Thursday, May 2, 2013

Honest Tricks

You may be wondering, "What's the deallio with all the non-running-related blog posts, lady?  Have you not been running?  Have you no more races to recap in painful detail?"  Well, I'll tell you.  I'm totally well-rounded, for one thing.  I'm not just a runner.  I even did, like, a whole workout thing the other day that didn't involve any cardio at all.  I have been running, though, and I can prove it!  See that counter thingy over there? ----------->  That number goes up almost every day.  Hah!  No way anyone could fake that!  I'm not exactly training for anything specific, at this moment, but I am trying to build up my base mileage to at least 20 miles/week.  Finally, yes, I do have more races to recap, but I figured it might be time for a little break from those for now.  Don't fret.  I won't leave you hanging!

Have you ever had a toddler meticulously, carefully pick up pieces of the food that you lovingly, painstakingly, and thoughtfully prepared and throw them across the room?  Have you ever had a child take one bite of chicken prepared according to a new recipe and promptly spit it out, gag, nearly vomit, and run to the bathroom to wash the taste out of his mouth?  Has your spouse ever smiled his/her way through a bite or two of dinner, and then quietly made a bologna sandwich in the kitchen, scarfing it down quickly so as not to cause a ruckus?  If you answered "yes" to those questions, then you're either writing this post, or should definitely be reading it.

I was going for "healthy-looking".  Did I succeed?
Also, this may have been our Christmas card photo.  Is it bad that I can't remember?
Also, credit where due: Denise Marie Photography <3

It's really important to me that my family and I eat a healthy diet.  However, I know I'm far less concerned about what we eat than are many others, and I rarely deprive myself of anything that I really want to eat.  We eat sugar and butter and gluten and meat, salt and fries and lots of chips.  Intolerance to some foods combined with dislike of others makes meal planning and healthy eating rather difficult in our house, though.  Therefore, I decided to share my not-at-all dirty tricks for filling the bellies of my new-to-food eater, my bombarded-with-junk-food eater, and my "I know what I like and it isn't that" eater.

