I've always known that I am I persnickety, organized, Type A person but since becoming a mom I have evolved into a fire-breathing, overbearing overlord of all things related to my children. Food is one such thing.
When my husband and I were first married, we ate fairly healthy. I liked cooking and enjoyed making healthy meals like my mom did and still does. Once I became a parent, my outlook on feeding my family changed: I knew I could do even better than I was doing.
We are not uber-healthy, only-organic, no-red-meat kind of people. Creamed soups, HFCS, and a variety of preservatives occasionally find their way into our meals. I do my very best to cook meals that include all the food groups, that have variety from week to week, that my family likes, and that include ingredients I can get on sale. Sometimes in the end, cheap does win out for me. My main focus, however, is getting all the food groups in.
When Mini Me started eating table food, I researched the Food Guide Pyramid for children and printed this poster to hang on our fridge. I (my Type A personality) soon recognized that I would need some kind of system or routine to make sure we were getting the daily servings of what we need, so I came up with this plan:
Breakfast: grain and fruit
Lunch: grain, veggie, dairy
Supper: grain, veggie, fruit, dairy, protein
Snacks: grains, veggies, maybe fruit
For two and a half years now, I have planned every meal like this. One very important thing this meal-planning routine does for me is help me remember to aim for the adequate servings daily. Serving veggies at supper simply isn't enough - that was a big one for me to remember.
In addition to being a food tyrant, I must be a bit of a seer... Merely a few hours after writing the first draft for this post, I stumbled on this great article at CNN about the new food guide changes. What a coincidence! The new plate graphic is catchy, simple, and sensible: I can aim to make our plates at mealtime look similar. I thoroughly enjoy the USDA's MyPlate website. A few clicks will get you a host of wonderful information about foods in each group. The best part is, the serving size amounts did not change - only the graphic did - so I can keep my meal-planning routine the same.
I am still a food tyrant and here are some ways to be a food tyrant like me... the mean 'ol mom that I am:
1. Realize that you can't force your children (or husband) to eat healthy. You can dish it up, but can't shove it in mouths. My official food tyrant goal is to offer healthy choices at home and build good eating habits. If my kids never get a cookie for a snack, they probably won't request one at random. If, for several years in their young lives, they eat veggies for lunch and supper, it is my hope that it will become some kind of second nature to select and prepare veggies for lunch and supper as they get older.
2. Stray from lots of dessert-y treats. Cake and ice cream and cookies and donuts and greasy pizza are considered special treats for special occasions. Encourage your children to love carrots and blueberries and sweet potato fries. In fact, make them think that sweet potato fries and yogurt for dipping is a special treat.
3. Don't force the kiddos to clear their plates. Our table rule is that there are no second servings of anything until we eat all the food groups first, but if they aren't hungry enough to clear the first serving, oh well. Actually, clearing the plate has never one time been a problem with either child so far...
4. Teach your kids the food groups and what foods go into each group. This will reduce the occasional protest when you enforce Rule #3, because then the child can identify which of the five food groups he or she has not eaten yet.
5. Have your child help cook. Sometimes hearing, "Mommy can I get my stool and help?" makes me sigh and mentally add ten more minutes to the meal prep, but I know it's important for Mini Me to have a hand in our meals more than just eating them. And, it really is fun to have him help me.
And if I'm wrong, and my children eschew healthy eating entirely and turn into junk food junkies? Well, at least I'm giving them a good foundation and they will have eaten all their food groups while they were really young... and helped turn my own eating habits a bit healthier, too.
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