Thursday, July 21, 2011

Mom, Can I Have More Brussel Sprouts?

Meet Andrea Kakas, our Mom of the Week! 
Andrea has done a great job feeding her 2 kids a variety of healthy foods. As a result, they love veggies and fruits, including Brussel Sprouts! Andrea has loads of tips to share, check them out.

Mom, Can I Have More Brussel Sprouts?
"Mom, can I have more brussel sprouts?”  You get that question everyday right?  Believe it or not, I do get that question every time we have brussel sprouts, but don’t hate me yet.  My daughter who loves brussel sprouts, hates broccoli right now.  I am not a perfect parent and I do not pretend to be, but I have to say that my 2 ½ and 4 ½ yr olds eat what I eat, which is pretty much everything.
I am excited to share some of my tips on feeding kids.   You may not agree with everything I write, but hopefully you pick up a tip or two.  I was fortunate to be brought up with extremely healthy eating habits even though I grew up in Midwest suburbia in the 80’s.  We ate things like 10 grain cereal and dates in the morning, falafel for dinner with brown rice, etc.  Ok, we ate ice cream like it was our job when we had access to it, but we did not eat processed foods.  So I have a lot of experience eating good food and getting kids to eat it. 
Here are my 4 “rules” that I hope seem realistic and achievable.  Cater them to your family!
To me the most important thing is that my kids eat what I eat, when I eat!  And the earlier you start this habit and STAY CONSISTENT, the easier it is. 

I hear a lot of moms say that their baby used to eat everything but now that they are 2,3, 4, they won’t eat anything!  It is easier to get a 9 mo old to eat peas than a 2 year old! This is because kids are smart and they formulate evil plans to make parenting even harder….like temper tantrums over mealtime.  

Staying consistent is not easy, but it is so worth it!!  Here is an example: My son always gets a snack before bedtime so that he will not wake up at 5am screaming of hunger.  When he was a little over two, he tried  to outsmart us by eating less dinner and a bigger snack, which then turned into tantrums and refusal to eat dinner and then huge snacks.  We caught on to his evil plan and decided to fight back.  We first let him scream it out and had to listen to sometimes 30 minutes of tantrums until he would finally eat dinner.  We are talking about a fight over spaghetti and meatballs and broccoli, a meal I know he likes.   After a few days of this, I remembered my rule for my 4 year old; no tantrums in the kitchen/family room.  She can have a tantrum in her bedroom and come downstairs with the family when she is ready to behave.  So when my son refused to eat, we started putting him in his crib and we told him that he could no longer scream in the kitchen and that when he was ready to eat, he could call us and we would get him.  (He could not climb out of his crib yet.  You can strap your kid into a highchair/booster seat in another room, you get my point)  This may sound harsh, but I would rather have a few days of a screaming kid that learns that mealtime is exactly that, mealtime, than have the constant, “eat your dinner”, “sit down”, “ come back here” during dinner.  It is exhausting! 

