How I Got My Kid To Eat Healthy Food
If you’ve ever watched my stories on social media, you’ve probably seen pictures of the food I eat in a day. I realize these stories are not the most exciting thing to watch about my day, and by no means do I feel like anyone really cares what I eat lol… BUT, as a nutritionist/trainer, one of the most frequent questions I am asked is “What should I eat?” or “What do you eat?” So I decided to just start snapping a pic of what I typically eat in a day, from time to time… after all, I practice what I preach when it comes to nutrition and exercise. So, why not be an example… instead of preachy. 😉
My meals mainly consist of organic vegetables, organic grass fed beef & free range chicken and eggs, healthy fats like grass fed butter and avocado, and some slow digesting carbs. My meals are simple to prepare, but they are still delicious – food doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated to taste great. My food pics aren’t as captivating as food bloggers, who make extravagantly beautiful meals, perfectly plated, in the perfect lighting. No, they are pretty basic… but, that’s real life. So, even though the food isn’t always mouthwatering to look at, it tastes delicious, and it’s healthy… which is what matters.
Left: Kiddo’s Meal Right: My Meal
One of the excuses I hear most about healthy eating is “I don’t have time to cook.” Listen, I am a single mom, who works long hours everyday. I’m at work before sunrise, and I usually get home around sunset. If I don’t have healthy, prepared food available for me and my daughter to eat… healthy food does not get eaten. 😉 So, I batch cook proteins and loads of veggies on the weekend. It usually takes me about 90 minutes to prepare all of our cooked foods for the week. Then, throughout the week these foods are heated up as a single serving, and I add healthy fats and spices and seasonings to taste. I’ll also add fruits, and quickly prepped things, like guacamole, as sides throughout the week as well. It takes about 5-10 minutes per meal to heat up, and add any extras (like guac). This method is the only way I have found where I can consistently eat healthy, on a daily basis.
The next most frequent question I get after “What do you eat?” is “Does your kid eat all of those vegetables?”
Yep. She sure does. 🙂
Is this because I was gifted with some super healthy kid, that loves to eat vegetables?
My kid did not grow up eating healthy, like she does today. Nope, she started out on a pretty typical American diet. It wasn’t the worst, unhealthiest foods available. We’ve never really been fast food people, but her diet did consist of it’s fair share or mac and cheese, chicken nuggets, pizza, fries, etc. until she was about 8 or 9 years old.
So, how did I change this?
I quit feeding her that stuff. In fact, I quit buying that stuff altogether…. because it’s not food. Mac and cheese is not food. Cereal is not food. Fruit snacks are not food. Pretty much all of the packaged foods in the middle of the grocery store is not food. It is food-like substances, marketed to us as food. Food is supposed to nourish us. It’s supposed to provide us with not only macronutrients (Calories, carbohydrates, fats, and protein), but also micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, etc) that keep us healthy. Packaged foods are not designed this way. They are mass produced, at the cheapest cost, to provide the biggest profit. They are Calorie dense, but lacking in the micronutrients that keep us healthy. This is why you can be overweight, but still be deficient in certain vitamins and minerals.
What changed all of this? Well, to be honest it was a change in my diet. A few years ago I started experiencing health problems, which made me change my perspective on food and nutrition. It suddenly wasn’t about Calories, now it was how I could nourish my body so it could heal. Initially I didn’t change my daughter’s diet. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but as I was filling my plate with organic vegetables, I was frequently feeding her Ramen Noodles or other foods that were completely void of nutrition. I was so focused on getting my health back, that I knew I needed to focus on my nutrition… kinda like putting the oxygen mask on myself first. She needed a mom, and I figured “she’s healthy, so it’s not as important for her”. So untrue. In reality, it’s probably MORE important for her to eat healthy than for me. SHE’S the one who is still growing and developing. Her organ systems, including her brain, hormones, etc. aren’t fully developed yet. The body that she is building will be determined by the foods she eats today. She can grow into a healthy, thriving adult… or she can grow into an adult with health problems, weight problems, mental problems and feeling less than optimal.
