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Transitioning Kids to REAL Food

by Tiffany in Healthy Eating

Eating Strawberries

I often get questions about how to transition kids to healthier REAL foods. Like many, my own parenting career started with me feeding my kids the Standard American Diet (SAD). My oldest child got his start on formula followed by hotdogs, mac and cheese, pizza, chicken nuggets, deli meats, and the like. Some of that carried over to my second child because it was already established as the “good” food to my oldest. It wasn’t until I quit working to stay home with my kids that I spent a large chunk of my time researching my choices online and deciding to make better ones. What I found was that it is easier to do in baby steps.

Yes, I could have thrown everything out of our pantry and filled it with new stuff from Whole Foods and went cold turkey so to speak but I figured that since I allowed my kids to develop these bad eating habits I owed it to them to help them back out of that trap gradually and not make food seem like the enemy. I didn’t want to give the bad food any more power than it already had.

But why make these changes? There is an old saying that “you are what you eat”. Nutritionists like to repeat this quote over and over again to get across to people that food choices are directly linked to health and quality of life. The food that we eat and all of the nutrients contained therein are what provide the building blocks for new cell growth. Our bodies are always replenishing and regenerating and that process cannot happen efficiently without the best building materials. Empty calories or substandard food will only ensure that our foundation for health and wellness is weak.

If you put your house foundation on sand, will it last? If the foundation of your health or your children’s health is built with materials gleaned from pizza and cupcakes, will IT last? Scary stuff there.

So… take baby steps and transition them to better food. Taking baby steps means swapping out less than favorable ingredients for better ones. Here are some easy food and routine swaps that you can make.

Organics – A fairly easy step is to simply stop buying conventionally grown foods and buy certified organic. Budget may be an issue but you can prioritize certain foods and find more wiggle room in the budget by eliminating other purchases. Organic milk for instance can be afforded if you eliminate soda. I wrote a post about affording healthier food awhile back.

Pastured Dairy and Meat – The “You are what you eat” mantra applies to animals too. If you buy that $1.99 a pound factory farmed burger from WalMart you are eating an animal that was likely in poor health due to substandard living conditions and inappropriate feed. Eating meat and dairy from sick, run down animals will not make you healthy. You ARE what you eat. Seek out meat from animals who are allowed to graze freely and eat the healthy food that they were intended to with minimal pesticide ingestion. Buy farm fresh eggs from farms where the chickens are cage free and allowed to roam and eat grass, seeds, bugs, fruit, and other foods more natural to them.

Eat Fewer Grains and Eat Better Ones – Americans are kind of obsessed with pasta and bread. We need to eat less grains because as I explained in this article on sourdough, grains may actually be leaching nutrients from your body.. not adding them. Try to eat more long grain and wild rices, sourdough breads and pastas, sprouted wheat, and Quinoa.

Hide the VeggiesGreen Smoothies are all the rage right now and for good reason. By adding Kale, spinach, or collard greens with some fruit and blending it into a smoothie we get kids to eat more greens! I love to combine spinach, honey, and frozen raspberries, blueberries, or blackberries and make a frozen sorbet. With my Vita-Mix it takes about 2-3 minutes for soft serve sorbet and my kids can’t taste the greens. Can you tell in the picture below that there is spinach in this sorbet?

Raw Raspberry and Spinach Ice Cream

Fermented Foods – Fermenting foods ups the nutritional value and aids in nutrient absorption. Some fermented foods to try include… kefir and yogurt, frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, kombucha, sourdough, kimchi, pickles, sauerkraut, etc. You may be thinking that this will take a lot of time and you may work outside the home but it REALLY doesn’t take much time. I find that most take 5-10 minutes of prep (if that) and then just time to sit and ferment after that. Keeping sourdough or kefir going takes 5 minutes a day and then I have fresh kefir for fruit smoothies and sourdough for waffles whenever I want it. I might spend 10 minutes making yogurt in the morning and then 10 minutes pouring it in the evening to let it strain for a few hours. After a day in the fridge I can combine it with peaches and honey to make homemade frozen yogurt in no time at all. Once you get the process down it takes minutes… not hours.

Natural Sweeteners – Instead of processed sugars start using more raw honey, real maple syrup, sucanat, and fresh and dehydrated fruits. Dehydrated dates make an awesome sweetener as does fresh fruit. My husband makes the best pancakes that are half whole wheat flour and half oatmeal with nothing but baked apples or peaches on top. You never even miss the syrup. Yum!

Real Cheese – Toss out the Velveeta, the individual slices of cheese, and the cheese sticks. Buy real cheeses at the farmer’s market or whole foods to make your mac and cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches, and pizza.

