In the world of kid’s menus and school lunches, an overabundance of commercials featuring cute little cartoon characters promoting the latest sugary cereal or processed snack, the thought of teaching our children what it means to eat healthy food can be completely and utterly overwhelming. I’m not going to lie, as parents, the deck is really stacked against us.
We have come to a point in our human evolution where we have been programmed to think that hot dogs, pizza, mac and cheese, chicken nuggets and french fries are ideal foods to feed growing little humans. I have to admit that when my oldest was younger and I wasn’t yet tuned into the effect of food on health, I too thought that those were the only options. It doesn’t help that any restaurant you visit, no matter the quality of the establishment, the kids menu tends to consist of those same items. When our kids go to school, they are fed the same food, pizza Friday, chicken nuggets and french fries. It’s really maddening when you stop and think about it for a minute. Our kids are being constantly bombarded by highly processed, chemicalized foods that are completely devoid of any nutritional value.
Unfortunately, none of this is a coincidence. The meat and dairy industries have a vested interest, and they are using our kids as pawns to build their massive fortunes. Getting a kid hooked on meat and dairy at a young age ensures they have a lifelong customer. It’s just business to them. This is a topic for another blog post, but if you are interested in learning more about this, I highly suggest hopping on Netflix and checking out the following documentaries: Food Matters, What the Health, Forks Over Knives, Earthlings (this is a really hard one to watch, just to warn you – not kid friendly), Food Inc., and Cowspiracy.
When I changed my eating habits to be healthy, I made a conscious effort in my approach to spreading health through my family. Let’s be real, nobody likes to be told how to eat. I also didn’t want to start cultivating eating disorders in my children by making them neurotic about food. I want them to have the power to make their own decisions, to eat what makes them feel good, not to be terrified of making the wrong decision.
I wanted to share with you what has worked for me in hopes that it will help you:
- I’m the cook in my house, so that helped. Let me assure you, you do not have to be a chef to eat healthy. Most of my meals are simply some roasted potatoes and veggies. If you can turn on an oven, you can eat healthy. Anyways, back to my point. If you are the cook in your house, let’s be honest…you have the power to transform your kitchen and the foods you are feeding your children. Here’s my suggestion, start small. If your kiddos are used to the typical pizza dinner or grilled cheese and chips for lunch, see how you can make those options a bit healthier. There’s a big difference between ordering a pizza from Pizza Hut and making your own pizza at home with cauliflower crust and fresh veggies. It’s also a super fun bonding time with the kids. My 2-year-old LOVES to make her own pizza, it gives her the power of choice. It starts in the grocery store, she gets to pick the veggies she wants on her pizza. When we get home, I let her help me cut the veggies up and then she generously sprinkles them on the cauliflower crust, which you can make on your own (here’s a great vegan cauliflower crust recipe) or if you don’t have time, you can find a frozen one in the freezer section of most grocery stores. When it comes out of the oven she is gleaming with pride and excitement that she created her own food from start to finish. It makes my heart smile, and it empowers her as a young woman to make her own food choices. It’s a far cry from mommy forcing her to eat a plate full of green beans.
- It’s a process. It won’t happen overnight and it won’t happen just because you want it to happen. It’s going to take effort on your part. What I’m really saying is…it starts with you. If you think you can sit and eat junk food and drink soda all day and expect your kiddos to eat healthy just because you tell them to, it’s going to be a rough journey. They watch us. Even when they are sleeping, they instinctively know that mommy is pigging out on a bag of bon bons. Trust me, they always know. We are the adults and we have to lead by example.
- Kid’s birthday parties used to FILL me with anxiety when I started on this journey. We all know that the typical food options at a kid’s party are soda, pizza, cake and candy. And probably some ice cream. I let them eat it. I know, shocking! I can’t say that I’m happy about it, but I allow them to make their own decisions. Inevitably, they get a tummy ache, and that, my friends is a teachable moment! I talk them through why they might have a tummy ache, maybe it’s because of the overload of sugar and processed chemicals in the food they ate? Does that mean my kids won’t sell their souls for candy? No. They’re kids living in American society. But, they are aware that it’s the candy and processed food that gives them a belly ache. For me, it’s all about giving them space to cultivate awareness and that in time, they will make the best decision for their body. Pro tip: eat a healthy meal BEFORE you head out to the birthday party. Then they won’t be super hungry at the party and may even opt out of the junk food.
