At 16 months, my daughter Madilyn doesn’t really know who SpongeBob or Dora the Explorer is, let alone request the cookies, crackers, cereals and yogurts adorned with their images all over the shelves of our supermarkets—but I know that some other mommas of older kids struggle with this very thing on a daily basis.
I know that in the bottom of every mom's heart, she wants the best for her children. She wants them to be healthy and happy. She wants them to do awesome in school, learn new things and make new friends. She wants them to have the energy to play and have fun. The difficult thing is having to compete with TV, the media, cartoons, commercials and peer pressure. These companies know what they are doing don't they? They have one thing on their mind: sell more products and make money. It all comes down to money.
Right now it is easy. Madilyn eats pretty much anything I put in front of her. So innocent as she begs for sips of my green smoothie. So precious when I ask her, "Do you like avocado?" and she shakes her head yes. I feel proud. I know we are going in the right direction. My goal when it comes to feeding Madilyn is to do the best I can and give her as much good stuff as I can... now while I am in control. As she gets older, my dream is that she LOVES how she feels eating healthy, picks apples over Sour Patch Kids, hummus over fatty chip dip. I dream that she sees the connection between food and mood at an early age. I dream that she learns earlier than I did.
My client Julie texted me the other day and wrote, "I just asked Gabrielle if she wanted pizza for dinner. She replies, 'Not so much. I like green beans and rice for dinner!' Guess I'm doing something right!" You sure are Julie!
With that said, I try to not be a food Nazi. I hope I am not later in her life. I know that if I tell Madilyn not to eat meat from fast food restaurants, she will be hitting up McDonald's every chance she can. If I forbid candy, she will hide it in her room and sneak it when I am not watching. It's all about balance.
I’d much prefer that the food industry do without the cartoon characters and that we could all focus on teaching our kids to love nutritious whole foods because they taste good—and because they’re good for you. Because they help you grow to become big and strong. Because they will give you the strength to do whatever in this world you want to do. Because they are better than cartoon characters selling you crap.
But if plastering Dora on healthy foods like cucumbers or baby carrots gets kids to eat more vegetables, then, sure, go for it. What if a bag of apples would features happy, healthy kids doing fun and active things, like playing soccer? What if Dora the Explorer was plastered all over a bunch of collard greens? Now that would be cool.
"It is very rewarding to see my child make healthy choices. It makes my heart happy to hear requests for foods like kale, green beans, and steel cut oats!" - My client Hillary
Our kiddos deserve the very best. They deserve real food. They want it. Just give them the opportunity. Sure they won't like everything. One day they might eat an avocado. The next day they may not. Don't give up. Keep on offering them new foods. You don't have to eliminate the junk completely. In my opinion, it is all about balance. Have a green smoothie for breakfast. Go ahead and have a cookie later on. No biggie.
Below are my suggestions for teaching your kids to eat – and love – vegetables and other healthy foods:
Walk the talk – If mommy and daddy are eating chicken fingers and fries for dinner, expecting little Sally to eat steamed veggies will not happen. Our kids are watching us for guidance. They look up to us. They want to be just like us (when they are little, right? 🙂 ) Healthy eating is no different. Let our kids see us eating healthy on a regular basis. Let's show our kids that eating well is delicious. Kids will pick up that veggies are just as enjoyable as any other food.
Let them do the shopping – Well, not exactly! But, bringing along the kids when food shopping teaches them about food. Kids will probably enjoy going to visit the local farmers market or just having a say in what the menu will be for the family.
Give them choice – "Do you want kale or green beans for dinner tonight?" This way one or the other is on the menu. Over time it will become habit. Introduce veggies in a variety of meals. From veggie spaghetti to veggies as a simple side dish, let kids have a variety of vegetable experiences.
Swap it out – Veggies can replace unhealthy foods in several dishes. Instead of French fries, try baked sweet potato fries. Instead of traditional dips for potato chips, use salsa or hummus dip.
One thing I have learned over the last 16 months as a new momma is that as soon as I think I have it all figured out, it changes. That is life though, right? Enjoy the ride. Have fun and try something new. You don't have to be perfect. Offer your kids something new. You all might just love it.
What new food will you make this week?
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