I didn’t think I’d ever write about mac and cheese and chicken nuggets.
It’s been over a year and a half that we’ve been eating clean veggie-based meals and the kids have done really well. Although they still complain about eating salad, I’m constantly amazed at how far we’ve come. I am not making this up, I have actually heard my kids say stuff like:
“Mom, can I just have a salad for lunch?”
Or “I think I have a tummy ache, I need to eat some healthy food.”
Or “Let’s mix pomegranates in.” (I like the random ingredient idea)
Or “I want jamba juice pancake ronies. That’s going to be yummy.” (yes, that’s made a made-up recipe)
Or “Mom, you’re going to be so happy. Today at school there was a lady who came in and was talking about eating healthy foods.”
But kids, like adults, have cravings and peer pressure of their own to combat. My whole goal for my family, is that when choices are presented, we will choose the healthier options. That between cookies and fruit, someday, the kids will choose the fruit. I want them to see food as a way to fuel their bodies and not as an emotional crutch. I love food and I pray my kids will learn to enjoy food and healthy eating as much as I do.
This all said, my now eight-year-old chose his birthday dinner.
It has been over 1 1/2 years since I’ve bought mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. The kids have had these things at random times, but they are a sometimes food. I did ask, without any stipulations, what he wanted for dinner. As I like to say, “We can have sometimes foods, just not always.” Chicken nuggets are definitely a sometimes food because they don’t give us the nutrition our bodies crave. Well, I did it, I bought some little bunny (Annie’s brand) mac and cheese and some chicken nuggets. Happy Birthday little man. The kids loved it, my son felt special on his birthday, and the meal gave us a chance to reinforce the idea of sometimes foods and always foods.
My brain might have been twitching as I picked these up in the store, but it was a good teaching tool for us. Really, I was having flashbacks to grad school when he was 2 and this is what we ate every day. I felt like my dear grad school mom friends were going to be walking in the door. It felt slightly nostalgic and heavens, the prep was amazingly fast. So much faster than making a salad and veggie-based meal. (Well, I did make a salad to go along with this). I miss those friends and the ease of spending every day at the park outside our front doors with our 2-year-olds.
So now what? Does feeding my family this for one meal make me a bad person? No. Does it make you a bad person? No. Can we be better? Yes.
Here’s some definitions that can help you:
Sometimes food: food that is not healthy for your body and doesn’t give you enough good things to make it worth eating
Always food: food that is healthy for your body and helps it function better, giving you the energy and stamina you need
Healthy food: food that is more nutrient dense than caloric (we do not count calories around here)
An occasional piece of pizza with the soccer team is going to be okay, getting self-serve yogurt with grandparents or on a special date is not going to end the world, but it needs to be done in moderation. When presented with the choice it’s almost always best to choose green. Help your kids do the same. This might start with simply ONE little piece of lettuce. Be patient and persistent. Encourage more greens and talk about healthy eating. Kids love a cause as much as adults do. You’ll still hear, “do we have to have vegetables at every meal?” (like I do) I think showing my kids how to have balance in sometimes and always foods will help them be healthy long-term and avoid being self-conscious about food in public. Super important.
A baby step in clean eating with kids is making it fun to try a new food every day. Just one bite. Make it SUPER exciting and full of praise. This includes adults, even if you’ve never liked olives or bananas or kale, you have to be the example of trying something new or trying something again. Don’t make it a negative experience. My husband still tries sweet potatoes every time they’re on the table. He’s a trooper.
Another big one is to offer ONE dinner. Don’t make part for the kids and part for adults. Make all for all. Kids will change if you’re willing to put up with the resistance. I’ve watched it happen in my house and it will take time, but it will happen. Go into the experience with excitement and let it eventually rub off. Some kids are more stubborn than others, I get that. Narrow down the choices, for example choose between green beans or asparagus instead of between crusty garlic bread (really, so hard to resist) and asparagus. Remember love and encouragement will go farther than yelling or shaming.
And sometimes SOMETIMES you might have mac and cheese and chicken nuggets for your birthday dinner. And you just might top that off with some chocolate cake. Sometimes you just need chocolate cake.