|Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net/Clare Bloomfield|
You are not alone in your challenge to help your children break their SAD habit. Many of us have gone before you with wonderful results and many are right there with you, fighting the good fight! It is entirely possible to get your children to eat real food without threatening, punishing or giving in.
Now, if you feel confident that real food is the right choice for your family, you've probably done a lot of research to come to that conclusion. You didn't come to your decision suddenly. You have the benefit of the time it took you to fully understand why real food is nourishing. Your children should be given time to adjust to a new way of thinking about food, as well. Just like real food is often "slow food", changing one's dietary habits is a process. Be ready to stick to your ideals about food for as long as it takes for your children to get on board. The wait is well worth it!
I am proud to say that my children have transitioned to a real food diet at home. I do not police them or make them feel guilty about choices that they make away from home, but I've even seen changes in their thought processes as they choose foods in situations where there are little to no real food options.
At the beginning of our real food journey, my boys weren't equipped to make good food choices. At a youth sports event one afternoon, I noticed my six year old had left his friends, who were still playing close by. Thinking he had gone to the bathroom alone, I went to check on him. I found him hiding beside a trash can, outside of the bathroom, scarfing down a bag of rainbow-colored, fruit-flavored candy that a friend had given him. He knew that candy was no longer an acceptable treat in our home. I took that time to explain the ingredient list to him in an age-appropriate manner. I also reminded him to always ask me first before accepting food or treats from anyone. Folks, since then he has consistently turned down almost half of the candy and treats that he has been offered on the sidelines of sports events. (You would not believe the amount of junk food present at youth sports events!) I let him make the decision for himself each time, but I do tell him the ingredients he'll be consuming.
These days fruit is a much sought-after (yet eaten only a few times per week) treat. We've come a long away, for sure. If your child is currently protesting dinner and sneaking treats from friends at school, there is still hope.
Read on for my tried-and-true tips for getting your children eat real food.
1. Educate them about food.
As I mentioned earlier, you've been educated about real food and have probably learned a little at at time. Your children will not automatically know kombucha from kefir, much less why drinking either is a good thing! It is important that you take the time to tell your children about real food and why it is important that they eat real food and diminish or do away with industrialized food in their diet.
For my older two boys (they were ten and eight at the time), The Omnivore's Dilemma (Young Readers Edition) The Secrets Behind What You Eatwas a great resource. I read it to them as part of our health curriculum last Spring. It sparked many questions and helped me to cover more real food topics than just those discussed in the book.
Simply putting a plate of real food in front of your children is not enough. They need to understand why they should eat sourdough bread and not that fluffy, white stuff in the plastic bag that may taste much better to them at first.
2. Take it slow.
While you are educating your children on real food, add one new real food and take away one industrialized food at at time. We started with raw milk. My children all drank milk and none was allergic or intolerant. Unfortunately, I also allowed them to flavor every single cup of milk they drank with a popular, "vitamin-enriched" chocolate powder. When I brought home that first gallon of raw milk, my children polluted each cup of liquid gold with chocolate powder. After the first week, I removed the tablespoon measure from the container and replaced it with a half-tablespoon measure. And just like that, I'd cut their consumption of chocolate milk powder in half.
After a few more weeks I told them that we would be using only one scoop of powder instead of two. They protested, but because I had been educating them and could explain my decision they were more accepting. It wasn't simply a case of mean old mom handing down an arbitrary rule. They understood they shouldn't be drinking chocolate-flavored powder at all and were glad to be weaning from it slowly. Within three months, our home was chocolate powder free.
I understand the tendency of new real foodie parents to feel incredible guilt over the foods they once believed were healthy for their children or guilt about foods that they knew were junk, but allowed anyway. I understand the mentality behind, "We have to change ALL THE FOOD THINGS! NOW!" You don't have to do it all now, though. It's worth doing slowly, allowing your children to adjust to each new food and mourn the loss of old, but unhealthy, favorites.
3. It's okay to overuse real food favorites.
Unless your child has an allergy or intolerance to a specific real food, it's okay to overuse their favorites at first. Does your child love bacon*? Work it in as much as possible. Are smoothies her favorite snack? Make her a daily smoothie**! Does he want eggs*** for breakfast every morning? Go for it!
Continue to offer new foods and encourage your children to try them, but do not create food battles. Don't become a short-order cook, but try to have something at each meal or snack that your children enjoy.
4. Give them food-related responsibilities.
If your children are like mine, if they grow it, they will eat it. If they cook it, they can't wait to try it. Enlist in your children's help in the garden, the grocery store and the kitchen. Give them a patch of dirt to grow seeds of their choosing. Let them be responsible for choosing the color of lentils or quinoa at the store. Let them crack the eggs and, if you have chickens, let them gather the eggs daily. Teach them a new recipe. Allow older children to plan and prepare an entire meal.
There is something quite soul-nourishing about growing and preparing your own food. Don't hoard that feeling! Let your children experience it, as well.
5. Don't make junk food disappear completely.
Oh, don't misunderstand! Industrialized, junk food should absolutely disappear from your home. No question there. What I'm proposing here is that you not police your children's food choices when they are outside of your home.
If your children attend preschool or school, they will have parties. Do you really want to be "that parent"? When your children visiting friends and family, they will be offered foods that are health-robbing. As long as they aren't allergic or intolerant to a particular food, let them make their own choices. Your children will be offered treats by well-meaning adults and children alike. Teach them the polite way to say "No, thank you." if they truly do not want the treat, but also tell them that you will not be disappointed if they give in.
If your child is eating well at least 80 percent of the time, having occasional junk food will not damage their bodies beyond repair. In my opinion, it is more important to be gracious and preserve relationships than to strictly follow a real food diet outside of the home. As more and more people embrace the real food lifestyle, it will become easier to find real food in common social settings.
I hope that you all find these tips helpful! Even though the process is not a quick one, it is possible to have children who not only enjoy but actually prefer real food. Keep your relationship with your child at the forefront. Don't create food battles. Help your children understand why real food is important. Make the transition a slow one. Feed them the real foods they love. Let them feel personal responsibility for their food from garden to table. Assure them that they will see their favorite junk foods again and teach them how to make good decisions about food.
*Pastured bacon, of course!
**Check out my recipe for raw milk yogurt.
***Pastured eggs, please.
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