New To Food:
  • Rethink time-of-day-specific foods.  It's okay to serve vegetables at breakfast.  It's okay to serve cereal at dinner.  At the end of the day, if the right balance of carbs, protein, vegetables and fruits has been reached, it is my firm belief that the "when" doesn't matter one bit. 
  • Don't watch the clock.  Although Baby had me on a strict nursing schedule for the first many months of her life, now that she's eating real food, she seems to be hungry at different times each day.  Also, there are some days that she'll spend an hour in her chair, slowly picking at her food.  Inconvenient, yes.  But at least I know she's eating!
  • Read labels, but not like they're the Bible.  Sugar not being the first or second ingredient is important.  Organic, not so much according to this article and our pediatrician.  So, while feeding my baby organic foods isn't super high on my list of parenting concerns, I will say that it's actually not that easy to find dairy-free foods for her that are cheap and NOT organic.  Dairy-free is the most important part, for us, as her tummy cannot handle even a small amount.
  • Variety may be the spice of life, but eating the same dozen or so things every day never killed a baby.  (Did it?)  Many people have a "sweet tooth".  Baby has a "cracker tooth".  She has learned to say "please", and she knows where the crackers are even if they're hidden.  If I had a dollar for every time she has pointed at them with one hand, rubbed her chest with the other (sign language for "please") and said, "Pba?  Pba?  Pba?" I think I would have at least $10k.  I try to hold her to one cracker snack each day, and I often spread them with avocado, hummus, or peanut butter to force some protein into her tiny body.  I do give her new and different things at least once a day, but she makes it quite clear whether or not she likes them.  
  • Be patient, be calm, and be creative.  Easier said than done.  I know someone who, when her son was Baby's age, had been trying forEVER to get him to eat some cereal.  She had been cajoling and singing and trying many different ways to get him to open his mouth and eat, and he responded by spitting out the bite she finally managed to get past his gritted teeth.  She turned the bowl upside down on his head and walked away.  He didn't mind a bit.  Time after time, Baby frustrates me and makes me want to pick up the bits of food and throw them back at her.                
She does have eyes that open.  Just not for pictures, most days.
So far, I've been able to walk away without dumping food on her head, and try a different tactic after taking a break for a few minutes.  I remind myself that it really isn't a personal attack, her hitting my hands away from her mouth as hard as she is able.  I remind myself that we taught her to tell us "All done" (or, Ah aah duh uh un) when she's finished.  No, we didn't expect that she would say it before we gave her any food, while trying to break free of her restraints.  I know, when I think it through, that she doesn't understand "you have to eat something other than crackers".  It's up to the grown-ups to be patient, and to think up different ways to make mealtimes more successful.
Bombarded with junk:
  • Be reasonable.  I think it's crazy to try to restrict a child from ever eating junk food.  6 y.o. tells me there is a kid in his class who isn't allowed to have any sweets, ever.  And, well, that kid just happens to be the biggest one in the class.  Either the "no sweets" rule in his house is a new one, and therefore really difficult to adapt to, or it has never been enforced.  As we all know, un-enforced rules are stupid.  Also, that kid sneaks sweets at school all the time, at least according to my nosy observant son.  6 y.o. is usually allowed 1 small treat per day, but that isn't even a given.  After every holiday, we end up with piles and piles of candy, and it always lasts us until the next holiday, at which point we throw out the old stuff and replenish.  Right now, his Easter bunny is only missing its ears.  The fact is that school-aged kids are totally bombarded with sugary, unhealthy, unnatural foods.  To try restricting them from all of it would be like trying to paddle a raft away from Niagara Falls.  Realistically, futile.  Instead of banning it all, allow specific treats in moderate amounts.
Breathtaking beauty, breathtaking amount of candy in our house.
  • Try it!  There's nothing quite so infuriating as someone insisting they don't like a food item they've never tasted.  6 y.o. is required to try everything I prepare for him, except barbecue sauced things.  He really hates barbecue, and I really hate hearing gagging sounds at the dinner table.  Even if he's tried something before, especially if it's a vegetable (we're more lenient about him trying jelly belly flavors), we insist that he try it again.  I've read somewhere that it can take up to a dozen times of experiencing a new taste for someone to become accustomed to it.  If the taste of bell peppers gives him goosebumps again, he doesn't have to eat them.
This particular nephew of mine is not fond of trying new foods.  Obviously, though, he's much more cute than infuriating.
  • Don't start habits you'll want to break.  I cannot, for the life of me, understand why parents give their small children sodas, caffeine, kool aid, etc., but they do.  I worked in restaurants for years, and wished time and again that I could report to someone about the toddlers I saw being given Coke and sweetened tea.  6 y.o. wasn't allowed to taste soda until he was 4.  He still isn't allowed to have kool aid or caffeine.  I tell him that kool aid is poison, so he can never have that, and caffeine can wait until he's 17 and needs it to stay up studying for the SAT.  I can't think of a single reasonable explanation for why a parent would start giving their child items with absolutely no nutritional value on a regular basis.  If you're a parent who does so, you are by no means obligated to justify your actions to me, but I kinda wish you would; I would like to understand if there is a good reason.
  • Oh, and DO start habits you'll want to continue.  After school the other day, 6 y.o. said, "Mom, can you please only give me 100% juice in my lunch?  'Cause I tasted some today that someone else had and it was not 100% juice and I did not like it one bit.  Why would they say it's juice if it's not all juice?  Are they liars or something?"  I realize that even 100% juice is not the most nutritious thing for my child to be drinking, but I feel way better about it than the liar-juice, that's for sure.  He knows that fresh vegetables and fruits are a big part of his daily diet, and he drinks water without complaint.  He knows when mealtimes are, and what is an appropriate portion size for snacks.  
  • Include and involve.  It's a fact that children are more likely to eat food that they helped cook.  Please don't ask me for a reference, just take my word for it.  I invite 6 y.o. to help me in the kitchen fairly often, and he gets so excited about watching and aiding me.  Plus, when he's involved in the decisions about what to buy and what to have for each meal, he complains a whole lot less than when I act like Momdel Castro.

