Today I welcome guest writer, Holistic Nutritionist and Mama of 2, Leanne Sedentopf. I get a lot of questions about eating healthy when you have little ones (and usually picky little ones) at home. So I asked Leanne to weigh in. Turns out, even nutritionists have picky eaters at home! Here she shares how she manages to make it work in her home (hint...it's not perfect) and some awesome tips on teaching your kids healthy eating habits for life.
It was just your typical Tuesday in July by all accounts. Warm and sunny, eating BBQ and spinach salad for dinner. But for our family it was a day that will go down as a triumph!
Why you ask?
My 4-year-old ate “leaves” for the first time (well without them being hidden in a sauce or smoothie).
There was no new “trick” I tried or major breakthrough other than salad being put on her plate over and over again. Eventually she cracked (and by eventually, I mean after 2 years!) and without warning or reason just decided that on that random Tuesday in July she was going to actually try the green stuff on her plate.
I noticed but didn’t want to make a big deal about it (see below) but when she declared after a couple of bites “Mommy! I like leaves now!” I gave her the biggest high five I could muster. She was feeling pretty proud of herself.
There are still many meals when she will try to turn down salad or try to tell me she doesn’t like it, but more and more she eats it. At least some of it and we Moms take the wins when we can.
When I am working with clients around adding more whole foods to their diet or posting pictures of my meals on social media I am often confronted with the same question-
“But what will my kids eat?” or “What do your kids eat?”
Well, the same thing I eat of course – with maybe a few modifications.
If making more nutritious choices is important for you, then it’s important for your family too.
If you are rolling your eyes at me now and thinking “ya but you haven’t met my kid” please know this…I’m not suggesting it will necessarily be easy, but it you feel it’s important it’s worth the effort and it’s absolutely possible.
To me there is a big disconnect happening if you are making chicken stir fry for yourself and chicken fingers and fries for the kids. The message being sent is that Mommy is on a diet and eating healthy, whole foods is only something you do for a defined length of time instead of it just being the way you do life. If eating to nourish and support your body is the goal, it must become a lifestyle. And for it to be sustainable, everyone needs to get on board.
Here are a few things to keep in mind and try as you make the transition…
1) It Takes Time –
For adults and children alike, it can take up to 8-10 exposures (or in my daughter’s case 102) to acquire a taste for something new. So just keep offering it. In different ways, combined with foods they already enjoy, over and over and OVER again. Especially if the palate is wired for lots of sweets, it can take time to appreciate the other tastes like sour or bitter or even just less sweet, but it happens. Be consistent.
2) Keep the emotion out of it –
Anger, frustration, persuasion, etc. have no place at the dinner table. Kids pick up on your cues and it can make the whole thing worse. We try to enforce the “you must take one bite before you decide if you don’t like it rule” …sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. I totally understand how frustrating and infuriating it is when you spend time, money and energy to create a meal for your family only to have it receive groans and scrunched up faces and declarations of “I want pasta!” OMG do I get it. But turning food into a fight and power struggle is not the answer, so I suggest you scream into a pillow and then keep your head high as you enjoy your delicious meal.
3) Don’t bribe them with treats –
It can be so easy to fall into the pattern of “If you eat your broccoli you can have dessert”. The message that sends is that broccoli is something to be endured in order to get to the good stuff a.k.a sugar. Talk to your kids about the benefits of the whole foods you are serving them – how it will give them energy to run and play, support their brain to grow and learn, build strong bones and muscles, etc. Tell them why the food they are eating is important to fight the “bad bugs” that make us sick and keep the “good guys” strong to fight off viruses and infections. Kids are curious little creatures, fill them in and help them get on board. Nutritious whole foods shouldn’t feel like a punishment.
4) There is no such thing as the “kid food” –
Children need nutritious whole foods even more than we grown ups do in many ways. Their bodies are growing, they are literally growing their brain and setting the stage for their lifetime of health. So the idea that it’s steak and salad for the parents and hot dogs for the kids just doesn’t fly. Kids aren’t born to dislike vegetables and bold flavours, we set them up that way by offering them bland, packaged carbohydrates at the advice of marketers and big business. But keep in mind, those companies do not have your child’s health as a priority, YOU do.