Kiddo’s meal of veggies, organic meat, and healthy fats
So, I made the decision for her which path she would take – thriving and healthy, and I changed her eating habits for her. Some would argue that this is cruel or controlling or whatever… but, it’s not. I’m simply teaching her the proper way to eat. I’m teaching her about nutrition. I’m teaching her healthy habits that (hopefully) will last a lifetime. Yes, as an adult she will have the choice of how she wants to live her life, but just like everything else, teaching my kid how to eat healthy is my job as a parent. No one thinks it’s cruel or controlling to teach your kid how to read, or how to do math. No, everyone agrees that these are necessary things to learn to be successful in this world, But, when it comes to food there is a weird stigma around it. I believe part of the reason for this stigma is we, as a society, have completely lost the perspective of what food is – food is fuel for our bodies. Our bodies cannot run indefinitely without it. Food was made to keep us alive, but somewhere along the way we decided that food = pleasure. Now I’m not saying that food is not pleasurable… as we all know it is, myself included. But, that is not the primary reason we have food available on this planet. God provided it to us to nourish us… the fact that He made it pleasurable is just a bonus. (Thank God for that! Literally!) 😉 So, just like with most of the good things God gave us, we’ve gone to the extreme seeking pleasure 100% of the time when it comes to what we put on our plates. This is where dysfunction comes into how we eat. Instead of seeing food for what it is – fuel for our bodies – we see it as something to make us experience pleasure, something to control, something to idolize. These are not the ways I want my kid to grow up looking at food, as I know, first hand, it does not develop a healthy relationship with food or healthy eating habits for life. So, I decided to teach my kid what food is for – to make us healthy. Not everything we eat is for pleasure. Yes, it can all taste good, but it needs to serve a purpose beyond taste. The primary purpose for each meal needs to be to provide our bodies with the nutrients that it needs. It’s okay to OCCASIONALLY eat something purely for pleasure… even I would love to have the brownie instead of the broccoli. I’m human. But, first we focus on health.
There are so many things we do in life that are necessary so we can experience the pleasurable things too. For instance… I love my job, but I don’t want to go there everyday… but, being a responsible adult I still go there on days I don’t want to because I want to pay my bills. I love working out, but I don’t want to everyday… but, because I value my health I make sure to get movement in each day. I don’t always want to eat my vegetables, but I do it everyday so I can be healthy and thrive in every area of my life. We do the things necessary in so many other aspects of our lives, so we can live a full life that includes pleasure, but for some reason, when it comes to food, people feel it is restrictive to primarily focus on health instead of pleasure. But, to be able to show up fully in this life, you have to have your health.
I know this is not a popular opinion, but it’s not even my opinion. In my Dietetics program we had an entire course over childhood nutrition. It was taught to us that a kid will eat the foods that we expose to them. If you want your kid to eat healthy, you have to provide healthy foods to them. It was taught to us that it can take 10 times of exposure for a kid to develop a taste for a vegetable… I can tell you from experience, that is true. Over and over my daughter would turn up her nose at the different vegetables I gave to her, but eventually she has learned to like them…. for the most part… brussel sprouts are still the one thing we argue about, but I still make her try them from time to time… eventually I will win this battle. Eventually. 😉 Now, I offer her multiple vegetable choices at each meal, and I let her choose a couple. Another trick I used in the beginning was I let my daughter cook the vegetables. She felt a sense of pride in cooking them, so she wasn’t about to declare that the food she worked so hard on was gross… nope, she said it was good… then she adapted a taste for them, so now she’ll eat them even when I cook them.
Kiddo made herself a green smoothie
So, just like we (hopefully) teach our kids that they have to work for their success in life, we need to teach our kids to value themselves, and their health, to make healthy decisions in life. Because if you think that your kid will magically grow up and suddenly start eating healthy simply because they’re an adult – wrong. The way they will eat is a learned behavior… just like it’s a learned behavior for us. So, if you are struggling yourself to eat healthy, just know that you’re passing on your struggles to your kid for the rest of their life too… unless, YOU change your behaviors, as well. We all know that kids won’t do what we say, unless we do it ourselves. So, start valuing yourself, and your health, enough to make healthy decisions. It is more important than your waistline… it determines your health, your kid’s health, their kid’s health, and so on… you have the power to stop unhealthy behaviors right now. It was a process, but today my kid knows she is to eat vegetables at lunch and dinner. (Still working on breakfast) 😉 It took a good 9 months or so of arguing at dinner to make her eat her vegetables, but eventually it became the norm for her. I did not give her any other options. Either she ate what was on her plate, or she didn’t eat. Even the most stubborn kids will eventually give in and eat… BUT, you cannot have the junk available. That crap is not food. It is marketing. A kid does not need mac and cheese to have a good childhood. A kid does not need cereal to have a good childhood. A kid does not need soda to have a good childhood. That is all marketing sold to us to make us as parents feel like we’re providing our kids with love. Food is not love. Food is food.
Stick with it. It was a process, and there are still (occasionally) days where she argues about eating vegetables, but it’s worth it. She is healthy, happy, and thriving… I know she’s building healthy habits for life. Hopefully her struggles in the future will be fewer than mine because of the healthy habits she is developing now.
If you are struggling to get your kids to eat healthy first look at your diet… if you aren’t walking the walk, don’t expect them it from them. They will do as they see. Don’t buy packaged foods. Don’t even bring it into the house. If it is there on hand your kids will eat it… you will eat it. Decide right now to eat REAL FOOD. Leave the junk food for special occasions out. Finally, find the best way for you to prepare your food yourself. Figure out the system that works best for you to always have healthy food on hand… don’t wait until you’re starving to think about preparing healthy food. Batch cook food to have available at all times… and choose to eat it! You health, and your kids’ health, is up to you. You decide with every bite you take whether you are building your body stronger, or tearing it down. Value your health. Value yourself. Teach your kids that they are valuable too, and they deserve to live long, healthy lives.
To you and your family’s health,