I know what you’re thinking – ugh – here’s another one of those “tips” posts that makes it sound SOOOO simple to get my kiddos to eat brussel sprouts and spinach. Then the eye rolling ensues and the visions of past dinnertime battles play out in your mind and make you shutter at the thought of taking the path of resistance again. Truth is, it’s easier (in the moment) sometimes not to pick the nutrition battle and we find ourselves at a crossroads of just wanting our children to eat something even if it’s not the most nutritious meal. We chalk it up to something we’ll tackle later. In the parenting game of pick your battles, oftentimes solid nutrition takes a backseat to insisting on a shower, or not kicking your sister or learning to look both ways before crossing the street. I get it, I really do, there is only so much time in a day and we have to filter and make decisions on the fly. But here’s why I don’t take the path of least resistance when it comes to nutrition ……it lays the foundation for less battles overall.
Mood swings, sugar highs, meltdowns, energy crashes, lethargy, slow reaction time, hyper activity, foggy thinking, irritability – all of these can be linked back to poor nutrition. Without getting into a medical dissertation on what “good nutrition” essentially entails, let’s keep it simple by promoting the notion of getting back to the basics. Simple ingredients, organically or locally sourced whenever possible, prepared in a simple, flavorful manner. Eliminating things from a box or a package or a drive thru. Eating the rainbow, a variety, seasonally and finding beauty in simplicity.
The following ideas are meant to help you make your way there. While I have four listed, I think you’ll see that they overlap and converge all under the umbrella of “knowledge”. Increasing your own knowledge of nutrition and bringing your kiddos along for that ride is the key to success in this journey. Never stop learning, growing, evolving right alongside your children!
1. Educate. My Max is 3 and Zoe is 5. They can tell you why their bodies need protein, carbohydrates and fats. They know it’s better to have a sugary treat only after they’ve had a good amount of protein. We study the muscular systems and learn specifically what that protein does for the muscle fibers. They understand the link of how they feel versus what they ate. They know which fruits have more fiber and will help to keep them feeling fuller for a longer period of time. They know veggies will help them fight off the cold going around at gymnastics and that they need more fuel and hydration after a particularly hot summer play-date. None of this happened overnight, they still both hate broccoli, they both would chose a chocolate cupcake over a pork chop if given the opportunity, they both have more to learn. So do I. It will be a lifelong journey together. The point is the study and conversation of nutrition is ingrained into their daily life to empower them for their own decision making.
2. Grow. There is nothing like eating a fresh strawberry right out of your fairy garden. Or clipping a long sprig of rosemary from the window herb box for tonight’s chicken. From the good ole’ fashioned science projects of sprouting potatoes for transplant or planting pumpkin seeds from the Halloween jack-o-lantern or going full out with a lavish backyard garden, engaging kiddos in the growth of their food creates amazing revelations for them. Aside from the anxious wait or the pride of the bloom, you can almost see the shift take place when they begin to understand just how much time and effort goes into harvesting food. From the willingness to try new foods they’ve personally grown to the care in not wasting that which they’ve waited for months to grow – it’s a wonderful way to instill a love of good nutrition.
3. Source. We take field trips to dairy farms, farmer’s markets, cattle ranches, fish markets, livestock fairs. These are such rich experiences where they learn where their food comes from, meet the people behind the scenes, broaden their horizons beyond the supermarket aisle. It is invaluable and involves all the senses in the education experience. To taste the fresh fruits off the vine, smell the feed, see the stalls, hear the tractors and feel the rich soil between their fingers, that is how you get them to begin to see the big picture.
4. Involve. From picking out the perfectly ripe avocado, to unloading groceries from the car to peeling the sweet potatoes, we try to involve our littles in the entire process. They are accomplished sous chefs at this stage in their young lives. Yes it’s messier, more time consuming and requires patience I sometimes don’t have, but without fail if they’ve been involved in the preparation of their meal they are far more prone to at least trying something new. Aside from just the life skills they are acquiring, cooking alongside each other creates special memories associated with nutrition helping to promote a positive, healthy relationship with food and nutrition that will hopefully last a lifetime.