Feeding your family is different things to different people. It’s a challenge, a joy, a stressor, a chore, a gift. I experience all of those depending upon the day. I feel fulfilled serving a balanced meal, full of nutrition, but I often resent the interruption to my day to stop and prepare it. Other times, when I have done a grocery shop (that’s a chore: in the cart, out of the cart, into the car, out of the car, into the house, into the fridge, into the pantry) and the house is replete with fresh fruits, veggies, fish and meats, I enjoy the process of chopping, peeling and cooking. It depends on the day and the mood.
I love to eat and have always been a good eater, in quantity and quality, from the time I was a baby. My mother always bragged gratefully that I was a joy to cook for because I’d say, “Yum!” daily to the what’s-for-dinner question.
My kids are the same way (though my teen is going backwards toward typical toddler pickiness. There’s a future blog topic: The Parallels of Toddlers and Teens) I wonder, is it genetic or learned? I like to think that the variety of flavors and tastes they got through breastfeeding helped shape their palates, or perhaps it helped that as they grew up, we fed them whatever we were preparing for dinner, they didn’t get a special meal or typical “kid foods.”
I’m pretty upfront as a parent, sharing bits of information at age-appropriate levels and giving them honest, clear answers. So I guess that philosophy just poured over into how we parented around mealtime.
In feeding our family, we never disguised vegetables or had the expectation that they wouldn’t like something. Broccoli was broccoli, fish was called fish, not chicken and we continued to offer variety. When I work with mothers of young babies learning to take their first bites, I share that it is our job to provide our children with healthy options, it’s up to our children to decide what and how much they’ll eat. They say it takes up to 10 times before something new is accepted, so don’t fuss over what your child did or didn’t eat, just offer it up again and again with a smile and take a taste, too.
With older kids, it’s okay to have the “try one bite” rule. We’ve used that with our kids and with my Little Sister, it opens kids up to new flavors, and often they like the food they had decided they wouldn’t like on sight.
We still laugh about the night I introduced brussel sprouts when I did play a bit of a reverse-psychology trick. As I served, I made a big announcement that each kid was only allowed to have one brussel sprout, not a single one more. Well, they liked them and all begged for another! I still get looks from other shoppers when I take my son to the store and he asks, “Mom, can we please get brussel sprouts? Please?” For something green, it doesn’t take more than a request for me to concede.
If you have to take your kids to the grocery store with you, a fun thing to do is to have them find a fruit or vegetable they’ve never had before, haven’t had in a long time, or something they don’t recognize, and bring it home to taste. We’ve tried prickly pears, star fruit and quince this way.
Learning about nutrition has been a bit of a hobby for me and, while I can’t say I love planning and cooking daily meals, I do feel good about feeding my family healthy foods.
I believe in balance and in our body’s strength and inherent ability to heal. Food is medicine and the basis of good health, but I also don’t go crazy. If I feed my family healthfully in general, then I can relax when they indulge at a sleepover party or have an excess of treats at the grandparents. Since I try to avoid buying foods with high fructose corn syrup, I don’t stress when they eat some Halloween candy or a low-nutrition fast food meal as a treat.
Defining regular eating from treats is important, it allows us to not demonize or instill guilt for a sugary, fake-colored cupcake. Savor the treats as a now-and-then item within the bounds of a veggie-fruit-wholegrain-fish-leanmeat-filled diet.
It’s about moderation, and common sense. We eat several vegetables and a salad with most dinners and I throw in a vegetarian dish or two during the week. We eat wholesome, nutritious foods but we don’t eat all organic and we really like white flour pastas. It’s my theory that our bodies don’t need to be pampered, they can handle some of the junk we throw at them, if we do so as the exception, not the rule.
Feeding your family healthfully can begin slowly. Try adding a new grain (we love quinoa), or vegetable (kale chips are another favorite), and offering nutrition-packed options for every meal and snack. Let variety and a colorful plate guide you.