As a person without kids, I’m often told (usually spitefully) that I don’t understand the first thing about them; as a babysitter or tutor, the common message for me is, “Well, of course it’s easy for you to do that; you aren’t their mother, you don’t have to spend time with them all day.” This little comment usually comes when I am questioning why a person cannot engage in art projects or cook healthy food. Spiteful or not, the message is clear: mothers have a substantially larger burden than anyone else who cares for children, and that burden is sufficient to make anything that requires large amounts of attention or time an inconvenience.
Though I hold on to the old-fashioned notion that I ought to be in a loving and secure marriage before having children, I’m no stranger to the difficulties of raising them in a world full of processed food. Growing up, my mother would cook food meant to last for days at a time; it bred into me a fear of leftovers that I still find difficult to overcome (the old adage “out of sight, out of mind” applies with almost comical sadness to me, and I’ll usually forget food is in the fridge until I find it a month later sporting its own colonies.) We were a meat-and-potatoes family, so aside from bread and butter as a side, or condiments and toppings used on and in the food, we ate pretty well (at dinner, at least) because we couldn’t afford not to. I’m not sure how things have changed; maybe the costs of fake foods have just gone down since the nineties (and with GMOs so prevalent now, that might just be the case.) All I remember is when my sister and I got to eat at McDonald’s it was a really big deal. It usually only happened once a month at most, not in the least because the closest McDonald’s was 20 miles away. It astonishes me now how families can eat fast food several times a week, even every day, and complain that they’re stretched on budgets.
That being said, the number one reason most families give for not eating healthier is their kids- and the appetites of said kids, which are insatiable and demanding. Kids are lovely this way; they speak their mind without pause, and we, as adults, have the duty to respond. Mothers find themselves waging all-out wars with children accustomed to sugar and preservatives. The inconvenience of this drives them to give in. Well, parents, don’t fret. I’ve got a list of delicious snacks for you, but first, I want to point several things out.
1. You are the parent. If you’re insulted that this comes from a non-parent, then take it as a gentle chiding from an experienced observer of tantrums. I see so many parents these days argue that “well, it’s what they want…” and forget that they are in control of the situation. If your child is used to getting ice cream at night and gets that switched out for fruit, there’s going to be a protest- which you have every right to tell them why you made the switch. If they don’t want to accept your explanation, they can simply go without. This works especially well for desserts and other nutritionally nonessential items.
2. Out of sight, out of mind. Children are highly susceptible to visual cues, which makes them highly susceptible to advertising. You can use this to your advantage by putting junk foods out of the sight of kids. This works especially well with younger children. My sister, while caring for her boyfriend’s two-year-old, got him to go an entire week without eating unhealthy food by simply putting it all in the cupboard above the refrigerator, and not removing it while he was within sight or earshot (the crinkle of a wrapper will bring little feet running!) All her effort was subsequently ruined when her boyfriend opened a candy bar in the car; a tremendous scene ensued. Try it and see how it works for you- I’d be glad to hear about it.
3. Treat your kids like intelligent human beings. Kids ask “why” because they legitimately do not know why you are asking them to stop eating something they find delicious. They are not born with the inherent knowledge that sugar is awful (none of us are. I wish!) If you take a few minutes to explain to your children why you’d like them to eat different foods, instead of just saying they need to eat healthier or that it’s bad for them, it will help satisfy their curiosity, even if it can’t satisfy their appetite.
4. Lead by example. The #1 mistake I have seen parents make, when trying to get their children to eat healthy foods, is scoffing at it like it is the domain of children only- but if you’re chowing down on junk, especially within their sight or hearing, how can you expect them to want to do it themselves? Dietary change is a requirement for the whole family- it can’t just be picked and chosen for the kiddos. If you’re dying for snacks, put them in a tupperware in the closet in your room, and fill the cupboards with good foods. Your kids, when scouring the shelves, will have to pick from that selection.
5. Teach the difference between real and emotional hunger. This is a problem that has plagued our society for generations; we are “emotional eaters”, and learn that “hunger” is synonymous with any number of emotions. Most of us can’t even tell when we’re really hungry. My grandmother used to say that I should wait until my tummy rumbled. While not always accurate, this was a good way for me to judge when I was actually hungry. If your child says they’re hungry- or “still hungry”- take a look at the situation. Look at the foods you are eating. Foods with higher levels of salt, fat and sugar (which includes nearly all processed foods) create false feelings of calmness and give the eater a “high”. Kids can’t recognize that this is happening; all they know is that when they’re upset, they want food. Teach them to consider their feelings when they’re hungry. If it turns out they’re sad or upset or mad, give them an outlet to talk about it before reaching for the snacks.
Here are some of my favorite snacks for kids:
- Frozen grapes (I prefer frozen because they cool you off in summer and can be eaten more slowly than fresh)
- Fruit of any kind
- Yogurt or fruit juice popsicles (buy the molds at any place that has kitchen accessories- or use an ice cube tray. Add yogurt/juice and fruit and freeze- stick toothpicks in the ice cube trays for handles.)
- Celery with raw peanut butter
- Carrot sticks (these are GREAT for teething toddlers who just need something to gnaw on)
- Zucchini chips
- Homemade microwave popcorn (all you need is the kernels; no oil)
- Hard-boiled eggs
- Avocado slices
- Dried cranberries or blueberries
- Cheese cubes or cottage cheese
- Kale chips
- Raw almonds
What do you give your kids to satisfy them? Besides love and attention, of course!