Caution: It is a dietary mine field out there. Kiddie junk food high and low! Parents, proceed at your own risk. And remember. Your seedlings deserve better.
Nancy S. offered these comments in response to last week’s News on the Seedling Front .
As a parent, I could really use some practical, realistic ideas about what to do for my kids. Specifically, lunch-box solutions that will keep them eating healthy and able to concentrate in school (and not trying to trade away their lunch for some kid’s HoHo). As a parent it is so easy to feel overwhelmed by all the stuff you are probably doing wrong, so having someone help you do what is right can go a long way to helping solve the problem!
Nancy’s comments really got us talking and sharing “war” stories. Many of us have been there or are in the midst of it now. Mark, himself, has a 14-year-old and 17-year-old. Parents’ jobs can often be thankless. Whatever it counts for, we understand – and empathize! We’ll devote a short series, in fact, to the seedlings questions Nancy and others have raised regarding day-to-day, in-the-trenches options.
Now for some practical tips and humble advice for all the parents and grandparents out there… But before we venture into these swampy, menacing waters, we should offer a fair warning. What’s that saying about “Beware those who enter here”? The subject of kids and food is not for the faint of heart. No mincing of words. In a recent post Mark had this to say about The Art of Compromise  in the Primal Blueprint: Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This goes double when dealing with seedlings. With that said…
• Perhaps it goes without saying, but the first step is to make the commitment to a healthy diet yourself. As we all know, the “do as I say not as I do” philosophy just doesn’t cut it. Kids watch you like hawks and remember like elephants. Be honest and get your thinking out on the table – your personal health goals, your favorites, your failings. If they know you understand that making these kinds of changes can be difficult, they’ll likely be more open with you about their choices and concerns. As with everything in parenting, genuineness and credibility will get you further than some unapproachable projection of perfection.
• See the process as “training your child’s tastes” rather than imposing a certain diet from day one. Viewing the process through a “training” lens will encourage a little more fun and flexibility. The focus should be on the positive – incorporating the new – rather than simply slashing and burning everything they’re used to. Use the familiar to help switch gears. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Every kid loves comfort food, and it doesn’t always have to be unhealthy. Think about stews, meatloaf (with reduced or substituted breadcrumbs), hearty soups, flavorful salads with some creative condiments (e.g. veggie loaded homemade pesto or hummus). Look for specific foods and menus next week!
• Buck the processed and sugar laden beverages. Water, decaf tea, milk. You don’t need anything else. (But you can consider organic, no-added-sodium vegetable juice. Little ones especially may go for it.) Make regular drinks special by getting some natural mineral water (Gerolsteiner, Pellegrino, etc.) and putting a slice of lemon or some cherries in it. As for cocoa, it’s a dessert that’s at your discretion. Choose the genuine article (organic if possible), and barely, if at all, sweeten it. (This alteration may take some time – all part of the taste training.)
• You can never start too early. Skip infant cereal. Keep kids away from any form of sugar as long as humanly possible. Some parents/grandparents/relatives will give kids sweets before kids even know what they are or have any interest in them. These people tend to do it for entertainment or nostalgia sake. Here’s our take: milk your kid’s naive ignorance for all it’s worth. And tell well-meaning relatives that some things are just off limits (at least for now).
• You can never start too late. Parents can worry that once they’ve gone down a certain road with their kids that it’s impossible to turn it around. If parents can make the commitment, they can get their kids on board. Sure, expect complaints, but don’t get thrown by them. It will take extra time, but stick to your guns and don’t forget to make it fun for everyone. Which leads us to…
• Make the changes a family commitment and even an opportunity for family events. Strawberry picking season is coming up. Make a day of it at an area farm. Or let them help you shop at a farmer’s market (little to no processed foods here!). It’s a great opportunity for kids to see just how many vegetables and fruits there are and to find their favorites when all the “junk” is out of the picture.
• Make it fun. Try an “international dinner” one night a week when you fix healthy cuisine from a different culture. Decorate, download music, dance, go whole hog. The little ones will love it, and the older ones will enjoy it too (however much they roll their eyes).
• Give them responsibility. If your children are old enough, put them in charge of planning and preparing one healthy meal a week.
• Take it in steps. If you’re facing a major overhaul, take the “whole foods” step first. Out with the processed foods. It will do kids good to see what goes into real food. If they can’t make it or bake it from scratch, it’s not for dinner. Sugar (in all its forms) could be the next step. (But you’d be surprised how much sugar you already cut out going the “whole foods” approach.) We’d recommend putting fruit juice in this category, but keep plenty of actual fruit available for them. Another good “step,” as Nancy mentioned, is cutting gluten from your child’s diet. This may be particularly useful for children with ADD or ADHD, many of whom may be gluten sensitive. You can also experiment with reducing/eliminating dairy to see if it makes a difference for your child.
• As you continue to progress in stages, don’t worry about absolutes. Remember, the Primal Blueprint allows for personal compromises. Kids should have the same opportunity we do to practice a little indulgence. Children who are old enough to understand the conversation can and should have a say in what they want their indulgences to be. Let it be a continuing collaboration of interests and reasonable limits.
• Buy better quality. Take the money you save in chucking the processed food from the grocery list and invest it in better quality produce, meats, cheeses and other whole foods. Let’s face it: iceberg lettuce doesn’t inspire anyone. Baby romaine or this Spring’s fresh spinach – that’s what we’re talking about. Set up a mini salad bar and let them add their own veggies and other fixings.
• Don’t underestimate the power of presentation. Children are blessedly predictable in this regard. Shamelessly use it to your advantage.
• Allow a little give for special occasions, but don’t totally backslide. You might instigate a revolt if you suddenly scrap Thanksgiving pie or Junior’s favorite birthday cake. Believe it or not, they might be lobbying for more than a sugar opportunity. Traditions mean more to kids than we often understand. Choose your battles.
• Supplement wisely, as we always say. A quality, complete kid’s multi-vitamin can cover your bases. We’d recommend a fish oil supplement as well, but O.K. the idea and particular supplement with your pediatrician first. Look for an appropriate children’s dose that is guaranteed, independently tested pure from toxins. (The kids’ versions usually come flavored to boot.)
Thanks to Nancy and everyone who have offered seedling questions and comments. As said, look for more on this topic next week. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with feeding the seedlings in your life.