Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Healthy Eating with Kids...The Struggle is Real

By: Andrew Jagim

Disclaimer: If you do not have young kids this may not be of interest to you. What follows is a depiction of my rollercoaster journey of healthy eating with young kids.

Before I had kids I remember thinking to myself: "Self, one day you will have kids and they will grow up eating healthy nutritious meals with an optimal assortment of fruits, vegetables and protein.  I'm sure all of you out there with older kids are chuckling to yourselves as once I had kids I soon also realized that this vision would need some serious reconsideration.

Lets take a few steps back and start at the beginning: My vision of healthy eating started at the just as does everything in this life with the journey of pregnancy.  Again, what I thought would be a diet plan consisting of lean protein options, tons of fruits and vegetables, later seemed to revolve more around hunger cravings and quick fixes supplemented with the occasional healthy choice than perfectly crafted nutritious delicacies 24/7. Right out of the gate and my plan is already foiled.  Granted it didn’t help that our house at this time was down the block from a homemade ice cream parlor that was way too convenient and delicious not to stop while out walking our dogs. However, we would occasionally add Muscle Milk protein powder to it, so maybe it evens out in the end??? Maybe that’s why my wife gave birth to nearly a 10lb baby.

And then the baby was born, and we chose the route of breastfeeding so we knew our daughter was getting the highest quality food source available to her. Later when we started introducing whole foods into the picture, things started looking great. Our daughter's first food was whole avocado, which she loved. She also enjoyed cantaloupe, sweet potatoes, green beans and gnawing on the occasional chicken or steak. As parents we were thrilled that our kid enjoyed fruits and vegetables. However, from here things took a turn for the worse and our daughter entered the dark years more commonly referred to as toddlerhoods. The real struggles were just beginning.

Our daughter soon developed her own opinions on foods. Green foods were off the table… literally… she fed them to our dogs at any given chance. Orange foods though, were some how ok. We quickly adapted and started stockpiling orange vegetables and are still currently eating a lot of sweet potatoes and butternut squashes… pretty much at every meal.   And don't even get me started with a trip to the grocery store. We can't even make a trip by the deli counter without our daughter darting off to fill up her own bag of yogurt pretzels in the bulk foods area.  Of course, a lot of these food battles are fought  by some dirty fighters aka marketing strategists.  These evil geniuses know exactly where to place every piece of candy so that it temps us down every aisle and our daughter is instantly enchanted by  cartoon characters endorcing sugary snacks with bright colors and toys attached. Very rarely do we make it through the checkout aisle without multiple "No, you have to put that back" or "No, we don't need 9 packs of gum and Tic Tacs right now."  Now, even though we want our kid to eat more healthy foods than non-healthy foods, we aren't the parents that don’t allow any “treats” and snacks from time to time, especially considering we as adults divulge in the occasional cookie or piece of cake; okay let's be honest lots of cookies and cake... On a side note, having young kids around does really force you to take a hard look some of your regular snacks or food options.  If you tell your kid not to eat it, you probably shouldn’t be eating it either or at least not a lot of it (just one of my general observations). Unless it's beer, than it's okay of course.

As our daughter has gotten older she now has entered the stages in which she understands “two more bites and then you can have this”.   What we've found is that the key is for “this” to be something that our kid thinks is a treat but isn’t all that terrible for her. Our daughter’s favorite thing to barter with is pita chips, coincidently.  This type of compromise has inspired us to become more creative ways of how we can sneak vegetables and fruits into her diet. It's no secret that toddlers are picky, if it looks looks like broccoli… it’s broccoli, but it looks like a fry it’s a fry. So when we stumbled upon broccoli and carrot sticks shaped and baked like a fry… we thought we hit the jackpot. Broccoli bites shaped like chicken nuggets were also a hit.  When we make cookies (which we do frequently) we try to use ingredients like bananas, peanut butter, oatmeal and organic protein powder versus butter, sugar and flour. To our daughter they taste like a treat but are also packed with nutrients so we don't have to feel guilty letting her have a couple. 

For those of you out there who are parents, I am sure you are waiting for the part when I say, “What happens when none of these options work?”. What happens when your kid refuses to eat the meal you’ve made for them or? They have seen through your tricks, hidden foods and go-to pinterest recipes?. They flat out won’t eat anything except for their left over Halloween candy. So then what? Do you let them go hungry? Do you let them have some sort of snack food just to get some calories in? For this scenario, I don’t know what to tell you. We have done both. I don’t know which is right, and if I had a magic solution. I would probably be a millionaire.  I will say that perseverance is key. Everything with kids is a phase. Keep offering those healthy choices and one day hopefully they will pick it up.  Stay tuned for an update on this post in 10 years when hopefully I will have some better tips.  Feel free to comment with any other tricks or strategies that have worked for you in the past!

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