"I know what I like and it isn't that."
  • Play fair.  I really dislike being tricked.  I assume that others dislike it also, and since I love my husband madly, I don't try to trick him into eating foods he has told me his doesn't care for.  When I dice up mushrooms so finely that he can't taste them in the meatballs or puree extra vegetables and add them to my tomato sauce, I tell him that they're there.  He's okay with it.  When I switched from ground beef to turkey for our burgers and several other dishes, I didn't try to fool him into thinking it was the same.
  • Keep your eyes on the prize.  Really, it's not a big deal if he dips his healthy, fresh herb filled and flavor chocked main course in ketchup.  He's still eating a nutritious meal, with the family.  There isn't much better than that.
  • You are NOT what you eat.  Nor are you what you serve.  If Husband doesn't like something I prepare, it doesn't mean he doesn't like me, or that he doesn't appreciate my efforts.  (Do you think that's a record number of "doesn'ts" in a sentence?)  Realizing this, and remembering it when I'm disappointed in the reaction I've received to a new dish, has made me able to take criticism constructively, rather than feeling judged or hurt, or like I just got Chopped.
  • Pay attention to portioning.  This may be the easiest way to reduce the intake of calories.  Have you noticed that many recipes call for a pound of meat?  I don't know if it's like this everywhere, but at my grocery store, it is rare to find a package of meat that is 1 pound.  I'm sure it helps their bottom line to add more meat to the package, since they charge by weight, but they will sell you the exact amount you want if you ask.  Ok, so, I've never actually asked.  I'm too shy, and I hate accepting help from the very helpful people who offer in stores.  It's ridiculous, and there's no good reason for it.  But I've seen other people ask for specific amounts of meat, and the kind, helpful people always quickly oblige.  What I actually do is this: buy extra, and re-portion it myself.  
  • Remember the good.  After way too much time spent desperately trying to figure out how to duplicate a dinner that we all enjoyed, I now write down my recipes and notes.  Sometimes, I even take pictures!  This is also helpful when Husband asks, "What is that?"  My first response is usually, "You like it."
Newest family favorite: Imperial Walkers (6 y.o. named them during his Star Wars obsession phase)

If you stuck around and read this whole post, thank you!  If you looked at the food pyramid on the side of your cereal box instead, and learned the value of vegetables, fruits and whole grains from that, I understand. I have a leeetle bit more to say on the subject of feeding my family than you may have expected (or cared about.)

 Would you like to offer me any feedback?  Ha!  Get it?  Feed?


  1. From the Tasty Feedback Dept.: I misread part of the 'Variety' bullet and saw "Baby has a "cricket tooth".

    In my defense - and perhaps hers as well - that did seem a bit odd, so I re-read the sentence.

  2. My favorite piece of advice from this post:
    You are not what you serve.
    It is a good reminder for me. Although my family has been trained to be gracious about it for the most part, if they don't like what I have spent time and energy preparing, it still hurts a bit.
    It's ok though.
    Not every meal turns out well.
    Rarely is one meal loved by everyone.

  3. I'm not sure about doesn't, but that is definitely the most doesn'tss I've ever seen in one sentence.

  4. I agree on a lot of your points; getting them to help, not making habits you want to break, etc.

    Is it bad that when I walked downstairs last night my 1 1/2 yr old asked "ice cream?" -P I do have that pregnancy excuse....

    What I don't get is how people don't connect what they feed their kids with how it affects their mental development too. That alone is reason to try your best!