Sunday, January 4, 2015

9:38 PM
Fruit Salad in The Picking 
As I ran the other day a sentence that my son said to me at lunchtime echoed in my ears - Mommy, I would like some shave ice, but not until after I eat some real food. His declaration, and subsequent happy chomping of a salad before sharing a lightly-syruped shave ice with the rest of us clearly indicates that my 3YO has already internalized an important lesson about living a balanced and healthy lifestyle – treats are fabulous, but only as the occasional cherry on top of a healthy, nourishing meal that gives you broccoli muscles!! This is how our family eats, and this is how we talk about food – therefore, this is how he eats and how he talks about food.

This healthy and balanced relationship to food that I see in both my kids is something that I am proud of and that I have worked hard to cultivate since they were infants and throwing their peas across the room. My hope has been that by engaging them consistently in small and positive ways about their diet and lifestyle I will have created a strong foundation for their future selves that will give them resilience in the face of the all too toxic pressures they are likely to face regarding food as they grow up - either eating too much or too little, and most certainly the wrong things.

Some of the key things that I return to over and over as part of how my family addresses food are outlined below:

1. Nothing is “off-limits”, but food is prioritized according to its nutritional value. It is not uncommon for my daughter to look at her dinner plate and ask, OK Mom, what is the healthiest food here? And the next healthiest? And so on… she then proceeds to eat according to value – the ample serving of veggies first, the protein next, then the starch. Treats or dessert are welcomed but not expected. There is no “guilt” associated with any food, just a calm statement that eating too much of a sweet or junk food will not make your body feel good – a lesson that usually should only need to be learned once to validate the point. And a lesson I have let them learn.

2. Portions are appropriate. Too large of portions encourage over-eating or food wasting, neither of which I am of fan of. For this reason I am a fan of smaller plates, lots of veggies and an open offer for seconds once everything on plate one has been consumed.

3. Eat when hungry, stop when full. Our family is not a member of the clean plate club. We are a member of the eat all of your veggies and then you can stop eating or take a break when your tummy says it is full club (with no dessert or snacks later). We are fans of listening to our bodies.

4. Snacks matter. Snacks of empty calories are not helpful. However, especially on an active day, snacks are doled out plentifully – they look like fruit, energy bars, hard-boiled eggs, carrots, nuts, yogurt and cheese. They satisfy us, they give us energy, and they are chosen from the same landscape of healthy choices as the rest of our food.

5. Water is the best drink. Other than milk, and the occasional small serving of juice or Gatorade my kids drink water. Period.

6. Fast food is a salad bar. We do not eat fast food. If we are travelling we pack food for the road, or stop somewhere where we can get real food – a proper meal or sandwiches and salad. On our most recent vacation we went to a health food store to partake of the salad bar almost every day – all four of us loading up on a selection of healthy foods and veggies and picnicking happily on the lawn next to all of the people eating the greasy burgers and fries from Bubbas Burgers. None of us felt deprived. (And by the way, in case we are sounding too goody-goody, know that we also went to a wonderful bakery every morning for amazing pasties!)

7. Eat at home. For many of the reasons named above, we eat at home most often where we control the cost, the menu, the ingredients, and the portions. I am not a great cook, but with simple, healthy foods on hand I have learned that one does not need to be a great cook to quickly pull together a hearty, satisfying meal.

8. Involve kids in the cooking. My daughter helped me make a vegetarian chili and cornbread today. She then proceeded to enjoy two generous helpings (lunch and dinner) that were chock full of things that were very obviously beans, carrots, celery, corn, onions, and tomatoes. Had she not been involved in its creation, she likely would have turned her nose up at the unfamiliar stew on principal. However, as the proud chef she dug in ravenously and her copy-cat little brother did the same.

9. Plant a garden. Maybe your garden is a series of beautifully constructed and tended raised beds. Maybe it is a few pots of tomatoes and herbs on a windowsill - either way, getting your kids involved in digging dirt, planting seeds, watering and then savoring the pleasure of harvesting and eating fresh foods is a great way to connect them to real food, which is the best diet you can ever be on.  

10. Persevere. I think my daughter loved broccoli the first time she ever tried it - gnawing on a lightly-steamed stalk when she was less than a year old. With my son it took months of putting a few pieces of broccoli on his plate several days a week before he would even try it. Now he asks for it at almost every dinner. Especially if they are not used to a new food or way of eating it is understandable that kids are wary - but just like us they can soon learn to love the feeling of eating simple, nourishing and healthy food.

January is the time of resolutions, fresh starts and the optimism of self-renewal. It is a time when we take stock of ourselves and our lives and pick out the one, two or many things that we want to tweak, modify or wholesale change over the year ahead. For many of us, we will at least consider whether we want to change something about how and what we eat – either as a way to be healthier, lose weight, or both. Maybe 2015 is the year to cast the net a little wider – not just to encompass ourselves, but our entire families. In all likelihood this will mean adopting a less dramatic dietary resolution (I wouldn’t recommend a juice fast for your kids), but it just may mean a much more long-term and sustainable diet and lifestyle change for all the people in your life that matter most.

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