The Goal: Healthy Eating for the Whole Family
“Look! Look what I got you!” I cried, holding up two boxes of Annie’s bunny-shaped macaroni and cheese. My four-year-old, who was sitting at the dinner table, turned around quickly to see what exciting prize his mommy had for him. “Thanks, Mom,” he said, appreciatively and then turned back to his dinner: scrambled eggs and cheddar rolled in a whole-grain tortilla.
“It’s bunny pasta!” I tried, as I put them in the pantry.
My son said, “Mac ‘n’ cheese falls off my fork. That bunny kind falls off my fork.” Seriously? Seriously? Then use a spoon, I thought.
“But you love mac ‘n’ cheese,” I said.
“I like the other kind.”
Kraft vs. Annie’s Macaroni & Cheese
It’s not his fault he loves the other kind. For a while there, I bought Kraft Macaroni & Cheese like it was being eliminated from the marketplace. I’d get it on sale at Safeway or stock up at Costco. It was easy and my son liked it – and that’s kind of where I was at that time with meals for me and my husband, too. If it’s easy and we like it, then it works.
He’s young, I justified, he can eat crap and not get fat. In my heart of hearts, I knew it wasn’t good for him, though. And I also know that the “fat” thing wasn’t really what I was worried about. But sometimes you just push that inner voice down until it’s so quiet you don’t really hear it anymore. I didn’t have time to think about it anyway. Besides, American kids have been eating this stuff for years, and we’re all fine. (Um, no we’re not. How about the highest rates of cancer, heart disease and obesity in history?)
And, c’mon, who was I kidding? We all know nothing good for you is easy. Running is good for you. Is it easy to get your butt out of bed before 7 a.m. on a Saturday for a 10-miler? In the winter?
I’m a copywriter. That means I write copy on packaging to sell products. Want to know what my go-to phrase is? “Fast and easy.” Fast and easy sells. Fast and easy is sexy. Fast and easy appeals to everyone.
Boxed macaroni and cheese is fast and easy. If I’m being really objective, which I try to do, no matter if it’s Annie’s or Kraft, it’s not great. I just choose to buy Annie’s because the ingredients are much less chemically frightening than Kraft’s. Here’s a great article comparing ingredients in the two products on the blog, A Life Less Sweet.
Being Honest with Kids About Food
I’ve developed some quick-mom-thinking skills over the past four years, but this healthy eating thing is a new frontier. I just can’t say I won’t buy “the other kind,” right? He won’t accept that! I need an excuse.
But, overall, I’ve always wanted to be honest with my son. Just the other night we had a serious discussion about age, death, dying, God, Heaven. Those are things not even I fully understand, but he seemed to get them when explained in a simple way. So, I just told him.
“Well, hon, I know you like the other kind, but I am not going to buy it anymore.”
He wanted to know why.
“Because it was making you sick.”
Okay, so maybe that’s a stretch. But it could contribute to making him sick later on in life. That’s where I was going with that. Of course, he thought it meant he would get a cold. “It doesn’t give you a cold, but it hurts your insides. The inside of your body. It’s just not good for you,” I explained.
Here’s the shocker! He totally accepted this.
“Oh,” he said, “That other kind will make me sick and hurt my body, so you’re not going to get it anymore.”
“Yes,” I said. Ohmygod, he gets it! And that was the end of the conversation.
I know not all 4-year-olds are on the same level with things like communication and trust. And not everyone’s working with a 4-year-old. I’m sure, if he was five, this would’ve been a much more difficult conversation – maybe even a fight. But I have always found that just telling kids the truth, maybe even siding with them a little bit (hence, the “I know you like the other kind” I threw in our conversation), usually is the best way to go.
Clean Eating for Kids
I usually make our dinner. My husband and I began eating more cleanly a couple of months ago. Naturally, I want my son to eat better, too. But it’s not easy. Besides the mac ‘n’ cheese, his other favorite food was the cheese roll-ups from Taco Bell. *sigh* Also, our fault. After he started asking for them all the time, I at least, began making them at home, but still with a white flour tortilla and rubbery shredded cheese bought in bulk at Costco.
Since our diet clean-up, though, if he gets a “cheese roll-up” it’s on a whole-grain tortilla, and it’s cheddar cheese and some shredded chicken. Or I throw some black beans in there. Avocados on the side.
Cleaning up my son’s diet hasn’t been nearly as difficult as I thought, though. It’s not fast and easy, but it’s not terribly time consuming either. When I make dinner for me and my husband, I just use the same ingredients in a different way for something for my son. I’m not sure that’s right, but he’s four. His palate is not as refined as ours. He likes bland things.
For example, if we’re having chicken and broccoli, I’ll put his chicken and broccoli on some whole-grain pasta mixed with a little butter and some mozzarella. Done.
One of the easiest ways to improve your and your family’s diet is to just buy only healthy stuff. By healthy stuff, I mean whole grains, real produce, real proteins and real dairy. Cut out the processed crap. You may not want to take your kids with you to the store, at first. If you can’t get to the store without them, buy groceries on Amazon Fresh or get groceries delivered if that’s available where you live. I have a friend who shops at night after her husband is home so she doesn’t need to bring the kiddos. But once you’ve resolved to buy healthy foods, you may actually want to start bringing them with you; involving them in the process of choosing real, whole foods.
