I should say Clean-er Eating. And I should start with the following disclosure: my 7-year-old son took Triscuits to school for lunch today…and has almost every day this school year. I would like to say that my children go to school with vegetables and hummus, whole wheat pitas filled with egg-salad made with homemade mayonnaise, fresh cut fruit, and plain yogurt drizzled with pure maple syrup. But they do not.
So rest assured, there are no judgements here. I eat bad things sometimes, and my children (guilt) eat them even more often. I keep Oreos in the cabinet for birthday parties (my kids can’t eat cake at parties due to allergies), they eat Goldfish regularly, and the bread we usually buy, although whole wheat, is not perfect.
I have made and continue to make changes gradually. In addition to my Clean Eating Tweaks, these are some kid-specific things I do…
- I stopped buying Wheat Thins because the ingredient list is a little long. I only buy Triscuits now- 3 ingredients and I recognize them all! They love Ritz, but they only get them at friends’ houses or at Grandma’s:)
- My guys aren’t big macaroni and cheese eaters, but I never buy Kraft anymore; when we do have it I make it homemade with whole wheat pasta (and I keep a box of Annie’s organic in the cabinet in case they have a friend over or something and I have to make it in a pinch).
- I stopped buying microwave popcorn and use the air popper or pop it in coconut oil on the stove. If I want it faster I’ll put some in a brown paper bag and pop it in the microwave.
- My kids love turkey bacon. I know it’s not a superfood, but we have it every week. I buy the kind made without nitrates or nitrites. And when my mom buys me a four-pack of turkey bacon from Costco, nitrates or not, we eat it.
- Breakfast can be a big headache when I have to persuade or discuss options! So, my son likes Rice Krispies. The regular brand (aside from being void of any nutritional value) has BHT in it…I’m a little fuzzy on the details but I know it’s a preservative, it’s bad and it’s banned in other countries. So I buy him the Trader Joe’s rice crispies. Yes, they are void of nutritional value as well, but they have no BHT. One day I’m hoping he’ll move on, but in the meantime he is a delight in the morning.
- Autumn Wheat (made by Kashi) is a good breakfast option- and is delicious with a little cinnamon sprinkled on top. I always have this in for breakfast and it’s good as a snack too. All four of my kids will eat it if push comes to shove…two out of four eat it willingly and even happily. The day might be coming when this is the only cereal option! But I’ll wait for summertime to try that out…
- Toast is good, too, if you have good bread…which can be hard to find. Lately I’ve been buying bakery bread from the supermarket. It’s near the deli counter and has very few ingredients. It doesn’t stay soft as long as the other bread, but my kids love it toasted.
- We use Polaner All Fruit instead of jelly. It’s really all fruit. Not as nutritious as eating the grapes themselves, but better than Smucker’s.
- I use whole wheat pasta all the time, as well as whole wheat bread crumbs.
- When I bake I use as much whole wheat flour as I can, and I’ll use sugar alternatives like coconut sugar or turbinado.
- I just put fruit and vegetables out on the kitchen table more. I am still a little surprised that it can be that simple to get them to eat more healthy food! Just make it easily available.
I think feeding children is one of the most difficult parts of parenting, especially in the early years. And it’s touchy. It can be an area of judgement, a reflection of your parenting. But like most other things you mess up along the way, it can be fixed…or at least made better. My older son had rice krispies for breakfast, triscuits for lunch, and ground turkey for dinner. Meanwhile my younger son had kefir and whole wheat toast for breakfast, sunflower seeds and granola for lunch, and turkey chili- including beans and lots of veggies- for dinner. He also snacked on raw veggies and fruit during the day. Maybe he’ll be the one going to school with hummus in five years…
I just think eating clean makes sense and it is the way I try to eat most of the time. I still use white flour in baking…but I do bake. And I feel like baking stuff is better than buying boxed stuff. So while I try to use whole wheat flour more and more, I use white flour so my kids will eat what I bake.
And I ask that you don’t judge me either! Not as a cook, not as a mom. I royally screwed up the whole feeding thing about 9 years ago, and have been trying to fix it ever since. But I’m doing my best, and I’m not letting meal times turn into crying sessions and fights. I go back and forth between philosophies, but it’s all a struggle. I wish I knew then what I know now, but can’t we say that about most things in life? So I have stopped berating myself (most days) and ask that you refrain from berating me too.
We have made progress. Last night, my pickiest eater (I know I shouldn’t label him picky- that’s probably part of the problem) ate baked cajun chicken over salad. And tried cauliflower. Last week he tried salmon. And kinda liked it. I feel like the sky has opened up and let the sun shine down…
But he still took Triscuits to school for lunch.
There have been times I said I was just going to send him to school with a healthy lunch, because that’s my job as his mother. My job was to provide a healthy, well-balanced lunch. If he didn’t eat it- too bad. But guess what? He didn’t eat it. For days, then weeks. And I got sick of throwing out sandwiches (other kinds of guilt there)…and sick of feeling sad thinking of him at school, hungry. Even if he is a pain in the butt about food. So I caved. Now I send him to school with a monkey muffin and milk, Triscuits, and Smart Food popcorn. No veggies or hummus in sight.
I try to be firm at dinner, and I don’t make pre-packaged chicken nuggets any more even though they love them. They eat what my husband and I eat more and more often. Sometimes they do have toast or crackers and cheese, though. I try to make things that are healthy and that they like a few times a week- so we eat meatballs more often than I might like to:)
I know and love a lot of parents who make one thing for dinner and always have. They never let their kids eat something else, much less cook something separate. I admire them. I don’t cook separate meals, but I am guilty of letting them have alternatives. I think it stems from feeding my oldest. She was probably ready to eat regular food long before I tried giving them to her. I chalk it up to lack of experience, lack of persistence, and being a big softie. But I am working to make positive changes and I will not let those perfect food parents make me feel inferior any longer!
My hope is that by setting a good example for my children, and showing them what it means to eat healthy, I’ll be setting them up for a healthy adulthood with good habits. And when they have children I’ll tell them all the things I wish I knew when I started having kids…and they won’t want to hear it!