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The Best Way to Keep Your Children Alive AND Happy

Did you know that everything is going to kill our children? It’s true. Yesterday I was browsing through Facebook while I was taking a relaxing bath (don’t use your phone in the tub. It’s actually a really bad idea), and I landed on one of those guilt-educing, horror-filled videos. This particular video listed 5 foods that will give your children horrible, crippling diseases that will eventually lead to a painful death. The latest child killer: Teddy Grahams. Those lovable bear-shaped crackers are actually mass murderers in disguise and any mother who would give her child Teddy Grahams should be brought to the town square for a thorough stoning.

Let’s face it. Trying to feed your kids healthy food these days is about as easy as finding a parking spot at Target on Black Friday. We do our best, but at the end of the day, kids are kids. They’re going to go out in the world and experience mighty horrors like Teddy Grahams.

My biggest fear is that our household diet is going to be so rigid and restrictive that when my kids get to the point where they can buy food for themselves, they’ll overdue it on bad crap that eaten in large doses really can hurt them.

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There has to be a balance. We have to eat healthy at home, but I want my kids to enjoy food and get “treats.” And let’s face it, no matter how many cookbooks or articles you read with pictures of kids wearing all white clothes and flower crowns and  frolicking through fields of green eating strawberries and looking satisfied, kids want junk. I’ve never met a kid, no matter how healthy they are raised who says, “No thank you. I don’t want that cookie. I’m perfectly satisfied with this plum for dessert because my mom raised me to not even think cookies look appealing.” If you are that mom and you did raise that child, please write a book and run for president (now would be good).

So don’t feel guilty if your kids want the junky stuff. We eat very healthy in our household. My daughter will eat any kind of fruit and most veggies. And while we don’t eat a lot of treats, she never passes up the opportunity for something full of sugar, bright colors and ingredients I can’t pronounce. If this is your child, congratulations. Your child is normal.

The point I’m trying to make with this long tirade is, there has to be a balance. A while ago, I wrote about how to live a healthy life, but still have balance (click here for article). I decided I needed to write another one specifically about kids because young children don’t always see the long-term affects of  their healthy or not-so-healthy choices. So when it comes to food, here are some things we try in our house to keep it healthy, but keep the balance.

 

Breakfast Fridays:

We have breakfast for dinner every Friday. This is pancakes, waffles, muffins, scones, etc. We always try to make these “healthy” (no refined flours or sugars) but it’s still a change up from salads, roasted vegetables and fish. My kids get so exited to have things like chocolate pancakes for dinner. I even let them top them with real maple syrup. I’m such a cool mom.

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Mac and Cheese Saturdays:

I cook dinner 7 days a week, so mac and cheese Saturday is a break for me too. We try to buy some healthy hot dogs or sausages, and we serve them with a side of regular Annie’s Mac and Cheese. I don’t even try for homemade. Nope. They get mac and cheese, powdered cheese and all.

 

Dessert Sundays:

We always make dessert on Sundays. Like the breakfasts, we make them without refined sugars or flour, but they are still an indulgence. We have shakes, brownies, cookies, cupcakes, ice cream, etc. My kids look forward to dessert Sunday more than anyone… except for me (one reason I came up with this fabulous idea). When I’m old enough that I no longer remember my name, I will still remember I get my dessert on Sundays (my kids, please remember that when choosing a nursing home for mom).

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We Celebrate Birthdays at School

I totally get that if your kid is allergic to something, you need to send them to school with replacement treat when their classmates bring in treats for a birthday. But as much as I abhor most the ingredients in packed treats, I’m nearly 100% positive my kids will not throw their lives away if they eat a sugar cookie with blue frosting for a classmate’s birthday. If they have to have their own special treat sent in by mom, it makes them feel embarrassed and angry that they don’t get to have what the rest of the class does. Again, if your child has severe Celiac disease, giving them a gluten-filled brownie probably qualifies as bad parenting. If you just read an article that says gluten is bad for you, sending them in with their own packaged gluten-free cookie may actually do more harm than good. We do the same thing for their birthdays. I draw the line at artificial coloring and some of the other bad stuff, but I send them in with the treats they choose.

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We Do Holidays Right:

For Easter and Christmas, I make several homemade candies for Easter baskets and Christmas stockings but I also buy M&M’s, jelly beans and Cadbury eggs. We’ve even been known to buy those disgusting chocolate Santas filled with a substance that may or may not be a marshmallow because I knew it would thrill my kids. And on Halloween, we let the kids trick or treat and eat candy for about a week before “donating” it (Okay. Confession: I usually just throw it away. I’m a busy woman so get off my back). Like with the birthday treats, these rare occasions bring them a lot of joy and they’re both healthy, happy kids despite these indulgences.

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Treats are a Privilege

I have one kid who eats anything healthy and other who…. eats apples. It is so difficult to know what I know about nutrition and have a child who refuses to eat the majority of healthy foods. But one thing he does know, if he doesn’t eat something mom deems “healthy” he doesn’t get treats. And by treats I mean, a square of dark chocolate or a “popsicle” made out of juice, etc. We don’t do dessert every night (again, Sunday dessert night!!), but he knows he can’t have a treat if he hasn’t had something healthy.

 

Education

This one is big. Rather than say, “This food is healthy,” or “This food will kill you before you reach 25,” explain why. When we eat dinner we point out what is protein, carb and fat, and why each is necessary. Then when my kids ask for a treat we all know is bad, like the Mike and Ikes out of the quarter machine (They still ask daily. I have to admire their perseverance even though it never pays off…) I explain the effects of that food. One day we were at Sam’s Club and the nice sample lady who spoke very little English offered my kids what she called, “Mexican cheese.” My son looked at her and very seriously asked, “Is it made with natural ingredients?” She looked at him like he was an alien and replied with, “It’s Mexican cheese.” I still don’t know what was in said “Mexican cheese” but it made me proud of my son that he would be concerned about what was in his food. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Sometimes. Sometimes they jump of a balcony onto mattresses and are surprised when they get hurt.

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So the moral of the story is, let kids be kids. Please teach them what is healthy and do your best to feed them healthy food at home. Send them to school with a healthy lunch and a healthy snack.  But don’t coddle them too much when it comes to food. Sometimes you have to push them out of the metaphorical nest into a vat of Cheese Wiz and hope they’re smart enough to limit the amount of Cheese Wiz they consume, or even abstain altogether (Before anyone calls CPS, the Cheese Wiz is metaphorical as well). If you raise them with the right foods, they will grow up to know what is healthy and what isn’t. But in the meantime, they can still have a healthy childhood and not be that weird kid in the corner eating a bowl of sprouts.

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