- Quality really matters. Let’s look at a good ol’ PB&J. There is a huge nutritional difference between traditional white bread and some hearty, sprouted grain bread like Ezekiel. White bread is super processed and essentially devoid of any nutritional value, but sprouted grain bread is loaded with vitamins and minerals and isn’t highly processed. Sometimes PB&J sandwiches are unavoidable, but slab that PB&J on some sprouted grain bread, add some chia seeds and bee pollen and substitute the peanut butter from some Justin’s Almond Butter and suddenly your PB&J just became loaded with nutritional value.
- Ingredients matter. This is something I talk about all the time. When you can, buy organic and local fruits and veggies and stick to organic meat if you consume meat. I know organic tends to cost more, but conventional meat is LOADED with pesticides, hormones and antibiotics and tiny little humans just aren’t able to handle that kind of toxic exposure. Their livers and kidneys are still developing and simply cannot detoxify such large amounts of toxins and chemicals. Here’s a great study on the absorption of pesticides in conventional vs. organic food in children. We have seen such a spike in childhood illnesses, everything from autoimmune diseases to cancer to autism since increasing the use of pesticides, hormones and antibiotics in our meats and produce. Here’s another great article on the subject. If organic is out of your price range, consider joining a CSA (check out Local Harvest to find one near you) or shopping at your local Farmer’s Market. Both are great and much more affordable options to getting good local and organic meat and produce. Another great option is to stick to the Dirty Dozen, which lists the most pesticide laden fruits and veggies every year, the produce that you should buy organic and the Clean 15 which lists the produce you can get away with buying conventional.
- Let them eat what you eat. This whole idea that kids need to have different meals than adults is just silly. In my house, I make a bunch of veggies, some rice or potatoes and usually a chicken breast for my partner. They get to choose which veggies they want, but this whole idea that they need a different “kids meal” is not happening. Who has time for that? When we go out to eat, we don’t even look at the kid’s menu unless they have healthy options, which I am proud to say some establishments do indeed offer. I usually just order them something healthy off the regular menu and the three of them split it. It usually ends up being way cheaper AND they are eating healthy food, not your standard hot dog and french fries. If the restaurant doesn’t have any regular menu items that I think they will eat, I have never had a problem ordering a plate of steamed veggies and rice. The kids tear it up.
- Pack lunches. If you saw what they are feeding our kids in school, I know you would be outraged. I also know this takes a little bit of effort, but keep it simple. Some sliced fruit, the PB&J from #4 and a handful of baby carrots is a super easy and quick to prepare lunch that I make regularly for my oldest daughter. It doesn’t have to be a super fancy spread, keep it simple so that it can be sustainable. Involve your kids in packing their lunch. Ask them to pick their top five favorite fruits and start rotating them. I really love these eco friendly stainless steel lunch boxes from UKonserve. They last forever and don’t have any plastic.
After a year (a WHOLE YEAR) of me eating a plant-based diet, my oldest daughter started to become a little more willing to try some of mommy’s veggies. Slow and steady wins the race, y’all. Soon after, she made the executive decision to be a vegetarian and has remained so for awhile now. She chooses to no longer eat meat because she has a general understanding of how the animals that she thinks are so cute end up on the plate for dinner. Will she be a vegetarian forever? Who knows, she’s 7. What is more important is that she is involved in making decisions about how she fuels her body.
My two babies have been a bit easier because they have been around healthy food since birth.
Lo Lo, my almost 3-year old loves any and all raw veggies. She will munch on a head of lettuce or a bowl of spinach and eat a green pepper like it’s an apple. This is because this is all she knows. I don’t keep junk food in the house. When we shop, I involve her in the process, she knows what foods make her feel good and which make her belly hurt. A “snack” for her isn’t a candy bar, it’s apples with some almond butter, or maybe some fresh cherries or blueberries. She also generally chooses to not eat meat, although she will eat chicken from time to time. I ensure that it is good quality chicken.
Vasili, my baby boy, is a slim eater, so I’ll keep you updated. He eats what I eat, so he is vegan, unless Yia Yia and Papou sneak him some meat when he goes to visit. That’s a whole other blog post. His favorite food is broccoli, and who can blame him? Mini trees are so cool looking and they taste delicious.
Don’t give up, keep your head held high and know that they are watching you. Bring mindfulness around what you are feeding yourself, and your kids will follow. All they want is a happy and healthy parent. You are the example. You got this.
Plants for Life,
Stephanie Misanik, INHC, RYT-200