This post, Where Do I Start, reviews my tips on how to get your family on the track of eating healthy.
Where do I start?"You have always eaten healthy, haven't you?" said a friend of mine.
"Oh, hell no" I said. "I had to work up to where we are now." And that is the truth of it. I used to not care about what I/we ate. I clearly recall Ben's bedtime routine when he was a toddler. He would get his bath, pjs on, and then he would watch one episode of Elmo's World. His snack? Tortilla chips. They tasted good, and he asked for them. What was the harm?...they are just chips. Now, I cringe when I think about that...all that salt and non-nutritious food right before bedtime. What sort of habit was I setting for this child?
I shared this exact story with my friend, to reinforce that I had to work my way out of bad eating habits. I saw a good number of posts on facebook and twitter at the beginning of the new year, and how it is a great time to start eating healthy. So, I want to give you some tips on how you can do it to, based on how I do it. You can do it! You and your family deserve the best! If you are the shopper and the preparer of food, the weight is on your shoulders.
My first tip: make the transition gradual! Let's get back to the tortilla chips. How did I work my way out of it? I told Ben that before he could get his tortilla chips, he had to eat a piece of fruit of his choosing. At first, he would eat the fruit then quickly ask for the chips. Eventually, we got to the point of him asking for just fruit. It took a good couple of months, but we got there.
Now? Ben rarely asks for tortilla chips. What did he have for his snack last night? Strawberries. I still bring chips into the house from time to time, but he doesn't ask for them much at all. I know that Ben's taste leans towards salt, like me. When he wants a snack and says no after no when I offer him fruit after fruit, I will let him snack on nuts. This change now gives him nutrients, and he gets his salt craving fixed.
In conjunction with making a gradual transition at snack time, it is also important that you don't make these huge sweeping changes all at once. Kids like routine. Kids are familiar with the foods that you have been consistently serving to this point. If you make these huge changes and your dinners go from hamburger helper to quinoa patties with a side of kale. Guess what? They won't eat it. Why? They don't know it. It isn't routine.
So, make small changes here and there, and after time you will make those big changes and the kids won't even noticed. Gradually add new nutritious foods to your menu. If you used to serve just hamburger helpers, add corn. Then add a salad. Once they are familiar with the corn and the salad, then you can start adding new things like the quinoa patties. See what I am trying to get at here?
My second tip: be patient. Just like when you start working out, you won't see changes overnight. Don't expect the same with your diet. It may take months and months for you to make all these changes, and that is okay. Again, be patient and your diet will eventually get to where you want it to be.
And be patient with your child not wanting to try new things. It is normal. But, be persistent. CC will eat everything and anything so it has never been a struggle with her. Ben, on the other hand, needs that 20 times of exposure before he will try something. Ben still won't eat blackberries, but I will keep exposing him to them. But, over the years he has grown to like things that he once never considered touching. Just be patient, and eventually it will come.
My third tip: learn about food, for both your benefit and your child's benefit. If you know what you are eating, and what it does for your body, I absolutely believe that you will start to focus on foods that actually nourish your body.
When you look at that bunch of bananas on the counter and think "those things are loaded with potassium, which helps maintain normal blood pressure" you may go for those over the bag of nacho cheese chips, when all you can say about the nutritional value is "well, it tastes good, and then it goes straight to my ass."
Since I am not a nutritionist, I don't talk too much about food with my peers. First, there is a time and a place for everything, and when we are all talking about this and that, getting on a soap box isn't something that would be socially appreciated. Not to mention, I am no food expert (yet) so I don't want to be incorrect in speaking. Now researching and writing on this blog is a different story. My point in all this, I HATE when people say "I love food too much to care." All the while, in the five years that I have known this person they have gained 30 pounds. Their typical going out meals is wings and beer. Now, don't get me wrong, I totally do wings and beer...but, from time to time. Physically, it is obvious that they love food - too much! I am convinced that the people I am referring to don't know anything about foods and what it does for them...they just want it to taste good. And tasting good is a combination of fat, sugar, and salt.
If you actually know what fat, sugar and salt does to you body, compared to a salad with fresh greens and vegetables, then your choices when dining out may be different. Sure, fat, sugar and salt taste wonderful, but what tastes better in the long run? 30 pounds overweight, joint pain, tiredness, pre-diabetic? Or, trim, slender, healthy, full of energy? If you learn about food and what it does for your body, your mindset will change towards eating nutritious foods.
To further this point, it is your role as a parent to teach your child about healthy food. If you talk to them about food and what are good food choice, they will listen to you. If your child is eating kiwi fruit, say something like "Son, that is great that you are eating kiwi because it is full of Vitamin C, which fight off all the 'bad guys' that are trying to get into your body."
Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals, which causes damage to your cells. That damage leads to bad stuff like cancer. We don't want that. My aunt was just diagnosed with breast cancer, and you bet I have taught my 5-year-old about it, at a level he understands. CC, at age 3, is still too young to get it. I use terms like "bad guys" and "good guys." The conversation with him went something like "the bad guys are fighting a war with the good guys, and right now the bad guys are winning." He responded with "well, what weapons are the good guys and bad guys using?" I am sure his head had thoughts of this war going on inside her body with swords. And I think that is okay at this age. I have the sense that he understands the basic concept, and to me that is a good thing. I don't want to shelter him at this age, I want to educate him and make him aware. And you bet when we talk about cancer, I also mention that eating the right foods "make the good guys are strong so they can keep the bad guys away."
My fourth tip: it isn't a "diet". I hate that word, when used in that way! To me, "diet" is what you eat, not what you *have* to eat so that you can lose weight. And when anyone calls healthy foods "diet" food I just cringe. Lima beans aren't diet foods, it is a food you should eat all the time because they are loaded with "good for you" stuff...fiber and iron just to name a couple. Don't ever think of healthy food as "diet" food. I think that if you associate these words, you are just setting yourself up for that "can't have it" mentality. And that mentality just makes you want it that much more.
My last tip: stick with it. The longer you stay with your healthy diet, the better you will feel and the better you will look. Everyone wants to feel good. Don't feel guilty about eating pizza for dinner every once in a while. I am all about balance. Just make sure you don't eat it every night. And the day after you eat it, just get back on track. And the longer you stay with it, the easier it all will be.