People always ask me how I get my kids to eat so well. The truth is the way we get our kids to eat well is to simply model the behavior for them. They do what we do and if 'good' food is what's around and available most of the time, that's what they will eat. To get kids to eat well you must create a culture in your home of whole real foods. In a nutshell, create a healthy food culture and they'll eat it. Just go ahead and talk about food! Watch videos together, learn together, watch documentaries, listen to podcasts, read books and if all else fails, message me on social media! I’m always happy to discuss healthy eating and would love to receive your questions, comments, updates or whatever you’d like to share with me! To be completely honest, if parents from other cultures or parts of the world were to read this article, they’d likely be confused; solely because they don’t have a problem getting their kids to eat “real food.” This is an issue that is particularly endemic in the U.S. Many other cultures practice food gratitude. The food that shows up on the table is simply the food that’s eaten. As a result, these parents don’t have to worry about the meltdowns, complaints and all out stand-offs that arise purely because their child's plate doesn't have star cut outs, pizza, chicken fingers or burgers on it. They feed their children the modest, local foods of their culture (yes, this includes veggies); in turn, their kids eat the foods they’re given. There’s a lot we can learn from these cultures. Ultimately, this shows that our kid’s relationship with “real foods” is directly associated with our our parenting and child-care skills. We, as parents, have to be willing to put on our “big-kid pants.” This means that we create boundaries and foster an environment where our kids learn to eat for nourishment, fulfillment and preventative healthcare rather than for entertainment or emotional comfort. The cool part is that creating a healthy food culture in your home can be incredibly fun and rewarding! Speak to your family about why food is important. Explain to them how food — especially whole, healthy foods — can affect their body. Describe what has happened to our food sources and how the way we obtain our food affects the environment. Inform them about food waste and its resulting implications on other people and our ecosystem. This will help your family understand the transitions and choices you want to implement in the house. It will also help your children develop a care for their bodies and the world around them. Kids are ridiculously smart. I guarantee they will ask incredible questions and summarize it more beautifully then we could even hope to. Once they understand the why behind their change in lifestyle, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your kids will hop on the bandwagon — and you won’t even have to 'convince' them. Careful, you may even earn yourself an accountability partner for your own food choices. ;)
Developing a healthy food culture for your kiddos:
- Be grateful: Talk to your kids about being grateful for the food that they have. Explain, without shame, how some kids and people aren't as blessed to have the resources we have in terms of food. A moment of thanks around food absolutely changes the entire experience. Because we have ample resources, we've become ambivalent or flat out spoiled with our choices. By incorporating more whole foods, you create a culture of respect for your body as well as for where the food came from. Consider creating a moment of thanks before you eat at least one meal every day. Whether it's a prayer, a word, or just a simple silent 'thanks' before you eat; a moment of pause can do wonders.
- Learn the power of real whole food: All bodies are built to eat what comes from the earth. Our systems thrive on 'real' foods. Talk with your kids about how foods from the earth, that aren't messed with or laden with chemicals, feed your brain and make you smarter and more focused. Talk about how whole real foods make you stronger and leaner and yes, flat out happier because your system is working the way it should. Talk about how healthier food prevents sickness.
- Ditch refined sugars : Refined sugars are simply toxic in large amounts and small amounts long term—especially for smaller bodies. I talk to my kids constantly about what sugars do to them and what makes them thrive vs. invite sickness. I ask them how they want to feel and yes, my kiddos now know what happens to them and how they feel when they eat bad foods (they feel bad!). We talk about balance and 80/20 percentages of clean healthy eating with some fun thrown in. We know that the 'fun' foods don't do a single positive thing for our system; and we don't overdo them because they will make us sick - if not immediately, then in the long run. You and your kids don't need to be perfect. My kids still eat sugar, but definitely consider cutting down and aiming for “real sweet” versus “sugar sweet.”
- Food isn’t meant to entertain: Food is so much more than entertainment. Your kids may not totally 'get it' right away but over time, this mentality builds respect for food as fuel, nourishment, health care and protection, rather than soothing, entertainment and distraction.
- Sit down to eat:Aim for at least one meal in the day or a couple of times a week that you all can sit down together to eat, not in front of a TV or iPad etc. There are reams of articles on how eating together is one of the simplest and most effective ways to create lifelong family bonds and healthy eating habits. Focusing on a meal rather than everything else is mindful and healthy no matter how you explain it.
- Swap snacks: I'm big on the concept of #betterisbetter. Small swaps make a big impact. Start with cleaner versions of your kids’ snacks. Trade gold fish for rice crackers or regular chips for roasted seaweed snacks or try potato chips made with coconut or olive oil. Offer your own carrot sticks, celery, sliced apples, grapes or raisins instead of packaged ones. Trade sugary juices for water, coconut water and herbal iced teas.
- Let them choose: Offer up choices (all of which you approve of) and let them pick two veggies or fruits to eat. Give them power and decision making tools. I'm a giant fan of batch cooking for this reason. I lay out three to five veggie options for dinner and ask them to pick at least two. The stress factor goes way down with this technique. When you only offer good stuff, that's what they'll eat. When they complain about missing the 'other' choices, let them. Listen to them. Be patient and let them know this is the food you're having for that meal. If they're hungry, they will eat. If they are stubborn, eventually they will learn. Food is about nourishment and fuel, not entertainment.
- Don't give up: It takes at least 20 'tastes' before you can really know if you like something or not. Sometimes taste buds can't taste things quite yet. The more accustomed a palate is to sugars and salts, the less likely that body will think it “likes” real foods. The amazing thing about a body is that as you wean the junk out of your body, taste buds change. You and your kids start to crave the good stuff. It's a process, but you have to keep offering up a taste of things so they become more open to foods in general. When my kids were younger we implemented a “yes or no” bite. We'd put a small bite of something on their plate that they were required to taste it; then they could take a moment and say “yes” or “no, thank you” to it. They didn't have to eat more of it and we went on. It was simply an exercise in exploration and tasting.
- Start with smoothies: Smoothies are fun and nutrient-dense. You don't have to do much 'doctoring' and things that are sweet are always pretty easy to convince people to try. All of these are winners with my kids. They are blends of fruit and veggie and you can easily slip some green (any kind). You can also turn any smoothie into a cold sweet treat like a popsicle or little ice cubes. You can start to wean your kids to these sugar-filled treats in the summer rather than the refined sugar versions we typically find in the grocery store (and, yes, that often includes the “healthy” ones that you find there).
The recipes below are nothing but real fruits. Always aim for as much organic produce as you can. The source of your food truly matters, but again, do what you can! Get #inthekitchen with me. Get honest about what you're willing to do or learn in order to get results in your household #betterisbetter. I support all positive steps and will never talk from the perspective of “guilting” you! It is absolutely not about that. A life you love is about making empowered decisions that work for you and yours. There is no perfect, but there is certainly #better.
- 1/2 banana
- 5 oz coconut water or water
- 1/2 cup raw organic carrots
- 1/2 cup frozen organic beets
- 1/2 teaspoon raw honey
- 1/2 - 1 teaspoon collagen
Directions: In a blender, combine the ingredients. Pour and enjoy!
- 3/4 cup Orange Juice (fresh if you can, no added sugar)
- 5 baby carrots
- 1/2 cup frozen peach
- 1/2 cup frozen mango
Directions: In a blender, combine the ingredients. Pour and enjoy!