Monday, April 21, 2014

Involving Kids In Their Own Nutrition

  My girl planting tomatoes last year

Our friend's farm party in Santa Cruz, California a few years ago

Picking pumpkins at a California patch- my first year using non-canned for a pie

Butternut Squash Gluten-free pancakes she helped make

 Picking apples in California

 Brooklyn, New York rooftop farm, chicken coop
 Brooklyn Rooftop Farm
 Friend's chicken coop, collecting eggs in Berkshire Mountains, Massachusetts
 My gal's favorite Hot Gluten-free Cereal & herbal tea (tisane)
 Prepping our new garden in Boston with a friend

 Homemade Avocado Banana Organic Chocolate Mousse - with no refined sugar or sweetener added, topped with bee pollen, cashews & coconut
 Dipping cashews in it 

 Child labor ;)
 Pulling her first carrots in Athens, Georgia at a friend's garden

 Farm event in California, potato and fruit stamping- art
 Churning beet ice cream in Santa Cruz

 Family gardening day last year

farm day
 Helping prepare dinner, cutting organic sprouted tofu

  Looking back, watching my child grow and learn about food has been such a fun adventure to share. As parents, finding ways to engage children in making their own healthful choices can seem like a huge task at times.  It can also make a world of difference in how they learn to develop, nourish and nurture themselves and others.  I have been thankful that my 5 year old daughter has remained so pliable, agreeable and open to hearing the reasons that we eat the way we do, although at times it has proved difficult to explain to a young one, when many people around us do not share our path.  I've always known that, as my child grows, someday I would forfeit the full responsibility that I have for her health and food choices, while she develops her own taste, personality, likes / dislikes, and becomes less dependent and reliant on my guidance.  I decided, when she was in my body, that until that time comes, it would be my responsibility to offer, teach and share with her all of the knowledge that I may have about health, nutrition and nourishment, so that she would at least have a healthy foundation to build upon as she grew.  Now that she is 5 and I see her making a slew of new choices daily, asserting herself, expressing her opinions and asking multitudes of questions -- the "WHY?" has become a large part of our daily conversation, and this has caused me to question my choices in life much more as well.

  What I have learned from experience, I try to pass along to my daughter and others if they so desire.    I try to emphasize that everyone is different and chooses various paths in life and diet, and that no one is better than anyone else... but even this can be confusing to her.  She asks, "but if it's not good for you, why do they eat it?" and the answer is different for each person.  Food is a touchy subject for many people, as so many emotions can be involved with diet, health and weight issues from a very young age.  Most of us have certain attachments or happy, comforting memories of foods from our youth or family home-cooked meals/ recipes that tug at our senses and heart-strings.  Biologically, certain foods, ingredients, sights or smells may trigger hormones and emotions that involuntarily bring us deeper into our past, without us even realizing it.  Being aware of why we crave specific tastes at certain times, can help us to curb less healthful choices and to guide our kids toward a healthy relationship with food.

Some Tips For Helping Kids Eat Clean:

1. Mix fruits and veggies into the foods you make regularly.
There will be times that kids just don't want to try new foods, picky eaters may need some extra nutritious ingredients mixed (or hidden) in some of their favorite staple meals.
For example:
~Make pasta sauce with lots of veggies pureed / blended into it, or just blend into store-bought.
~Make smoothies / juices- it's a great way to add fruits and veggies they may not like much- greens like spinach/ broccoli / kale if you just put a little to start- it won't change the taste or texture much at all.
~Mac & Cheese -We add spinach at the end to quickly steam, turmeric, raw shredded carrots, shredded zucchini, chopped mushrooms, flax seed, chickpeas, and smoked wild salmon.
~Make popsicles at home with smoothies in freezer molds, to avoid high fructose corn syrup & food coloring.
~If you eat meatballs / or veggieballs - mix a lot of veggies into them that they may not eat otherwise.

2. Offer healthy options & give them choices.
They may not like it at first, but having a wide variety of nutrient-dense fresh fruit, veggies, dried fruit and nuts around at all times keeps it in their eye-line so that they become more accustomed to seeing it available.  These can begin to replace the more processed, sugar-filled, packaged kid snacks that are marketed to catch their eye with bright wrappers, colors or characters.  Food is not a toy, though of course it can be enjoyable, it is sustenance to nourish our growing bodies and cells. I usually keep raw almonds & raisins in my bag- which help with glucose/ blood sugar regulation/ moods / meltdowns.  If there are always healthy options to grab quickly, it wards off grabbing fast food or processed products.  I often ask my gal which of two healthy options she would like to eat, so that she may practice taking control of her decisions.

