My daughter, Palmer, is 2.5 years old almost to the day and has no concept of hot dog, chicken nuggets, McDonald’s, Burger King or any of the like. She was breastfed, solely, until she was 5 months old at which time we introduced brown rice cereal and her first solid food, butternut squash. She began to show interest in the things we ate and so in the spirit of empowerment I laid several options out and let her make the choice. From there we introduced avocado, sweet potatoes, leeks, peas, carrots and then bananas, pears, mango and eventually more allergen concerning fruits like berries and stone fruits. After her first birthday we introduced eggs, nut butters and nut milks and raw local honey (also a great way to prevent seasonal allergies). Palmer was weaned just before her second birthday at which point Palmer had very rarely eaten processed sugar or artificially processed food or dairy products. While we like feeding her ice cream now as much as she likes eating it we are sure to offer her products that contain the best possible ingredients and are flavored with real fruit. Being that we eat almost nothing out of a box we spend A LOT of time in the kitchen (and do A LOT of dishes). That time together has created some of my favorite memories but also given Palmer an interest in food far beyond anything I could have predicted. She loves to tell people her carrots are good for her eyes, that her water is good for her skin and that kale is good for her belly. We probably take for granted that she asks for carrots and water while most kids request chips or soda.
The way we are raising her in regards to food is such a regular conversation for me that I would like to officially share my methods and beliefs: they’re pretty simple and make sense but more importantly they work. She sleeps well; she’s happy, healthy, never had an ear infection or any need for antibiotics and has a healthy digestive system.
Start in the garden:
Kids like playing in dirt. (Duh.) Planting a garden is a priceless way to encourage learning in a vast array of subjects and it’s hilariously adorable. Palmer helped plant our herb garden when she was 1. She understood to be delicate with the plants and the basic process of digging holes, dropping in a seed or starter, filling them in and giving a drink of water. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that some adults in the world do not know how to do that. Go Palmer! Now at two and a half I credit the garden for improving her understanding of counting, colors, and the basic principles of photosynthesis, some types of plants, flowers as well as aiding in the development of her social and interpersonal skills like sharing, patience, empathy and kindness and so much more.
There is a whole world of research out there that will tell you about the results of studies proving that kids are more likely to eat a vegetable if they grow it. For a great program on preschool age gardening education I recommend taking a look at Bloomers Island. Bloomer’s is a non-profit gardening software game that provides education through hands on activities both in the garden and online. The kids are rewarded with prizes and can master levels as they work their way through the corresponding books. Gardening gets kids outside, it’s a family oriented project and (if you’re doing it right) usually a pretty good work out too!
Play with food:
Not only are kids more likely to eat their vegetables if they grow them, but they are even more likely to eat the rainbow (a nutrient dense variety of foods: the color of the vegetable relates to its nutrient content) if they cook them. That probably also has something to do with the fact that all of those delicious smells are waking up their belly juices as opposed to being plastered in front of a television with pizza rolls commercials flashing before their eyes. I love that there are so many really cool, beautiful kitchen toys out there. Palmer prefers helping me with real utensils not fake looking plastic ones.
Doing a lot of work with the Whole Kids Foundation here at Whole Foods has exposed me to the poor standards of kids’ school lunch accommodations. Whole Kids works to put salad bars and gardens in schools and follows that up with a teachers training program that educates the administrators and teachers about the reality of childhood disease and obesity in our country and how diet and nutrition are directly responsible for this epidemic. Teachers who are in most cases with our kids more than we are can set an example for healthy eating by making wise choices that their students will see and mimic. We are beginning to see more elaborate culinary programs in schools that are incorporating healthy eating into the curriculum.
This is part of a dire paradigm shift that is happening with American food culture and the new generations of parents that like myself are reverting back to the ways that our grandparents and great grandparents ate; off the land and close to nature. I believe Austin is a model for the rest of the country and I’m so proud to be a part of it.-
I am really fond of these resources on kids healthy eating. I believe we are like-minded in terms of our principles and/or their recipes are delicious (for kids and grown-ups alike).
This was my inspiration for this post and offers a great list of tips to help stay on track and make life easier. A must read! http://www.greenkitchenstories.com/a-healthy-start/
Here I will summarize:
1. Agree with your partner and meals will be easier.
2. Don’t set impossible restrictions and make some compromises. Palmer is allowed cheese on dishes that Todd and I would otherwise eat without.
3. Be a good role model.
4. Experiment with taste and texture. Make the same food different ways.
5. Add vitamins and minerals into foods you know they will eat like smoothies, pancakes, muffins etc.
6. ALWAYS PACK SNACKS. Fruit, hard-boiled eggs, pancakes, muffins, fruit leathers, yogurt, etc.
7. Be cool. I know that Palmer generally eats better than most kids so we choose not to make a scene about the rare day she eats cake at a party.
8. Encourage eating and accept the mess. Bringing attention to the mess will make things worse.
9. Try this G.K.S. recipes:
Breakfast: Oat or buckwheat porridge with plant or nut milk and berries. Vegetable omelet. Tofu with stir fried vegetable. Bread with bean spread (for example hummus) or tahini. Boiled eggs and banana bread. Yoghurt with seeds and fruit compote.
Lunch: At Elsa’s pre school they cook vegetarian (or fish), dairy free & wheat free meals for Elsa. For example lentil soup, salmon lasagna (gluten free), soy sausages, potatoes and vegetables. Weekends we often eat leftovers, omelet, falafel, bean salad or breakfast twice…
Dinner: Some Elsa favorites; Vegetable stews with black rice, millet or quinoa, gazpacho, coconut milk soups with gluten free noodles, vegetable soups, oven roasted vegetables with dip, pizza, no-rice risotto, sushi salad, burgers & fries.
Snacks: Rice crackers with nut- or seed butters, smoothies & vegetable juices, fruit salad, bean salad, bread with hummus or pesto, leftover porridge, avocado and boiled eggs. Rye or spelt bread with almond butter, Quinoa or corn muffins.
10. Do more research. If you want to read more about the connections between child ailments and food we think this book is pretty good. “What’s Eating Your Child?” – The hidden connection between Food and Childhood Ailments, by Kelly Dorfman.
*The advice and perspective here are a cumulative experience of life and self teaching and in no way am I claiming to be an expert. On the contrary, I know nothing so please set me straight.
Click here for my favorite kid friendly recipes.
Click here for some of my favorite kid’s kitchen toys and gifts