fruit and a veggie with hummus. For vegetables, they will eat raw carrots, peppers, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes and sometimes broccoli. My 3 year-old literally takes 1 hour to eat all of his vegetables, but he's getting better at this. They sometimes have a treat after lunch, which is either a fruit and veggie popsicle (Outshine brand or I make my own) or about 5 chocolate chips.
Afternoon snack: This is always an apple, some cheddar cheese and either whole grain goldfish or graham crackers.
Dinner: They eat whatever we eat. I refuse to make them anything different. This is the meal that I insist on them trying everything, even the salad or roasted vegetables. Occasionally, I will break the meal apart or make it a tiny bit different (like my summer spaghetti recipe). Once again, my youngest will stretch this meal out f…o…r…e…v…e…r… Especially if it contains vegetables, which it always does.
Dessert: They never get an after-dinner dessert, unless we’re camping, then s’mores are a must.
Balance and Moderation. When it comes to feeding kids, balance and moderation is equally as important for them as it is for you. They are learning at this age, and the worst thing for them to learn is that certain foods are “bad” and certain foods are “good”.
I try to use the words “healthy” and “not-so-healthy”. Occasionally, they’ll ask me if something is healthy, and if it’s not I will say, “no, it’s not really healthy, but it’s ok every once in a while. It’s just not something you should have every day.”
And certainly do not refer to certain foods as making you fat or not. They will adopt this same attitude.
Not that Strict. As you can see, I don’t draw a hard line with my kids, which may be shocking to some. But, I do draw the line with certain things.
- Chips and cookies are very rare in our house.
- They drink lots of water and occasionally milk, but never juice or soda.
- They don’t eat sugary cereals. Honey nut cheerios is about as sugary as it gets.
- We don’t do flavored yogurts, which is another hidden source of extra sugar. If they have yogurt, it’s plain and we add our own berries and a little honey.
- We avoid the frozen or packaged meals. This one is easy to avoid because I simply cook most meals from scratch. No Dino-nuggets, frozen burritos or other tempting convenience foods.
Some Tips for Improvement. If you are interested in trying to encourage your kids to eat healthier, here are some ideas.
First of all, don’t make any drastic changes. If today they’re eating Fruit Loops and then tomorrow you’re setting a spinach omelet in front of them, prepare to battle. And with this battle, nobody will win. Make little tweaks here and there, and they might not notice.
Look for ways to reduce the amount of sugar they eat. Sugary, processed foods are the number one culprit for childhood weight and health issues. Excess sugars can be found in so many things like juice, yogurt and snacks. If your kids are used to fruit snacks, choose ones that use 100% fruit and vegetable juice. If your kids must have juice, dilute it with some water. Limit treats and desserts.
Let them have full fat foods. Kids need a higher ratio of fat than adults do, so let them have whole or 2% milk, full fat yogurt and other dairy products. Also do your best to balance out their sources of fats. Provide nuts and seeds for snacks, and have nut butter sandwiches or ants-on-a-log (please tell me you know what I’m talking about!). Most kids like avocados and olives. Cook their meals in olive oil and other types of oil, and even use coconut oil or coconut milk in many dishes. Flaked coconut is fun to eat, too!
Make sure they’re eating their PRO’s, too! Your main sources of nutrition need to be protein and produce, and so should theirs. Try to base every meal around a protein and a produce. Kids can be picky with proteins sometimes, so you can try chicken, mildly seasoned ground beef or turkey, eggs, beans, peas and nuts. And do your best with the vegetables. If they end up having 2-3 servings of vegetables per day you’re doing really great. If they absolutely refuse vegetable, let them eat a wide variety of fruits. Fruit smoothies are a great way to sneak in some vegetables and healthy fats. Any of my smoothie recipes are great for kids!
Use supplements if you need to. Vitamin and mineral deficiencies can certainly cause some health issues, so a good idea may be to give your kids a multivitamin to simply cover your bases. I give my kids Children’s Complete Multivitamin Gummies (from Costco). A nutrition coach I know also gives his kids fish oil, although I have yet to do this. This may be my next tiny step towards healthier kids. We’ll see…
Above all, model good eating behavior. They watch you very closely, and if you’re always sneaking treats they will want to as well. Be the grown up. Eat your veggies and proteins, let them see you say “nah” to the sweets, and chances are everyone will be healthier for it.
At the end of the day, just do your best, momma.
If that means carrots dipped in ranch or fruit snacks that say they’re made with vegetable juice, then so be it. Your kids will survive. Whatever you do, don’t treat food as something that needs to be strictly controlled while demonizing certain foods. Ultimately, adopting this attitude will be far more damaging to their health than the Honey Nut Cheerios. Make sure they know that food is good and eating healthy is good, too.
And remember, they’re terrorists. Some days, you will just need to survive. Let them have their grape juice while you have yours (if you catch my drift)!
Smoothies are a sneaky way to have your kids eat good nutrients. Do you have any other tips or tricks for getting your kids to eat healthy food? Share with all of us below!