Nutrition: The Mindful Eater (Part I)
I hear it from so many parents: “my kids” simply “won’t eat that”. I want to debunk this collective attitude and near myth we have regarding the nutrition of our youth. First of all, your children eat whatever you eat and that is a given; they will even sniff out wherever you hide the sugar snacks after you put them to bed…the kids not the snacks. Secondly, children burn tons of calories, are usually hungry, and they want to eat. Lastly, kids are very aware of what is available to them in terms of sustenance, from as early as consuming solid foods, and will implement all of their learned behaviors to hold out and get only the good stuff in their bellies…the stuff they know is hidden somewhere in the cupboard.
The process of transforming our dietary habits is not one that occurs overnight. Consumption of food is something that is evidently easy to take for granted, not only because our bodies require that we do it so often in order to function, but also because the dominant food systems that are in place are wrought with a harmful process, rendering harmful products. When I “grew up” and began shopping for my own groceries, these products were everywhere I looked, so I bought them up and I ate them. I ate what tasted the best and what was still affordable. Not a terrible approach, but the problem was more about where I was looking.
Imagine building your typical family meal: it’s centered around a protein of beef or chicken or some type of grilled meat. You put together a couple of sides and voila! What if you took away that animal protein from your meal, I don’t know, the dog ate it…oh no! Another problem. Similar to what a peripheral lens on society may offer, you realize there is no choice but to change. Never mind the fast food (which we know is a slow killer), without that ingredient everything you know about cooking and nutrition has been altered. This is why it takes time. The steak doesn’t just fly off of the table along with Mr. Wizard’s tablecloth that he yanks out from beneath the dinner plates. And it can still be present. But even a modest removal of that classification of protein may leave you to ponder just what else, instead, can go into your body that is good.
Just like the home-schooled child, the plant-based child is often painted in the traditional light as being pale, socially maladjusted and lacking in energy (ours are vibrant, glowing and bursting with energy). Our social construct is set up for you to believe that your child will become some sort of sun-allergic zombie if they’re not sitting at a desk among their peers for 8 hours every day, drinking milk and cutting up t-bones. No matter the fact that we’re teaching and preparing them for a life devoted to desk-work, which is not in itself harmful, aside from the fact that sitting all day long is about the worst thing we can do to our bodies; we equally rely on tradition to tell us where to go in the supermarket to nourish our bodies. Ironically, the food systems in our country have evolved immensely (to our detriment), while our education systems have only shifted from outdated textbook material to outdated iPad material. But I digress. The correlations and connections between our food sources and our education system, poverty, healthcare, racism, our natural environment, our collective well-being (just to name a few) are endless and that is a story for another time.
Just think for a minute about snacks and what you choose to nosh on in between meals. Most people who aren’t eating McDonald’s at every turn are usually getting a little bit of balance in their primary meals. In between meals: “it’s up to my job/schedule”. “It depends on the day”. “We’ll see how many appointments I have.” This is where the mistake gets made: our kiddos don’t work jobs. They don’t interpret rushing around as being an excuse to cut corners on late pancakes, early burgers or impromptu drive-thru visits…we do; and they don’t fully possess the knowledge as to what is healthy…some of us do, yet most of us choose to ignore it.
So the alternative becomes pre-packaged PBJs, some goldfish, jello and yogurt cups in the lunchbox, maybe some banana slices or even fresh berries, topped off with a healthy pouch “full” of carrots, kale, and oranges…there’s the healthiness (pouches or “squeezees”, as they’re often called by the little ones, are full of something and are hardly healthy for the environment, along with all the other single-use packaged items). This meal described contains over 100grams of sugar and close to zero nutrition, mostly because your early child-care provider will likely give them all of it at once or bits of whatever they will eat. And, as aforementioned, they will hold out for the good stuff to the point where you think they are starving. Just because your child eats it, that doesn’t mean it’s good. The idea is that we can do better.
Coming back to the notion that your kids eat what you eat: what you are shopping for at the grocery store is what you will be shopping for in your kitchen when it comes time to prepare a meal for your family. Have you ever taken a walking toddler out of the cart at the grocery store? It is always mayhem, 100% of the time. Do they not tear through your kitchen and cabinets at home, like starving beasts when it comes time to snack…or feed? Your kitchen, refrigerator, cupboards are all, in essence, their grocery store. Stock it well with things that you know are good for you and for them, so that when it comes times to snack, there aren’t unhealthy items. So that when they raid the fridge, it’s actually okay. Limit your drive-thru visits until you find they’re not only unnecessary, but also give you the runners trots. Stick to the earth, it’s good for you and for your kids.