Hello Little Hip Squeaks readers, thank you for having me! Amy asked me to write some advice and helpful tips for getting kids and families eating a bit healthier, and I'm excited to share what I know with you all. I am not a registered dietitian or a medical professional, but I am a mother interested in feeding my family the best food I can, and have become quite a sleuth when it comes to researching anything "health food" related.
I have 3 children, including 1 extremely picky eater. I've managed to get him, for the most part, unhooked off of McDonald's chicken nuggets, Nutella and CheezIts. I have a weekly column on Babble covering our misadventures leading a healthier lifestyle, called Gwyneth Made Me Do It, and I also share our journey on my Instagram account by the same name, and my own blog For The Love Of.
It's been just over 6 months since I took an axe to my family's diet, and chopped out most of the crud we were eating on a regular basis. I began cleaning up my own diet a couple of months prior to that, and what I eventually came to realize, after learning what I did about how our food was made and what it was made of, I couldn't clean up my own diet without also cleaning up theirs. At first I started slowly, but eventually I started making some drastic changes, including the elimination of all fast food and purging at least half of our pantry.
It wasn't and isn't always easy, but I'm really proud of how far we've come.
I am often asked where to begin, and what steps to take to get a family on track for eating better. I could write a list of ideas on how to do just that, but today I just want to talk about the big picture thought process, that has helped us as a family, get to where we are and maintain it.
We all want a step-by-step process to follow, but I've found that it's best to first think of this as a long journey that requires a mind shift to help carry you through this somewhat arduous road. Here are a few things to consider, when thinking about getting your family to eat better.
Strive for balance: When we started out, we ate somewhat healthily at home, but we definitely had a steady supply of overly-processed snack foods, and when dining out or at parties and events, it was a free for all. Candy, cake, cookies, chips, we ate it all and set somewhat loose limits. We never wanted to be "those parents." Instead of drastically changing every single aspect of our lives, especially for the kids, we now strive for eating very, very healthily at home, we limit the places we dine out at - including no fast food, and this then allows us to not sweat the small stuff when out with family and friends. This includes parties, play dates and dinner parties. We don't demand perfection of ourselves, and we certainly don't demand it of family and friends. It's all about balance.
Allow snacks, just change them: People automatically assume we have cut out all processed snack foods, and we definitely have not, we have just changed the type of snack foods we eat. We stick to either organic labels or brands which use limited ingredients and expeller pressed oils which have not been chemically processed. Cleaning up your diet doesn't mean you just have to eat fruits and veggies and grains for the rest of your life. Some of the new, healthier snacks I bring home don't always go over so well, and that's okay. If one of the kids passes on a healthier snack option when they claim to be hungry before a meal time, it lets me know that they aren't all that hungry, or they opt for another healthy option like fruit or carrot sticks. Limiting the types of snack foods we bring into the house has actually worked like a charm, and has naturally cut down on the mindless snacking just to snack.
Don't be afraid to draw hard and fast lines: When it comes to feeding our children, we're often told to not make a big deal out of meal time and force them to eat certain foods. While I agree, I don't think we should be afraid to stop them from eating certain foods we believe to be unhealthy for them. Don't forget that we're the parents, and my son is living proof that they won't starve if you take away the chicken nuggets and gummy fruit snacks.
Educate them: Showing our kids how to care for themselves and their bodies by teaching them about food and nutrition is one of the biggest ways we can empower them for a lifetime of self-care. Tailor the language, length and topic to the child's age, but don't be afraid to have honest and real conversations with your kids, about how their bodies work, and what they need to feel and work their best.
Get them involved: One of the most sure-fire ways to get my kids to try a new food, is to get them involved in prepping the meal. Whether it be something as simple as washing the vegetables or stirring the pot, getting them involved gets them interested in the food, and gives them a sense of pride. If they feel invested in it, chances are, they'll want to take part in the finished product. The other day my kids helped me make veggie wontons. My daughter loved them, but my son, not so much. But he at least tried them, something he would have definitely refused to do unless he had helped to make them. Don't be afraid of the extra mess, I promise it's worth it in the end.
I've really found that the key to our success has been this flexible attitude. The aim is not perfection, but improvement. Setting rules and strict guidelines, in my opinion, is a sure fire way to set yourself up for failure. The best approach for us has been to take this journey in baby steps, because little changes here and there, all add up to big changes over the course of time.
Good luck to you all, and please let me know if you have any questions.