Maybe you like to feed your kids first and you like to eat dinner later.  That is fine, but my point is that they should know what dinner (breakfast, lunch) is.
Ok, but how do you get your child to eat??  Now that they know they cannot throw tantrums over dinner, what else can you do? 
Make dinner relaxing
Yeah right.  Relaxing and dinner with children do not really go together.  What I mean is that beside the occasional bouts of power struggle temper tantrums, dinner should be about eating, conversation, etc.  I know it sounds crazy if your kids are young but realistically I am talking about a few minutes!  Personally, I think it is hard for kids to sit for very long, so I make sure we eat together, but they do not have to sit there while I finish eating.  They may only sit there for five minutes max and we will have a quick conversation where I ask them what they did at preschool and they say “nothing.”  Really, the conversation is more me recapping the day and saying something nice or funny  that they did that day.  Is this making your nauseous yet?  We are not the model family, but we try to set the stonework for when they are older.
Make sure your kids are hungry for mealtime.
What if they are truly not hungry for dinner?  What are you feeding them at 4pm? Granola bars?  I knew a mom whose kids did not eat meals and she kept a drawer stocked full of kid food that they could easily get to with granola bars, pretzels, etc.  Well that’s fine if that is what you want your kids to eat, but I know that if I had that option as a kid, I would have loved to have a drawer full of junk food!  My kids do not get big snacks after 3:30/4 and we eat dinner around 5:30 so I am not talking about starving your kid!  My kids can have snacks, but nothing that will spoil their dinner after 3:30.  I frequently give them a small bowl of frozen peas and corn.  Yes, frozen.  It is awesome for teething babies to snack on because it is something cold, nutritional and they cannot choke on it.  I still give my kids this.  Or, I have them “help” me make a salad and they can snack on what I am putting in the salad that day.  Sometimes they love what I am putting in there and sometimes they hate it, but at least they tried it and it will not spoil their dinner.  You know when your child is truly hungry and a few crackers will not spoil their dinner vs. when your kid is just begging because crackers are the only thing they will eat.  Use your good judgment.
Possibly your child eats a big breakfast, small lunch and is not very hungry for dinner.  That is ok too!  When my daughter was 18 mo old she just ate more and was more open to variety of foods during lunch so that is when I brought out the veggies!  It is a good time to use up leftovers from last nights dinner and expose your kids to what you eat.  If you work fulltime and do not have lunch during the week with your child, make the weekends a fun time to eat together!  Again, cater my suggestions to fit your lifestyle.
So now that your kids know what mealtime is, dinner is relaxing, ha ha, and they are hungry, what do you feed them?
Make good food
I say “make good food” because good food prepared well is so much better than bad food prepared poorly and kids are so much more likely to eat it.  So maybe you don’t love to cook.  I love to cook, but it does become a chore when you are constantly feeding hungry kids!  You all know what you should do.  Plan meals, make a shopping list, grocery shop, put  food away, prepare food, clean up…I am exhausted just thinking about it.
Here is one example on how to spend very little time and money making good food for your family.  I could give you many examples, but this is very simple and basic.  You do not need to be a top chef to do this.  I have cooked like this for years while working, being a stay at home mom and a working mom and it all works.
I find that roasting things in the oven is so easy and brings out the flavor so much more and my kids love the food…simple and delicious.  You do not have to tend to something on the stove or worry about kids getting close to the stove.
Buy a whole chicken or whole cut up chicken with skin and bones on (it just takes better).  Buy a bag of sweet potatoes or potatoes, broccoli or some other veggie and ingredients for a salad. 
 If you are home 1.5 - 2 hours before dinner, put olive oil, salt and pepper on chicken and put it in a pan.  Cut up potatoes or sweet potatoes (or not ), put  on cookie sheet covered with foil (or without foil if you are environmentally conscious and don’t mind cleaning the pan) and put olive oil and salt on potatoes.   Don’t peel the sweet potatoes.  You will be surprised how good the peel is roasted and it is so good for you and your kids!
Put chicken and potatoes in 400 degree oven for 1.5 hours for cut up chicken, 2 hours for whole chicken.   If you are not home 2 hours before dinner, put potatoes and frozen chicken in oven and turn “time bake” on for the oven to start cooking before you get home.  Cook veggies and make salad right before eating.
You can make this meal many different ways adding things like lemon zest , rosemary and garlic to chicken.  Make it a Mexican meal and add garlic, cumin and cilantro to the chicken, make brown rice instead of potatoes and use leftovers for burritos, etc.  (If you work you can make the brown rice the night before and reheat…I do this a lot)  If you are more kitchen savvy, use the chicken bones to make chicken stock for soup.
My point is that you do not have to use a recipe, lots of ingredients, expensive ingredients.  Just do a little work in the morning or the night before and make enough for TWO meals so you don’t have to do this every day.  I have even tripled recipes and frozen a portion for another day.   Vegetarian?  There are many vegetarian meals you can make this way too.
I also hear that it is expensive to eat healthy.  I have to disagree!  Yes a bag of apples is $3-$5 but have you ever heard anyone say “I ate one apple last night and couldn’t stop and I ate the whole bag” Nope, never heard that.  Prepared healthy food and out of season food is expensive, yes.  However, healthy food that is not prepared and packaged with fancy labels on it, like beans, brown rice, in season fruits and veggies, are not very expensive, fills you and your kids up, and you eat less of it! 

To Recap:
Eat with your kids and be consistent with their diet.   You do not necessarily have to be consistent to the point of skipping a happy meal, but that is up to you!
Besides the occasional power struggles, try to prevent dinner from being the constant battleground.  You and your kids will dread mealtime if it is stressful!
Snacks are important for kids.  They get hungry!  But try to monitor their snacks before mealtime. 
Make good food.  You don’t have to be a seasoned chef to make decent food.  Keep it simple if cooking is not your thing!
Some pointers on consistency
Your child will not.  I repeat, WILL NOT starve themselves.  I am amazed at the power struggle sometimes and I just ignore my kids when they are throwing tantrums and say that I can help them when they calm down.  I am not talking about food that they have never tasted or is very spicy or requires an adult palate, etc.  But if a child knows that if they scream over spaghetti they will get a bowl of cereal, they will scream! 
I am sure you have heard that some kids need to taste something 14 times to like it.  I believe it.  Offer foods frequently and do not make a big deal about it as to make it seem like torture to eat it.  This may seem contrary to letting them scream over spaghetti.  I am referring to new/newer foods or foods that have a stronger flavor.  For example, my kids used to not like cilantro, but now they love it. 
Eating should be a family affair.  Most people don’t have time to sit down with their kids 3 times a day to eat (if they are not at school), but what I mean is feed your kids what you eat, sit down and eat…but make sure you are eating well too!  I heard a kid say that “mom’s don’t eat lunch”  Seriously?  Actions speak louder than words.

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