I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard it: “I want to eat healthier, but my kids (partner, whomever) won’t eat that food.” Everyone who said it was 100% certain that this was true. The only thing I am 100% certain about as regards feeding others healthy food is that if you don’t have it/make it/serve it, they certainly won’t eat it.
Changing our own eating habits is hard; convincing others that this is a group project can be daunting at best, but the difficulty of the task doesn’t mean the effort is not worth it. Big Sis and I have both enlisted our families (immediate and in some cases extended) in our pantry transformations and we have some ideas that just might help you do the same. The truth is that, as with any meal, eating real food is easier and more enjoyable when you do it with the people that you love.
So here we approach the core of Baby Step 4: just as eating healthier foods requires you to be more conscious of what you’re eating and how you’re making it, so too will rallying the troops involve an evolution in consciousness about food. You must be the leader in the movement to develop an attitude of adventure, experimentation and gratitude surrounding food and mealtimes in your home.
Our suggestions fall into three basic categories:
- The Use and Acceptance of Baby Steps as Progress
- Attitudinal Adjustments
I can’t speak for everybody, but when I embark on a new venture that I’m enthusiastic about, I want to share it. I want to share it with everybody and I (unreasonably) want everyone to be as excited as I am… It’s sweet, isn’t it? The cold water of reality is a bit uncomfortable. Just because I’m enthused doesn’t mean they will be. My loved ones’ priorities might be entirely different than mine and the mental steps I’ve taken to prepare myself for this wonderful new transformation have not been their mental steps as well. If we can agree that baby steps are an effective tool for making changes in our eating habits, we must remember that those we wish to encourage (and feed) deserve the same gracious and gentle introduction to foods with which they are unfamiliar and that they may not be initially inspired by. Does this mean don’t try? No, no it doesn’t. It may mean don’t try ALL the time. It may mean be ready to see consumption without complaint (but no real enjoyment) as progress over grousing. It may mean lovingly saying that you understand when deep inside you’d like to remove all the plates from the table and tell everybody to…. okay, that’s just me now and again – I know, it’s not pretty.
1. Establish baby steps with your family by: designating one meal per week to be healthier food night/ or healthier entree or side dish night if you need a gentler step.
Family mealtime means different things to different people and for many folks it is comfort. When we are trying new foods, it’s not always so very comfortable. So rather than highlighting the comfort of familiar foods, we must highlight the adventure of trying new things. This can be particularly challenging with little people. I get it, really I do. But again, if we give up all we can be sure of is that they will NEVER try the new food. If we persist and attempt to make it fun, who knows what will happen?
This is what we remind my sweeties of. If you don’t TRY it, you’ll never know. We then remind them of the foods they’ve tried and discovered how delicious they are. If we’re trying a dish that highlights flavors from another culture, we talk about that place and the role that this food plays there. We take an adventure. When they are adventurous with their food, we lavish them with praise. Big Sis had a great idea that I think we will implement – the adventurous eater medallion. We may also try adventurous eating hats. Occasionally, in desperation, we appeal to their sibling rivalry and have a race to try the new food. I can’t say the last method encourages delightful table manners, but it does seem to work.
Feeding this little mug is not always easy.
In addition the the positive role that adventurousness and competition can play, there is no way to overstate the importance of gratitude at the table. Mr. Little Sis has instituted a fabulous family tradition at the beginning of our meals. As head chef, I occasionally become discouraged by the cajoling that feeding twin 5 year olds can require. When we sit down to eat, Mr. Little Sis immediately says, “Thank You Mommy, for making such a wonderful meal for us.” The twins usually follow on quickly, even if they are mid-complaint or moving stuff around to see what’s under there icky-face-making.
The most interesting thing about it is that once they’ve said thank you, they rarely return to the complaints, at least not with volume and vigor, which helps keep the mood at the table a little lighter, and prevents them from discouraging one another from trying new foods. Highlighting the importance of gratitude in a positive way, “We are so fortunate to have this healthy and nourishing food, and to be able to enjoy it together,” over the “There are starving kids all over the world who would be happy to eat that ____,” rightly changes the focus at the table from whether or not the meal meets every individual’s expectations to mealtime as a time to come together and recharge.
2. Establish adventurousness and gratitude by asking for it and acknowledging it. Reward adventurousness and model gratitude.
Different strategies work for different people. Some like the games (my daughter) and some need the rationale. I am still making this meal even though you’ve expressed it’s not your favorite because it has ingredients in it that do _____ inside your body. Anything that helps that boy’s allergies will go in the mouth. Guaranteed. It is difficult NOT to take advantage of that knowledge. We’ve also talked a great deal about why I pack their lunches and why I don’t include many of the things their friends eat regularly. I marvel at the lack of pushback on this. They occasionally express their severe deprivation (along with a host of injustices that I have perpetrated), but they also, I’ve found, are able to make choices that they would not if we didn’t share so much food information.
I’ve discovered that when they are offered a treat at a party, they limit themselves, without my saying anything. They tell me when they’ve had a surprise goody at school or with friends so that I can make adjustments to what I give them for the rest of the day. They GET IT. When they’re older and they ask about McDonald’s (or whatever) rather than toeing the line on that front as they do now, perhaps we’ll sit down and watch SuperSize Me together. My husband and I watched several food documentaries before we embarked on the last round of dietary changes, discussed the information we found, researched the questions that remained. Just as I need information to make a big change, so too do the loved ones in my life.
3. Educate your loved ones by telling them why you are doing what you are doing.
So your Baby Step? What should you do? You should consider your surroundings and try (gently and patiently) to get’em on board. Your life will be easier; your food will be healthier; and your table will be a place of adventure, experimentation, and gratitude while you tackle another pantry swap, or try a new recipe. Baby Steps for you, Baby Steps for them. It worked for all of us once, right?