Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Recently a saleslady at the mall asked what Sisi was munching on in her stroller. Her lunch box had a scoop of egg salad, sharp cheddar, black olives, and sweet potatoes. A pretty typical lunch in our household.
"Wow, she's so gourmet!" the lady said.
"Yeah, she loves food!" I replied.
But I was a little puzzled. Since when is egg salad, cheese, olives and potatoes gourmet?
Sisi's good eating habits rarely evoke a neutral response from others. I seem to get a lot of negativity about it, to be honest. But there are some who are impressed, like the saleslady at the mall, and want to know my "secrets". That's who this post is for! These are not secrets really, in fact there is a popular infographic that I pretty much sums it up!
((Before I begin, how much does temperament have to do with our kids' eating habits? I'm not sure. I do think Sisi has a pretty compliant personality naturally, so that definitely helps at mealtime. But believe me, she is a regular toddler with opinions of her own, and tantrums to back them up. I'm not raising a cherub here. I happen to think a child's food openness is more nurture than nature, but that's just my opinion. Do French kids have some food-appreciation-gene we don't know about, or is their food culture conducive to healthy eating habits?))
I heard a piece on NPR about how kids nowadays eat so much sugar and processed food that their tastebuds remain in an infantile state for a long time. And sugar comes in many "healthy" disguises- fruit snacks, cereals, fruit juice, granola bars, pb&j sandwiches, smoothies, pancakes, even super sugary fruits like bananas which should be eaten sparingly. Once again, you probably think I'm psycho for saying this, since this stuff is the majority of what toddlers in America exist on. But humor me here. This is the amount of sweets Sisi typically consumes in a day:
- in breakfast mush- 1/8 banana diced, 1 skinny slice of apple diced (just to sweeten it a bit).
- in lunch- 1 orange slice or pear slice for dessert.
- snack- perhaps 1/2 a paleo cookie, or a small handful of dried fruit
- dinner- sweet potatoes if she's lucky
- after dinner sweet- tiny handful of frozen blueberries or small piece of 85% chocolate.
- Teeth. Sugar rots your teeth, even natural sugars in fruits.
- I believe sugar is very addicting. There is research out there that shows the same reward centers in the brain are activated when someone does heroine. I found out through genetic testing that I am particularly susceptible to heroine addiction :/ Coincidence that I am a former sugar addict? Perhaps, but I would like to spare Sisi that addiction if I can.
- Sugar dulls the tastebuds. Even fruit doesn't seem sweet to a sugar addict. I'm hearing more and more dieticians make similar statements, that eating too much sugar stunts a child's ability to appreciate other tastes, like the bitterness in veggies or the savory taste of meat. I totally believe this because even as a young adult, I was hooked on sugar and carbs and preferred them over every other food. When I started eating healthier, I could finally enjoy the subtle sweetness of fruits and nuts and even veggies.
No kids menus, no "toddler food", she eats what I eat at almost every meal.
Think of food as a wonderful gift from God, not as an easy way to probe certain behaviors or attitudes out of our kids, because that can backfire big time.
- No food-related bribes. (Pee in the potty and you'll get m&ms!)
- No food-related rewards. (You ate your veggies? Good job! Now you get a donut as a reward.)
- No food-related punishment. (You were naughty, so you don't get dessert tonight.)
- No eating to distract or to cure boredom. The only time I break this one is on airplanes. Even so, I bring healthy foods onboard.
- Don't force feed! My rule is that she must sit with us during meals, but not that she must eat. Chances are, if she hasn't been snacking too much and if I have done a decent job of cooking, she will gladly eat of her own free will. If she only eats only a little, it's usually pretty healthy stuff that packs a big nutritious punch, so I don't worry about quantity. I'd rather she eat 2 small sardines than an entire bagel.
My final note: I understand that many busy moms will read this and think they don't have the time and energy to devote to changing their kids' eating habits. But here is my thought- how many minutes or hours per week do you spend battling and negotiating and pleading with your kids about food? Just redirect that time and energy into making a plan. We established a healthy eating plan for our family, and it took some getting used to. But now, I never have to worry or think about what Sisi's eating. Eating is just a fun and carefree part of life, as it should be!