Healthy Desserts – Instead of store bought popsicles loaded with sugar make your own using fruit. I make green popsicles and homemade Paletas for my kids all summer long. Dip some strawberries in honey sweetened plain yogurt, sprinkle with coconut, and freeze for strawberry pops on a stick. Chocolate pudding and chocolate pops can be made by mixing avocado with cacao and honey. Slap some frozen yogurt between two whole-grain graham crackers for ice cream sandwiches. Stop buying processed sweets and candy and put a big bowl of fruit on the table daily. This is what we do and it really works.

Buy a Produce Bin/Box – One thing that has worked well for us is to get a produce box every week. The kids are excited to see what we get every week and they want to try everything they see.

Pick Your Own and Grow Your Own – You pick farms make the process of gathering good a whole lot of fun. Would your kids prefer to get a store bought candy bar or spend an afternoon picking raspberries with their own two hands and then making raspberry sorbet when they get home? I know which my own kids would prefer. Giving our kids real food experiences makes real food more exciting. This goes for growing their own food as well.

Let Kids Cook – One of the first things I let my oldest son (now 10) do was to make his own smoothies. Now most mornings he gets up and makes himself a spinach, carrot, banana, smoothie for breakfast. He also cooks his own food and since he has to use what we have in the house, he is cooking healthy food.

Try a Healthy Foods Class or e-Course – If you need step by step help then there are numerous classes you can take. Whole Foods has live classes at most locations. There are also some REALLY good online ones like GNOWFGLINS where you can take three e-courses in Fundamentals, Sourdough, and Cultured Dairy for one super low price. The Get Cultured e-course is another good one.

What healthy eating baby step has worked for you?

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

9 Comments on Transitioning Kids to REAL Food

  • Christine

    I like and have followed a lot of these steps! I also stopped buying packaged food at the grocery store and, for the most part, my daughter doesn’t miss it now–though that took a few weeks. I really want a Vitamix now especially since I just broke our blender….

  • Derek Henry

    Great advice on transitioning in ways that can be subtle but have the biggest impact. I fortunately have had my son on the right food since Day 1, so no reprogramming is needed. We found out about how to be truly healthy while my wife was pregnant so we made the decision just in time.

  • Brooke

    Awesome tips! Eating less grains is hard….

    I have been trying really hard recently to not buy any food that comes in a box. It’s hard, but rewarding. Now, if only I can get my boyfriend to give up the mainstream foods. It’s hard to convince people to eat healthy when they have never had health problems of their own. Prevention just doesn’t seem to be important……

  • This is really interesting! I don’t have kids yet, but I do hope that we will be able to transition to a real and natural food kitchen. My husband’s a pretty good sport about things like this and trying to eat mainly real food, but still likes his sausage, bacon, dry roasted peanuts and chips. Perhaps I should start making him homemade (and therefore healthier) dry roasted peanuts and chips and try to get organic or free range sausages and bacon… Hrm. Anyways, thank you for sharing your tips! :)

  • Sandy

    Thanks for the tips. I really appreciate it! I want to make many of these changes. I love the sorbet–looks awesome!

  • We’ve been in this process at our house for a while now. My kids were hesitant at first, but have really started to appreciate the fact that we’re doing something that is beneficial to our bodies. It’s been a fight at times, but the end result has been so worth it! I watched my daughters take their Valentines candies, given by a friend of the family, and toss it. It’s so exciting to know that they “get it”. I’ve learned a lot in the few weeks that I’ve been reading your blogs. I didn’t even know that kombucha or kefir existed, nor did I ever think about making my own sourdough. Thank you for the new knowledge!

  • KatieR

    My husband and I have been trying to go the non-packaged route since the new year (trying to convince myself it wasn’t part of some cliched “resolution” but it totally was). We’d been pretty hooked on Trader Joe’s (especially garlic hummus) and bread, oh bread.

    We’ve been going to our local neighborhood (very good) meat market and getting fresh produce. Right now are meals are pretty meat heavy, so interested in finding out what i can do that isn’t.

    Love the green sorbet idea. Don’t have kids yet, but my husband would LOVE it. Thanks!

  • I think that involving your kids in the kitchen is a great way to get them interested in natural foods. Case in point, I got a coconut for my daughter because she was interested in the way it looked. We talked about how coconuts float to new islands and did a little experiment to show her how that worked. She worked on cracking it open the entire time I was cooking Valentine’s dinner (added bonus, she was occupied while I worked on a nice dinner for everyone). and has been savoring the broken pieces for two days now, chomping away on this relatively non-messy (once you get the milk out) snack when we go on errands. What processed food could keep a 4 year old that busy for that long? Thanks for the great blog.

  • Erin OK @ it’s OK

    Thanks for these tips. I used to be a vegetarian & eat really healthy, and my food choices haven’t been as conscious the last 5 years since I started eating meat again. My son has just started eating solid foods, so as I look for meal and snack ideas for him I’m really trying to get our family into some healthier habits. Hopefully he will learn to prefer wholesome foods!
    Your sorbet does look amazing!