First of all, let me start off by stating that I am not a nutritionist and have no formal training. I am simply a concerned mother and educator who has seen the effects poor nutrition can have on our children. I cannot tell you how many occasions during my teaching career I had a child come to school on either an empty stomach or munching on junk food for breakfast. I can tell you that it was a regular occurrence.
Not only did I witness the lack of energy these children experienced from eating foods that did not contain nutrient rich calories, but their hunger was not satiated by these overly processed foods. Back in my elementary teaching days, I could always count on at least one child to interrupt the first lesson of the day to ask when it would be snack time. My students were simply starving. This in turn made it difficult for them to focus on the task at hand: learning. Despite their hunger, many of my hot lunch students would eat only a small portion of their meal. Either they were too busy talking with friends at the table to eat their meal in its entirety or, in their pickiness, they simply chose to eat only the foods they liked. This often resulted in the pizza and dessert of the day being ravenously devoured, while the fruits and vegetables on their plates were discarded into the trash. I saw countless apples at my last school tossed into the trash untouched. When it came down to it, a good number of my students had consumed no fruits or vegetables by the end of the school day.
When I became a mother, I vowed that I would feed my own child better. I am currently reading Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s Disease Proof Your Child: Feeding Kid’s Right and I have found a lot of what he discusses regarding the current Standard American Diet (SAD) to be ideas that should fall under common sense. If you want to boost your child’s immunity, you have to feed their immune system which means increasing their fruits and vegetables while decreasing the amount of processed foods they consume (Fuhrman, 2005). If you are a child of the Eighties, like myself, then you were probably raised to believe that the majority of your food consumption should be grains. The USDA has since moved on from the anachronous food pyramid that I was taught to live by in school and has changed over to the MyPlate infographic. This is a big improvement as vegetables and fruits are now expected to be half of your daily servings, but I think we could do better.
Yes, there seems to be a ton of different diets out there promising everything from weight loss to curing autoimmune diseases. In looking into all of these diets, I must admit I have been frustrated as they tend to contradict one another. Paleo’s emphasize eating organic, grass-fed meats while vegans and vegetarians say, “no meat!” The one common thread I have found amongst all of these different “food lifestyles” is the vast quantity of raw and cooked vegetables added to the diet. Dr. Fuhrman advocates that one should eat a large salad everyday. Dr. Terry Wahl’s, who reversed some of her more severe Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis symptoms through diet, advocates eating 9 cups of vegetables a day (Ballantyne, 2013).
I think I have done pretty well with Lil’ Man’s diet. At every meal and almost every snack he has a fruit or vegetable. He loves fruit and has very rarely come across one he didn’t like. He doesn’t complain to me about not having cookies in his preschool snacks while his friends do. In fact, his favorite food is heart of palm, a vegetable (doing the mom “happy dance” over here)! My challenge, however, has been getting him to not only increase his vegetable intake, but to eat a wider variety of green and colorful veggies. As a toddler, we went through a phase where he went from eating several different vegetables as an infant to only eating cucumbers. This was beyond frustrating for my husband and me. We have since come a long way. He currently eats carrots, Swiss chard, kale, a variety of lettuces, red cabbage, heart of palm, broccoli (raw), cauliflower (cooked), cucumber, kohlrabi and he will begrudgingly eat some radish at my urging. He also loves seaweed, a food that Dr. Wahl’s recommends eating once a week to obtain iodine and selenium (TEDxIowaCity: Minding Your Mitochondria with Dr. Terry Wahls).
If I am being completely honest, Lil Man’s diet currently looks like this:
I don’t think this is necessarily a bad diet, but I think we can do a little better. My goal this summer is to get Lil’ Man to eat more servings of vegetables. I figure this is the perfect time to set this goal as much of our produce will be coming into season. Not only will the costs be going down, but it will just taste better. We will also be growing what we can in our small garden.
My goal is to teach him to think before he eats. I want him to learn early on to make healthy choices so that it will be easier for him to make the right choices as an adult. I want him to think about what he gets from the food he consumes. Will it boost his immunity? Feed his brain? Or is it simply just for pleasure? After all, I believe teaching our children healthy habits is just as important as teaching them reading and arithmetic.
When it comes to immunity we do quite well in our household. Lil’ Man did suffer from a couple of mild colds this year, but he did not have any fevers and therefore has not missed a single day of school due to illness. (Repeat mom happy dance!) I do believe that his good health is due to his healthier than average eating habits. My hope is that with an increase in vegetable consumption, I can give his immune system the boost it needs to combat all the nasty bugs that go through kindergarten classrooms (e.g., one year I witnessed norovirus sweep through the kinder and first grade classrooms of my Colorado Springs elementary school). The primary grades are rough when it comes to illnesses. It wasn’t uncommon for news to travel up to those of of us teaching the upper grades and specials that “half the kids in the kindergarten had thrown up that day.” While maybe good eating habits can’t protect my son from contracting a nasty stomach bug, I can at least do my best to prevent the other common childhood illnesses that travel like wildfire through the classroom.
My Plan for the Summer: More Fruits and Veggies, Less Processed Food!
- Encourage him to pick one new vegetable to try each time we go to the grocery store.
- Leave healthy choices out for snacking (e.g., have pre-washed fruits that don’t require refrigeration out and within his reach).
- Have him select and plant fruits and vegetables in our garden. He will be tasked with watering the plants and will help with the harvesting.
- Implement healthy meals as part of our “Countdown to Disney” this summer. Perhaps it is time to try Ratatouille after watching Ratatouille?
- Promote him to sous chef in our home kitchen. Have him help wash produce and make healthy meals like salads.
- Hold a regular create your own salad night: put out healthy choices and let him decide what to put on his salad.
- Be creative and fun: introduce new foods or previously disliked foods in a creative manner. Perhaps it is time to try my hand at making Disney and Pokemon themed bento boxes?
- Make our own healthy snacks (e.g., homemade fruit gummies)
- Experiment and create our own healthy recipes.
- Limit the amount of junk food available in the house. Limit sweets to special occasions and try to keep it out of the house. (Personally speaking, if there is chocolate in the house, I will find it!)
I’ve already begun to implement some of these strategies into our daily routine. Hopefully, if you are a parent looking to help a picky eater or just want to improve upon your child’s diet, you will find some of these strategies helpful as well. I will be posting about what works and what doesn’t as well as sharing some of our recipes. Do you have any tips and tricks that have helped your children eat better? Let us know in the comments below!
Check out Dr. Wahl’s talk from TEDx in which she talks about how we are starving the most basic of components our bodies, mitochondria.
Ballantyne, S. (2013, December 4). Veggiephobia: Why limiting your vegetable intake might be slowing down healing. Retrieved April 8, 1984, from https://www.thepaleomom.com/veggiephobia/
Fuhrman, J. (n.d.). 8 Steps to Living a Nutritarian Lifestyle. Retrieved April 20, 2017, from https://www.drfuhrman.com/learn/library/articles/41/8-steps-to-living-a-nutritarian-lifestyle
Fuhrman, J. (2005). Disease-Proof Your Child: Feeding Kids Right. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin.
Wahls, T. (Writer). (2015, February 17). TEDxIowaCity: Minding Your Mitochondria with Dr. Terry Wahls [Video file]. Retrieved April 8, 2017, from http://terrywahls.com/minding-your-mitochondria-dr-terry-wahls-at-tedxiowacity/