3.  Start young...
but if you didn't, don't fret, it's never too late, it just may take a little more work & nudging.  People often ask how I got my girl to eat the way she does (for example, she loves salad & raw fish) and the answer is she's just always eaten this way. Whatever we eat, we offer her and she tries it.  I tried to keep her off of refined sugars, salt, preservatives and flavor enhancing additives (like MSG) in processed foods for as long as I could, so that her tastebuds wouldn't become desensitized to the subtle nuances of flavor and spice in more natural, pure foods. Like an apple, for instance, doesn't need sugar to taste good or sweet, yet applesauce or apple muffin may have it added, so allowing them to taste things as they are in pure form, helps them to not need so much of the stronger flavor or sweetness to be satiated, or enjoy the taste.  The strong salts, sugars or flavor additives can cause cravings to spike if we become used to them.  Some of this can go back to when children are developing inside their mothers- they actually get used to what we eat when we are pregnant- their DNA changes according to these tastes, setting them up genetically for life to be pre-disposed to certain foods and allergies.  But we can always change our lives and tastes at any age, it just takes more consciously focusing on it as we age, to break habits set in place earlier.

4.  Think of how it will effect their moods. 
High fat / sugar content or artificial sweeteners, certain chemicals, preservatives & food coloring have been studied and known to cause behavioral / health issues for some kids.  Many of the food products marketed toward children have loads of these.  Read labels, and choose the ones with the least ingredients and ones you can pronounce and know the origins of.  My gal eats about 6 times a day, it keeps her blood sugar regulated- low blood sugar / glucose can cause increased anger and bad moods.

5.  Discuss and explain the benefits of foods they are eating. 
I count nutrients and colors, not calories.  I often look up benefits online so that I can plan meals / smoothies according to any health issues or needs we may have at the time.  We make it a game at some meals, to name all the good, healthy reasons for eating certain items.  We talk about the specific vitamins, antioxidants, proteins, fats, phytonutrients, fiber, cancer-fighting, anti-infectious, anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, antibacterial properties and what they do in our bodies; and mostly, we have always emphasized that "this food will help you to grow stronger and healthier, and help you to not get sick"... because what kid wants to be sick constantly? Teaching prevention of illness through nutrition, rather than having to take medication often, helps strengthen the immune system.  Knowing what food is made of and why it may be better for you than something else, may help to guide their choices.

6.  Teach the origins of food & let them help prepare, cook, and grow it, if possible. 
Getting children involved in the whole process that food takes to get to our plates, helps them to feel a sense of ownership, accomplishment and responsibility for what they eat and how it effects health.  We visit farms, farmers markets & gardens often, to see how food grows, or bee keeping is done.  A lesson in sustainability-- we play a game at meals by listing all of the people, vehicles and work it took to get the food we eat; how & where it grew- on trees, plants, roots underground, farms, tropical islands etc... This is fun for my daughter and helps us all to be thankful and conscious of the world at large, our global economy and the environmental impact of our consumption.  Our garden has been so exciting for our gal, to watch a tiny seed grow into juicy, nourishing food, then harvest and eat it, is such a neat experience for a young one or anyone!  Raising awareness / consciousness of how food, or other objects we use, are produced and transported, may help children to develop into individuals who nurture and preserve the environment and the world they are becoming citizens of.

7.  Have fun! 
The world of food is spectacular, fabulous, bright and scrumptious. Visiting farms and allowing my gal to taste a bit of everything (minus the chemicals) gets her excited to keep testing her tastebuds and trying new foods.  Today she said, "I miss the restaurants in New York."  I told her there are great ones here too, and we will keep trying food from various cultures.  She is eager and open to trying new things, which hopefully will help her to be open to many ideas and people throughout her life.

  Through parenting, I am learning that accepting myself as I am, and not judging myself or others when a not-so-healthy day comes or a misstep is taken, can make such a great difference in how I perceive health and wellness, whether physical or mental.  Each misstep or "wrong turn" is an opportunity for learning something more about myself or the world, a chance to become healthier and more knowledgable, through experience.  No one has all of the answers all of the time, and accepting that, helps me to better trust the process of growth and change and to continue trying to eat and live more cleanly and consciously.

 Bee Keeping/ Honey collecting demo in California

 Green Smoothie Bowl with mango, bee pollen, raw soaked almonds, chia, flax & coconut

Cleansing Raw Vegan Breakfast -fruit with chia, flax, almonds, cashews, walnuts & coconut cream with shredded carrots & zucchini, for dipping

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