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I know you parents can totally relate when it comes to the desire to have better food choices at home and to get your kids to eat healthy, even while at school. When I wrote yesterday about my chocolate chip cookie healthy makeover, it occurred to me that I had not even mentioned the ways I am actively working on implementing overall healthy eating in our home. I’m finally figuring out what is working with my uber-picky four-year-old, and I want to share what is working GREAT for us in hopes this gives at least one other mom a little bit of inspiration.
I have two sons. My older son will eat ANYTHING. He simply does not discriminate over food. But by comparison, my newly-four-year-old might as well be from a different planet because the only things he wants on his plate are factory-made corndogs, frozen chicken nuggets, aaannnd…. Nope, that’s pretty much it! In fact, anything with color offends him. Before I started to figure this out, he couldn’t bear to even SEE a vegetable. If I had a salad, he would run away screaming about how badly it smells. (Salad has an odor?? I didn’t even put any cheese on this!) A dietician relative told me to keep offering him vegetables to go with his corndog at every meal, but he would without comment take his plate from the table and dump the entire thing into the trash can, and then act like nothing happened. As if it was perfectly acceptable to do so! If I told him that there were no nuggets or corndogs for dinner at all, I risked a tantrum that Roald Dahl could only dream that he had thought to write for the terribly spoiled character of Veruca Salt. And much like Veruca’s poor parents, I often caved and decided it was just easier to let him eat what he wanted to eat, and hoped he would someday grow out of it.
A few months back, on one particular day, I went grocery shopping. I first went to the health food store and loaded up on tons of fresh fruits, veggies, and organic meats. This was for me, the super clean eater of the home. Then I went across the street to the huge chain grocery store, and as I was standing in the checkout line, I felt so much shame for the fact that my cart was full of processed cheese/meat combos, frozen waffles, potato chips, white bread, and sugary drinks. (Never soda, though… I always drew the line at soda pop!) I thought about the fresh food waiting for me out in the car, and felt like the hugest hypocrite and enabler. Frankly, I was a drug dealer. I was supplying my kids’ drugs of choice and letting them shovel that crap into their bodies. And all the while it was *I* who had the control.
So here is what I did to makeover even the most picky child’s school lunch.
I stopped BUYING junk food!
If I don’t buy it, where will my kids get it? I decided I would just… stop. I needed to have a plan so that I didn’t feel like I had to fall back on the old plan.
I paid attention to the things that he specifically liked and found a substitute.
He loves a peanut butter sandwich, but what if the bread was suddenly wheat? Shockingly, he didn’t mind!
I took advantage of the clever packaging for kids that even healthy food manufacturers use.
Go ahead and exploit my kids’ desire to eat cute food, companies who make organic applesauce with no high fructose corn syrup. I don’t mind. (Well, sort of.) He still won’t eat a fresh apple, or even eat applesauce from a cup. Only from the cute squeeze packet. And sandwiches on whole wheat bread are apparently super delicious when cut into the shape of a heart or star. When it comes to a toddler, cute equals delicious.
I stopped trying to change everything all at once and introduced one new thing at a time!
I realized my son was much more open-minded to trying ONE new thing when he was getting food he liked and wanted, and wasn’t going to notice when things were SLOWLY being phased out. Not too quickly! I decided that dumping the vegetables in the garbage wasn’t so terrible after all, because I do believe that I need to keep offering and making it seem completely normal that carrots are part of his lunch menu.
I took stock of what his peers are eating.
I once popped into my son’s classroom at the preschool to check out what the kids sitting next to him were eating. To my surprise, the kid across from him was drinking a packet of juice from Honest Kids. (Bye, bye Capri-Sun!) The kid right next to him was dunking carrots into ranch dressing, and he was doing it with such gusto, his fingers were getting completely coated in the dressing as well. It was amazing! It gave me hope that my son would be interested in doing what his friends were doing. Peer pressure can sometimes be a very good thing!
I let him help me prepare his food.
I thought it would freak him out to let him pack his lunches with me. Or even when we made those healthy Paleo chocolate chip cookies. But he was much more interested in the food that he had prepared than the food I had prepared when he wasn’t present. I’m especially careful to talk enthusiastically about each ingredient going in.
I stopped lecturing him about his food choices.
The less importance I put on him eating healthy, the less he resisted. I educate him on the benefits of healthy food, but then I step back and don’t pressure him, and he will almost always surprise me with his good choices! Sometimes kids just want to think it’s their idea, their choice, and I’m going to let him.
Progress, not perfection.
We’re not 100% there yet obviously, but we’ve already made huge leaps and bounds. I just know that if I am feeding him good food, his body is going to react the way my body reacts to good food. It’s going to stabilize his mood. It’s going to give him boundless energy. It’s going to keep depression and anxiety from creeping into his life. It’s going to help him sleep better. I strictly breastfed him solely for the first six months of his life, and continued to supplement with breastmilk (along with his solid food, of course!) until he was 2 and a half! I cared SO MUCH about him getting the best nutrition, why wouldn’t I fight to get him back on track now? This is how much I love him!
Food substitutions that work!
I found that these particular items are what made all the difference for my son and his lunch makeover.
Pirate’s Booty: A great healthy substitute for Cheetos or other potato chips! This is also one of my “please be quiet in church” staples!
Bottled Water: This should be in every kid’s backpack whether they bring a lunch from home, or buy it at school. Proper hydration is so important! Bonus points for the moms who wisely purchase a BPA-free water bottle for kids to refill every day. (I have that at the top of my to do list, and by the time this is published, I will already have some for my boys.)
Honest Kids Certified Organic Fruit Juice: Straight up fruit juice, that’s it.
Deli meat and cheese: Check those labels and get good quality meats and cheeses. This is a great alternative to the overly-processed cheese and meat combos, something my son really loved having in his lunchbox.
Applesauce Packets: There are several brands who make these totally convenient packets of applesauce, but check those labels because some brands try to sneak in high fructose corn syrup! Ascorbic Acid is a common ingredient, and that is OK. It’s Vitamin C and is used to keep the apples from turning brown.
String Cheese: My son likes this for the fun factor. Always a winner.
Sandwiches: (Not pictured.) My son will happily eat whole wheat bread so long as it is a sandwich cut into cute shapes!
I mean, how cute are these sandwich cutters by Munchkin??
I rest my case.
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