Eating Healthy is a Journey
I was guilty there for a while of feeding my son crap while I ate healthy foods. It was just easier! More and more is coming out about the harmful effects of toxic chemicals in our food. And I am just taking notice.
I feel like I’m standing on a little piece of ice in the ocean. It seems really small, but I know that if I were to stick my face in the water, I’d see a giant mountain of an iceberg under me.
What I’m saying is that, eating cleaner is a journey. You can’t go from one extreme to the other. You’re not going to get it fixed right away. I’m certainly not. Just work on it. Work on your and your family’s diets over time. Slowly replace the bad things with good things. Read labels. Read health articles.
We’re just starting out on our health journey, too. In the future, I probably won’t even buy Annie’s macaroni and cheese. Maybe by then he’ll get excited over whole-grain pasta and cheddar!
How do you get your kid(s) to eat healthy foods?
Clean Eating Resources
I’m not an expert on healthy foods. I’m just a mom trying to figure it out. Here are some places to learn more about eating clean for you and your kids:
I can totally relate. I too have a 4 1/2 year old son and he was born with an overstimulated gag reflex, so things like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are a no-no as he will gag from the peanut butter. There goes every moms go-to meal! UGH! He is also VERY reluctant to try new foods, so I feel like he eats the same thing day in and day out. My husband and I are vegetarians, and our son is as well(although if he eats a hot dog or chicken nugget at a friend’s house, we don’t freak out), but that doesn’t mean we are all “healthy.” The 3 of us LOVE chocolate, cookies, and other goodies. My son has oatmeal and a jar of fruit mixed in for breakfast. Or chocolate chip pancakes that I make from a box(I use coconut milk instead of water for a little bit of added benefit). He likes cheese sticks, so I buy organic ones. He loves Morningstar farms foods, although their ingredients lists are kinda long and not that great. I just want him to know that food is fuel and what you eat can affect your mood, your health, etc. I think he is getting it! I wish someone taught me that when I was growing up. I lived on McDonalds and Wendys. 🙁
Great idea mixing something good for you into the pancake batter! My mom tried to be healthy. We never got sugar cereal or anything like that and fast food was pretty rare, but there wasn’t the same awareness then that there is now about using food as fuel. We at a TON of pasta!!!
This is a great post Kerrie! I to am beginning to FINALLY realize what eating clean means and how amazing I feel when doing it (not to mention the added bonus of dropping some pounds). It really is a journey you have to discover for yourself and not have anyone else try to do for you. I’m glad you have found a way to make it work for your whole family…super mom!
Thanks, lady! You do have to just figure it out for yourself, for sure.
I’m struggling with this!! Last weekend I spent hours making home made granola bars, muffins and peanut butter bites. Other than the PB bites, my kids were not impressed. They wanted the Salty Nut Bars from Target, not my healthy homemade bars. I know if I don’t buy junk, the kids can’t eat junk, but sometimes I need something quick and easy.
I have recently found that making things in cute shapes or putting them in fun containers helps my 5 1/2 year old try more things. That might just be a 5 year old girl thing.
Yes! The shape thing helps. My son loves Star Wars-shaped sandwiches. LOL. I wonder if you should try simplifying what you’re making a little bit. That sounds like a lot of work with the homemade granola bars and stuff (but it also sounds delicious!). Maybe try something like apples sliced up with almond butter for snacks or Greek yogurt with a cup of blueberries in it (I buy frozen organic ones from Costco). Packing lunches for school surely adds an extra challenge. But maybe that’s when you break out the bunny pasta.
This is exactly how I started out with my 9yr old – around 3 or so we started him eating meals that were similar to ours. As he got older around 5 or 6 the expectation was that he was to try what we had if I made something that I thought he couldn’t handle, like it was too spicy or not very kid friendly. He had an issue with texture because of a tongue tie so certain things have always been difficult & would trigger his gag reflux. It took many hours sitting at the table with him, getting him to get over his picky ways. But now at the age of 9 he eats anything we eat from sushi to Indian food. We eat pretty clean & he is even starting to pay more attention to his snacks for school & making sure he is pairing a fruit with cheese or something like that. Keep at it, it gets easier & one day you will have a good little eater who eats the rainbow.
Love this! And I do feel a little lucky because my son will usually try what we are eating (if I think he can handle it). He rarely likes it, but he keeps trying. He did like squash, though, so that was a nice surprise!
Love your posts lately, and love reading about your journey to a healthier lifestyle. You really are a great example to Karsen. Just wanted to say I love that Karsen is “reading” Runners World while eating his breakfast. He’s so cute!
I love it that he’s reading a running magazine while eating his breakfast! 🙂
I think every family has their own culture re: what’s expected of their kids at mealtimes. I think you have a nice moderate approach!
Good job on telling your son the truth. I’m sure it is not easy, but he is doing really well! I need to eat more clean as well but have a difficult time to figure it out. It seems everybody has a different theory and it is a little overwhelming. Thanks for the links, I will check them out. I need a simple plan 🙂