It's far too easy to fall into the trap of convenience foods when we have tiny humans to care for. Not only do they Never. Stop. Eating, but each meal and snack comes with the risk of a meltdown or temper tantrum worthy of crime scene tape and law enforcement. I know of a few husbands who operate in a similar manner, so use this guide for all the "kids" in your life, regardless of their age.
While it is extremely critical to provide your children with the proper foundation in nutrition to help them thrive and grow, it's also essential to encourage their exploration and adaptation of healthy habits that will remain with them come the days of independence and their own efforts at raising your grandkids.
Nothing has to happen overnight. Nothing will happen overnight. BUT when it does, you will feel like you have achieved parental sainthood. Mastery of kids who eat and like vegetables allows you to be revered and adored on a lot of levels.
Over the next several months, provide choices, be adventurous, be consistent, stand up for what you know is right, and lead by example. Did I mention be consistent?
Ready to get real? Let's do this.
Stop right there. I don't care if it's whole grain or organic. Cereal = candy. Talk about starting your day off on a sugar high. The refined flours and high sugar content (sometimes as high as 49%!) provide your children with a sugar crash and dip in energy before they even open their books.
Fix: High fat granola with unsweetened vanilla almond milk, Greek yogurt or fruit for brain power, fill power and sustained energy. Or make your own oatmeal with fruit, nuts, and berries or nut butter and a few dark chocolate chips.
Without the fiber and nutrients provided when you actually eat fruit instead of drink it, juice might as well be soda. One glass of OJ has approximately 21g of sugar. That means one glass has more sugar than your kiddo should have the whole day.
Fix: Offer water and fresh fruit instead.
3. Chocolate Milk
Perhaps you are growing weary of my continued finger-pointing but again, too much sugar. Even drinking too much fat-free milk can lead to weight gain and obesity as the fat in regular milk has been replaced with - you named it - sugar.
Add chocolate to fat-free milk and we're talking upwards of 22g in one cup. I don't know about you, but I'd rather focus my calcium efforts elsewhere and skip my kid's ride on the sugar rollercoaster.
The Dairy Council and all the subsidies in place want you to believe that milk is critical for our children. And I am here to tell you there are many (healthier) foods that provide calcium and support healthy bones other than milk.
Fix: Broccoli, carrots, dark leafy greens, sweet potatoes, quinoa, beans, almonds...all have calcium and a host of other nutrients without all the toxic sweeteners.
I don't care how busy you are, this is not lunch. Or food. This plastic, compartmentalized array of highly processed foods needs to be avoided. Don't give in to the cacophony at the grocery store. This lunch is full of nothing but sodium, sugar, preservatives, crappy protein sources, trans fats, highly processed and refined grains and dozens of artificial ingredients.
If you don't have the time to pack lunches, have your kids do it for themselves. They should be doing it anyway.
Fix: Buy bento boxes and make your own Lunchables. Create a list of ingredients your kids need to follow when packing their lunch.
5. Goldfish and other empty carb snacks
Want to know why your 9-year old can eat a whole bag of Goldfish and still feel famished? Simple: there's no fill power and few nutrients in these snacks.
Fix: Truth be told, my daughters still have access to carb snacks. The rule in our house is in order to access the pantry (for their ONE serving of Annie's cheddar bunnies or olive oil potato chips), they know the first pit stop is the fridge for a handful of the vegetable du jour. That way they still get what they want, but I do too. Win/win.
And please, do not allow these kind of snacks in lunches! Take advantage of your captive audience and only provide them healthy foods at lunch. They can look forward to snacks at snack time.
Let's be honest, we both know I could go on and on...and on about what foods are unfairly marketed to our children and what ingredients should never touch their lips. But I also get it. There has to be a starting point in shifting habits and introducing healthier meals. And there is always rooms for treats. No one wins if life is too extreme and it certainly won't last.
Our food choices have to go beyond convenience and catering to Tiny Bossy Pants. Our responsibility in raising these future CEOs, Professors, Teachers and Nurses is to pave the easiest road possible so their efforts at success reach much further than the scale.
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