Here is a scene from most mother’s lives at some point. You are exhausted, maybe your youngest isn’t yet sleeping through the night, or maybe your kid is sick. You’ve not had a good night sleep in a week and even when you do catch a quiet moment your mind won’t stop reeling over all the things you need to do, so then you struggle to sleep in those sparse moments. Maybe your partner travels or you are a single Mom, doing it all. Trying to wear all the hats, work, maintain the home, keep the tiny humans alive, probably some pets and houseplants too. When meal times come around you are pretty much praying the kids will just eat because if they refuse you may just cry. So you rely on convenient, easy and quick foods like mac and cheese and tater tots with loads of ketchup. Forget about making food for yourself, you know you shouldn’t eat the leftovers off your kid’s plate but by the time you’ve got it on the table you are ravenous so you give in, maybe you eat a spoonful right out of the pot, maybe you grab juuuust a few tots on the way out of the oven. Now the flood gates are open, you polish off the leftovers and carry on with your over extended day.
Later you lament in your head that those foods are definitely not going to get you towards your goals, and you feel guilty for eating them, but not only that, for feeding them to your children. But no one died, or starved today so, you’ll accept that as a win and try to do better tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and you do the same thing over and over again because you cannot catch a break. Sound familiar? I know I’ve been there. What I didn’t realize is that I was actually making things harder on myself when I was trying to make them easier. Who has time to prepare two meals? No one. And no one should be doing that. In the time it took you to whip up that mac n cheese you could have prepared a healthy meal for you and the kids, so how do you do that without meltdowns and/or the thought they may no eat it. Well, it is possible, but much like everything else, it will likely be hard at first, but it will ultimately be worth the rough patch. Here are some tips on getting the kiddos on board the broccoli train.
1) They won’t reject what they don’t see or taste. It may seem sneaky but what if you slid some protein or veggies into that mac and cheese, and just maybe swapped the whole milk for some non fat milk or my personal favorite non-fat greek yogurt? What if you used half the cheese packet instead of all of it? Or swapped refined white macaroni for whole grain? You don’t have to go all in at once, you can do it slowly over time and before you know it, everyone will be eating a much nutritious version of the old favorite. See my mac n cheese hack below)
2) Keep putting it on their plate. I’ve heard it takes 12, or wait 16, or maybe it’s 10 times to get a kid to try something, either way, you make it, you put it on their plate. Even if they think it’s icky or they push it around till it falls off, it’s there. You’ll be surprised by the power of persistence.
3) Model healthy eating. My husband and I eat broccoli, spinach, asparagus, you name it. We alway have greens and veggies with every meal, and our son does too. He sees us eating and genuinely enjoying our vegetables, so he does too. If this is not you, don’t fear, there is hope for you yet. Perhaps in pursuit of getting more healthy food on your kids’ plates, you’ll get more on yours as well. Make the ones you know you like first, then explore a bit…
4) Make it fun! If you are working on exploring fruits and vegetables give your kids an opportunity to pick something new to try at the grocery store or look through recipes together and pick one that has a new vegetable in it to try. Cook it together, let them help. Kids are way more likely to eat something they are involved in preparing.
5) Educate your kids on the benefits of vegetables. If they are questioners, like me, taking the time to explain to them “why” can actually make a big difference. “Because I said so” is not the answer, if you don’t know….then find out! We live in an age of technology and you can literally google anything right then and there, wouldn’t it be awesome to simply read off “Why is spinach good for you” when those “whys” come out? I actually did this and my son now literally east spinach right out of the bag, willingly puts it on his pizza, and sandwiches because he knows it makes him strong.
6) Make sure you are not using the kids meals as an excuse for yourself to eat unhealthy foods. I’m saying this because I did it! I had to have Graham crackers for the toddler, and then I would eat them all. Goldfish….are another likely suspect. The reality is, if you shouldn’t be eating it, your kids shouldn’t either and although neither graham crackers nor goldfish are inherently “bad” foods if you cannot resist eating the whole bag…..don’t buy them. There are plenty of other quick foods your kids can snack on, like fruit slices, that you can show down on too.
Will this be a perfect process in which you will nail all these strategies at one….probably not, but over time, implementing these strategies you and your kids will make the change. It takes a bit of patience in the beginning if you have been relying on these foods as they won’t want to eat something new, but when they get truly hungry they will and this will also help them understand real hunger cues versus simply eating to eat. If they are not hungry don’t force it. Just put the plate away for later and re-heat it if necessary when they are. This also doesn’t have to be a hill to dye on. if they really don’t like something, that’s ok too. I usually offer a food or meal twice in one day and if it’s rejected both time then I chalk it up as a no go for the day, I’ll try it fresh again another time. With this method you will find more healthy staple foods over time that you can mix in with the experiments. Be willing and understanding it may be hard at first but over time you will all be eating together (which has it’s own set of benefits) and enjoying healthy nutritious meals for the whole family.
Coach Christine’s Veggie Protein Mac n Cheese
1 c Whole grain pasta (I love shells personally)
1 tbs bulk cheese sauce (I buy mine from WINCO)
1 tbs nutritional yeast (same as above)
3 broccoli florets (experiment with different veggies is you like)
1 bag veggie crumbles (Boca, Morning Star, Gardien, etc....)
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 c non fat greek yogurt