5) You are the parent –
There might be whining and complaining at first. Humans are wired to push back against change, children especially. They like routine and rhythm and knowing what is coming next so change can signal some internal alarm bells and they are likely to resist. But, you are the parent. You get to decide what is best for your family and eventually they will come around too. As far as I know, there have been zero cases of a child starving to death because they didn’t eat their dinner. If they are hungry enough, they will eat. To avoid a night where nothing is consumed and sending you into panic mode, here are a few tips to make it go a bit smoother:
- Serve at least one thing you know they will like – it doesn’t have to be all new and totally out of left field. If you know you child likes carrots for example, make sure you serve roasted carrots when you offer up a new meal so that at least something is familiar
- Kick up the nutrition in foods they already eat – spaghetti a favourite? Then load up the sauce with vegetables and serve over gluten free noodles. Do they like fruit smoothies? Start adding in a handful (or two) of baby spinach.
- Get the kids involved – look through cookbooks together, choose ingredients at the store together or get their help in the kitchen – the more input they have had the more likely they are to at least try it
- Hold your ground – if they are complaining and protesting, let them. I know first hand how quickly the whining can wear us down and make us want to do anything to make it stop but that is only teaching them that you don’t really mean what you say and whining and complaining will override you. Be kind, acknowledge how they are feeling about the change, and then remind them of your WHY (see #7) and reinforce the idea that this is how it is.
6) You aren’t a line cook –
I only make one dinner each day. I spend enough time in the kitchen as it is, I’m not making a different meal for each person in my family. I use some of the suggestions above to make it family friendly and ensure they is at least something everyone will eat, but dinner is dinner.
7) Remember your WHY –
when it feels hard and frustrating and you just want to say forget it and order in pizza, remind yourself about WHY you want to make these changes for yourself and your family. Improved sleep, mood and behaviour are all common improvements that parents see when eliminating processed sugar and other foods from their children’s diet. Decreasing their risk for diabetes, obesity and heart disease later in life. Supporting their brain to grow and allow them to reach their potential in school. These are the reasons it’s worth the effort to get more green stuff on your kids plate more days than not. If you are worth the effort, then so are they.
Here is a “healthified” version of macaroni and cheese to get you started. It’s one of the most popular recipes in my 10 Day Detox Program and has had kids and partners raving too!
Sweet Potato Mac and Cheese
1 pound gluten free elbow macaron
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Bob’s Red Mill gluten free all-purpose flour
1 1/3 cup mashed cooked peeled sweet potato, (about 1 medium sweet potato)
3 ½ cups unsweetened almond milk
2 teaspoons sea salt
Fresh black pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon tamari
1 tablespoon nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon lime juice (optional)
2 to 3 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1) To cook sweet potato: Peel and cut sweet potato into 2 inch chunks. Add to a pot, cover with water and bring to a broil. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until sweet potato becomes soft. Approximately 15 minutes. Mash and set aside 1 1/3 cup.
2) Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add macaroni and cook per package directions. Drain and return to pot.
3) Meanwhile, in a large saucepan, make a 'paste' by whisking the olive oil and flour over medium heat for 3 to 5 minutes. It will become clumpy.
4) Add mashed sweet potato, almond milk, salt, pepper, garlic, mustard, tamari, nutritional yeast and lime juice to the saucepan and bring to a slight boil, whisking frequently. Reduce heat to low and let simmer until the sauce thickens, 3-5 minutes.
5) Whisk until smooth. Some sweet potato chunks may remain. This is fine. If you prefer it totally smooth, use an immersion blender or puree in blender.
6) Add rosemary and combine.
7) Add cooked pasta to the large saucepan and mix well until all ingredients are combined.
8) Adjust seasonings to taste.
Leanne Sedentopf is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist and Women’s Health Coach that is
committed to supporting tired and burned out women to reconnect to themselves in the midst of motherhood. Through whole foods, movement, and a whole lot of self-care she coaches women to bring balance back to their hormones, moods and weight in a realistic and “Mom-friendly” way. To connect with Leanne as well as close to 500 women just like YOU, join her FREE Online Community – Strong and Vibrant Mothers – for a daily dose of support, inspiration, recipes and real talk.