Thursday, July 23, 2009

But what about my kids? (and everyone else)

So, you know you want to eat better, but you are getting resistance from your children, spouse, or _____. What to do?

First of all, never tell someone they should eat something because it is good for them. That is basically synonymous with "tastes like cardboard" in the minds of many people. It's really best if you say nothing at all, because children generally smell a rat if you say anything positive about food. They figure there must be something wrong with it, since you never say anything good about the food they like.

Second, don't assume that anyone will go from a fast-food diet to salads and tofu in one fell swoop. To get whole grains into the diet, start with brown rice instead of white rice. It looks a little different, but the difference in taste isn't terribly dramatic -- and if you don't say anything about it being "good for you," most people eat it and like it. If you have a particularly tough crowd, bury it in gravy or a sauce. Yes, I know gravy is high fat, but they're getting more fiber in the rice, so it's a wash, and you're moving them in the right direction. Next time, leave off the gravy and just sprinkle a little soy sauce on it.

Don't even think about serving whole wheat bread from the store if your family has been eating Wonder Bread. Most store-brought whole wheat bread tastes like cardboard -- or slightly better. Start with baking bread at home using unbleached flour. You've taken a step towards less processing, and I've never known anyone to object to unbleached flour. Then one day just throw in a little whole wheat -- 1/3 whole wheat to 2/3 unbleached. We serve fresh, hot bread with all our meals when we have dinner guests, and we often have whole wheat or multi-grain bread, and people rave about how good it is. Whole grain breads definitely taste best hot!

Third, sit down with your family and ask what they want to eat. Make a menu of home-cooked meals using their suggestions. If you simply make a meal at home -- hamburger and french fries -- you are using far less ingredients and you can control the fat and sugar. You are not going to ethoxylate or hydrogenate anything, so it will be healthier. You can make french fries with potatoes, oil, and salt, rather than the dozen or so ingredients found in fast food fries. (Don't use Crisco shortening, which is hydrogenated oil.) You can make burgers with meat and natural spices, rather than the 40+ ingredients found in McDonald's 100% Angus burger. (Yeah, I thought 100% Angus meant 0% of anything else, but it doesn't.)

In our family, I try to make sure everyone is responsible for making at least one meal per week. Not only does it instill a sense of pride and responsibility, they're also learning a vital life skill. It's no surprise that so many college students today eat out, since most of them don't know how to cook. And according to my college students, there are a lot of experts out there that warn against "the freshman 15," which is the 15 pounds that the average college freshman supposedly gains in that first year after leaving home. Even if they are living in a dorm and eating at the cafeteria, they need to understand what constitutes a nutritious meal. If they've been responsible for meal preparation for several years by the time they leave home, they are more likely to make wise choices.

If you have a baby or a toddler, you're in a perfect position to instill healthy eating from the beginning. A six-month-old does not need dessert or a snack of cake or ice cream. I've seen people assume that children won't like foods -- including myself. When our oldest was a toddler, my husband handed her a piece of a sweet pepper as I was protesting that she wouldn't eat it. She promptly proved me wrong, and today at 21, she loves raw vegetables.

This brings me to my last point. If your child won't eat something at your house, ask Grandma or another friend to make it for dinner next time you visit. When our children were little, we'd have their friends over for dinner, and they would eat things that they'd never dream of eating at home. I'll never forget the little girl who exclaimed to her mother, "You have to get her sloppy joe recipe, because it is so delicious!" The mom was quite shocked to learn that it was made with tofu.

The bottom line with most of these suggestions is that if someone is really accustomed to a diet filled with artificial flavors, sweeteners, and fat, they are not going to change their habits overnight. Take it one meal at a time, one ingredient at a time, and over the course of a few months, you will be able to make big changes.


Jannette Johnson said...

My eleven-year-old is at that stage where he won't try anything new. He used to eat only whole wheat bread, but husband roke down and bought a loaf of white, and well, that was the end of that.

Got any tips for picky eaters?

Deborah said...

All of the ideas in this post are specifically geared towards children or adults who don't like to try new things -- or who are convinced they won't like something that they have never tried. My children don't like every food I fix, but they don't need to like everything. They just need to like enough foods that they can eat a varied diet of real foods. It's also important to be flexible when it comes to preparation. My kids haven't always liked brussel sprouts, for example, but I now have a way of fixing brussel sprouts (with soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper) that they all love. My youngest is my pickiest eater, but we've worked together to figure out how she will eat various foods -- mostly vegetables. Another example: she won't eat plain broccoli, but she'll eat broccoli quiche and cheddar-broccoli soup. Hope this helps!


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