To speak to the difficulty in raising kids in a high-gluten, high-carbohydrate world is an understatement. An even greater challenge lies especially when they tend to share the same sugar issues/cravings/crashes we parents experience.
As we find we are increasingly gluten intolerant (and so are they), or diabetic (and they’re now predisposed genetically due to varying factors), or just looking to change the way you eat in order to positively affect your health and the health of the younger generation in your home, we are faced with a very real challenge: winning kids over to healthy living.
Regardless of reason for dietary changes in a household, it remains difficult to work with kids in making changes. Because they’re kids, they don’t necessarily appreciate healthy choices as much as they like having Wheat Bites for a snack– because they’ve always had Wheat Bites for a snack.
Following are some ideas for keeping your crew happy while they chew:
Slow Ride. Whereas adults can more quickly shift to a different style of eating, kids thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. If, for them, breakfasts have always been Poptarts or Froot Charms, you’re not going to be able to enthuse your progeny with a sudden bowl of steel cut oatmeal one fine morning. In fact, a rebellion will most likely ensue as the fear of further change creeps in. Start by trying an acceptable substitute for a snack item in the house instead of a major (and traditionally high-carbohydrate) meal such as breakfast.
Take it Easy. Unless you are dealing with an immediate need due to intolerances or allergies, change one snack item at a time as opposed to removing all pastas, cereals, crackers, breads and rices from the home simultaneously. You might be able to substitute Wasa crisp breads for the Wheat Bites, but don’t also attempt to change out all pastas and cereals that same day. Help kids ease into transitions by still allowing for their standby favorite of strawberry cream cheese on the Wasa, and you are making slow, less threatening changes.
Stock foods in the house which are healthy…and, more importantly, liked. “Liked” is the key term. If you are bringing hummus leather into the home, and your kids hate hummus leather, expect a battle if you expect them to do anything more than fling at against the wall like a wacky glass walker. On the other hand, kids can see a fun food, like string cheese, and they’re more likely to follow suit and mimic positive snacking behaviors. When there is something they like, and if it’s acceptable, higher-protein/fat/health/less processed, go for it. Foods like nuts, cheeses, olives, fresh vegetables, berries and jerky are viable options, especially when they can be purchased without added sugars or nitrates (or other problematic preservatives).
Baby Steps. Start by incorporating part of something into a meal, rather than instituting a change of mammoth proportions (especially if your kids aren’t used to eating mammoths). If your family is accustomed to mashed potatoes, adding 1/4 mashed cauliflower to the potatoes is a great beginning. Over time, continue to increase the amount of cauliflower ratio to the potatoes allows the taste buds adapt while instituting a healthier choice for fiber in a dinner side dish. A friend of mine began incorporating small amounts of spaghetti squash to her pots of spaghetti. Now, they are currently at the half-way mark! Remember: Change is change, regardless how slow it might seem.
Critics, Please! Engage your kids in meaningful conversation about what they really like and don’t like about a meal. If the mashed cauliflower was a bust because it was too milky the last time, listen. This time, try a little garlic salt and cream cheese instead of the butter and milk (the milk made it too runny anyway). Enlisting kids as taste testers helps ease the “I tell you to eat it–so eat it!” mentality and allows them to be more willing to try something two–or even three– times.
’One bite per year’ rule. At my dinner table, there is a rule: one bite (for the pensive, they’re usually miniscule) per year of age. It is easy to decide that turnip fries are unacceptable in name. One taste tells them that the texture is different. That’s not enough. Give a kid time for their taste buds to consider the food. Serving a small helping rather than a big ‘blop’ allows them to feel they finished most of a portion rather than the usual lamenting about the wasting of food.
Rarely Trick. Sometimes, while it might be easy to sneak healthy things into their meals, don’t lie to kids. If they ask if there are beets in the cheesecake, be honest. Don’t necessarily volunteer the information, but build a level of food trust with kids. Respect them, their intelligence, and their input. In return, they will reward you with respect and a more open mind for broccoli as a pizza crust ingredient.
Sometimes treat. The kids with the most stringent religions are the ones who sometimes tend to rebel. The same goes for Susie, who is told that never again will another chocolate bar pass her little lips. Unless there is an actual allergy, food intolerance, or medically-mandated change, there is nothing wrong with the occasional McDonald’s French fry. The key is to not make an off-plan item or meal an ‘event’, lest kids grow up thinking that Happy Meals make them truly happy, or that food is a celebration (and not fuel for the body’s engine).
If at first you don’t succeed… No matter how hard we have labored in the kitchen, certain foods will probably never be able to take the place of other foods. No matter how many times you tried to wrap your riced cauliflower in nori in an effort to make low glycemic load sushi, you ended up with a gum eraser that smelled like sweaty feet. Accepting that some foods (like rice) are what the sushi requires will help you to either realize that you never missed the food in the first place or that you appreciate it all the more for what it is. Go ahead and use the lower-carb white bread or the low-carb wraps– albeit sparingly— for the lunch sandwiches, but never make a special occasion out of a food you don’t want kids to associate with happiness.
Food for Fuel. Of course, most importantly, is to instill that eating should be for hunger, and never for reasons of boredom, comfort or sadness—and never as a celebration or as reward (‘I deserve this’). Masking any emotion with food or eating when not hungry, helps to create difficult-to-break patterns of mindless eating, or eating as a response to environmental stimulus as opposed to eating due to bodily needs. Even healthy snacks, eaten en masse, can be stored in the body for fat when the fuel isn’t needed. When what we eat becomes a celebrational chowa-thon no longer is a person feeding the need for fuel; instead we’re socially downing as many crab cakes as we desire while we are regaled by Aunt Myrna’s tales of woe in the bathroom during the family Christmas party. Remember: food is fuel, and celebrations should be about the people and activities and not what passes the lips.
Make no mistake: teaching kids to make positive nutritional choices begins at home. Your kids are watching, learning and growing in accordance to your actions and your choices. Still, don’t worry when your toddler wrinkles her nose at zucchini. Be kind to yourself and to your kids, and you will give rise to a new generation of conscientious eaters who will fuel their growing bodies with the right kinds of meals. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be able to o
ut-cook you in the kitchen before they’re asking for the car keys.
Making Small ChangesTry Swapping For
Crackers Wasa Crisp Bread
Flax Seed Crackers
Cookies Yogurt with Granola for crunch
Popsicles Sugar-Free Popsicles
Shaved Ice with Sugar-Free Syrup
Cereal Yogurt with fruit
Steel Cut Oatmeal
Home Made Granola
Chips Celery with Cream Cheese
Crunchy Dill Pickles
Carrots with Dressing
Candy Bars Lindt or Ghirardelli Chocolate
Squares (over 60% cocoa content)
Fruit Roll-Ups Home-Made Fruit Leather
Picture credit: Jamie Van Eaton