As a teenager I became aware that my grandparents and great-grandparents were being diagnosed with diabetes and beginning to have heart issues, but I didn't pay much attention. They were getting older, after all, and isn't that just what happened? It sounds callous, I know, but I assumed it was a normal effect of the aging process.
Fast forward about ten years. I was pregnant with our first child, working full-time, and preparing for a move. Everything was busy and happy and wonderful, so imagine my surprise when my glucose test came back iffy. I might have gestational diabetes. Due to testing issues, they couldn't tell for certain, but the possibility was very real.
Suddenly I had to eat differently, and in doing so, I learned a lot about the way that we should eat. I began to see those diagnoses as more than an eventual possibility but a definite outcome. To improve my own health and help my children avoid these diseases altogether, our family set off on a simple healthy eating journey.
Here are a few ways you can help your children make healthy food choices - and like them.
He says that cleaning carrots is the best job ever.
1. Get your children involved.
When you're personally invested in something, you naturally care more about it. If you want your children to be interested in a particular food - or food in general - get them involved. There are lots of kitchen tasks that even very young children can do. From snapping beans or de-stemming berries to peeling carrots, food prep is a task that the whole family can enjoy.
2. Limit sugar, fat, and preservatives.
God created food to taste good. Many vegetables are much sweeter than we realize - but when our taste buds become used to foods with lots of fat and sugar, we don't taste those natural yummy flavors. If you indulge in lots of processed food, don't be discouraged as you begin to cut back. Give your taste buds time to adjust, and that goes for your kids, too. You're in charge of what your kids eat, so make lots of good things available to them and limit the bad stuff.
3. Start young.
If your children grow up liking spinach and broccoli, then won't they like them when they're older? Toss out the idea of 'kid food' and feed your children what you eat. They don't need their own kiddie frozen dinners and chicken nugget options if you make reasonable meals available to them from a young age.
With that in mind, kids do tend to like bland food best. If you're eating chili or some other hot and spicy dish, it may be best to give them a less-spicy version.
4. Make food fun.
We're always being told that we shouldn't play with our food, and of course, I want my children to use good manners; but as long as they don't shove noodles in their ears at the Cheesecake Factory, I think a little bit of playing at home is okay. (My most fun and favorite meal ever was when we all tried to eat Japanese food with chopsticks. I've never laughed so hard at mealtime.) Maybe you can have 'foodie playtime' when you use certain plates or only at lunch, but the options are endless. Just think:
- fruit pizza faces
- veggie kabobs
- mashed potato mountains and lima bean skiers
- Go Bento! This Japanese tradition of using shaped food items and incorporating lots of color is great for kids. If you don't have a Bento box, you could create your own or use a small muffin tin.
We love eating parfaits made with low-sugar yogurt,
fresh fruit, and granola for breakfast.
5. Keep food simple.
As we said before, most kids aren't born with highly sophisticated palates, so heavy wine sauces (while not good for them) probably aren't going to be a favorite, at least right off the bat. Stick with simple meals - lots of sliced raw veggies, roasted vegetables, or simple stir fries. Try roasting and grilling veggies to add subtleties to their natural flavors, or make your favorite meals in a new way - try grilling instead of baking your pizza tonight, for example. Make light sauces available for dipping - who doesn't love a good dip?
My family loved this popcorn with white chocolate.
Add nuts and raisins to boost the fiber and vitamins!6. Start small.
If your family isn't exactly thrilled with the idea of eating differently, make subtle changes. Buy white wheat flour instead of white. Mix white and brown rice, or white and whole wheat pasta. Swap out half of the ground beef in your favorite tacos for ground turkey; they'll still taste rich and meaty but without all the fat and cholesterol. Then start to add in new flavors - add beans to those tacos, eliminate the white rice and pasta, and add spinach to your tomato sauces. By making small changes slowly, your family won't miss their old sugary foods - and they'll love the new, healthier options.