When it comes to eating healthy, kids talk a big talk. But they usually walk the walk that leads them straight to the sugar high.
Case in point: I was recently at an elementary school reading my book, Absolute Mayhem, to the kids. At one point in the story, my character Milo is struggling to choke down his vegetables in as many unsuccessful ways as possible. I always stop and ask the kids, “You guys like vegetables, right?” I usually get a pretty resounding “Yes!” drowning out those few, *ahem*…darling children who always insist on giving the answer they know you don’t want to hear. However, when I turn the page to reveal Milo and his sister Lulu feasting on a sweet buffet that is the stuff of doctor’s and dentists’ nightmares, a wide-eyed, covetous look creeps across the face of every single child sitting on the reading carpet. It’s a look that says, Screw you, vegetables.
Fact: kids like treats. And given the choice, most of them would pick something neon and loaded with sugar over something nutritious.
Sure, we can talk to them about making healthy choices. We can model it for them. Those are both noble and responsible things to do as parents. And our kids do listen. Because they know the right answer when asked. Every kid in every class I have ever read to knows what to say when I ask if they like vegetables…well, except for those *ahem* few. Actually, they also know the answer, they just choose not give us adults the satisfaction of hearing them say it. Or maybe they are just speaking the truth.
My own children aren’t any different. Despite all my best efforts to train their taste buds from the moment they could eat solids to enjoy healthier fare, it is clear to me that I can not trust either of them to plan their own meals. While they *may* throw in an apple here or a carrot there for good measure, those would be mere appetizers for a main course of chips, soda, ice cream, fried anything, candy, and frosted baked goods.
So what is a mother to do? Trick the hell out of them.
#1 Hide, but never seek. I hide healthy stuff in my kids’ food all.the.time. I add vegetable purees and flaxseed to pasta sauce. I mix in small servings of avocado or spinach into smoothies. I bake applesauce, pumpkin and chia seeds into cookies and cakes. And it usually works. There was that one time I tried to sprinkle a bit of flaxseed on my son’s mac ‘n’ cheese. When he noticed the small, unidentifiable flecks, he refused to eat it, saying it “looked and smelled ridiculous.” Kid – 1, Mom – 0. But then I watched him down a smoothie laced with kale, and the score was suddenly tied up.
#2 There’s only one holiday our food celebrates: Halloween. As in, disguise, disguise, disguise. Sometimes I am able to trick my kids into eating healthy food by making them think it is something else. How many times have I breaded fish and told my kids they were chicken strips? Um, a bazillion. (We eat a lot of fish.) Sometimes I get lucky and a company will actually do the hard work for me. Like Chobani. Putting their greek yogurt (full of real fruit, 100% natural, non-GMO ingredients, and protein to boot) into tubes that can be frozen to look like freezy pops tells me that the people who work there love their mothers, and every other mother who has ever had to feed a picky child. My kids eat frozen Chobani yogurt like it’s, well, ice cream. Cue the hallelujah chorus.
#3 I’m not a doctor, so I can tell you to bribe them. You know, sometimes there’s just nothing wrong with telling your kids that if they take four more big bites of squash they can have a cupcake for dessert. The way I figure it, everybody ends up happy. It may be under duress, but this way the healthy food actually makes it inside their little bodies to do its job of undoing all the havoc the cupcake will wreak. That’s what I call, in my completely un-medical opinion, a nutritional wash. It could be worse.
All in all, just do the best you can for your kids. The most helpful thing I have ever heard when it comes to kids and nutrition is to look at the big picture. You can’t focus on those small snapshots of the afternoon your daughter ate a snack of chocolate chip cookies dipped in marshmallow fluff or the time your son had two bites of garlic cheese bread for dinner. If they are getting their five food groups most of the time, or even most of most of the time, give yourself a gold star. Because it’s not like we parents are always pillars of healthy eating (*she says as she shoves the last bite of frosted brownie in her mouth*).
Do you have a fabulous tip for getting healthy foods into your kids, with or without them knowing it? Share it in the comment section! Then go buy Chobani. They did NOT pay me to say that (sadly).
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