Getting Boys to Eat Healthy Food

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Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography via Flickr

Nutritionally speaking, we’ve raised our two boys and one girl exactly the same…but the outcomes have been disturbingly different.

Case in point: Halloween. We don’t let our kids have much food coloring. So after they came home from trick-or-treating this year, where do you think we found them? Well, my daughter (always the rule-follower) was next to the trash bin…systematically chucking every piece of candy that was tainted with food coloring.

And the boys? After searching the house over, I eventually heard voices in their room…from behind the bed. Already, there was a pile of wrappers on the floor. “Don’t go for the Jolly Ranchers,” advised the older one, “They take too long to eat. Here…have another box of Nerds.”

And when I ask the kids what they want for dinner, what do they say?

Child#3 (BOY): “Chocolate Ice Cream…he hit me.”

Child#2 (BOY): “McDonald’s Cheeseburger…he hit me first.”

Child # 1 (GIRL): “Greek Salad, with extra cucumbers…please Mommy.”

So, yeah…I know a little somethin’ about boys. And nutrition (or the lack there-of).

So I thought I’d share a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way…real-world ideas for getting the little darlings to open their traps and insert their dinner. Even if it’s green…and doesn’t come in a bag with a side of fries.

YOUR KIDS ARE WHAT YOU EAT

(Not to be confused with “Your kids are what YOU eat.”)

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like broccoli when I was little. I’m pretty sure that’s because my Mom didn’t like broccoli. She NEVER served it. So when we went to a dinner party, and I saw the broccoli staring back at me from the plate, I was all like: “WEIRD FOREIGN GREEN STUFF! RETREAT RETREAT!”

However, I did enjoy Dr. Pepper quite a bit…which my mom drank and served in copious amounts every day at dinner (and breakfast). It’s true that we need to expose our kids to a food at least five times before they’ll consider eating it. But the question is…what KINDS of foods are we exposing them to?

I’ve been able to track our family’s progress in this area with a highly technical, scientific method—namely… by watching what our kids order at Subway.

When the kids were small, they would only ask for turkey and cheese on their sandwiches. But as the years went on, I guess they looked at our sandwiches, and figured they were missing out on something.

So now my daughter orders what she calls her “veggie delight” with turkey, spinach, tomatoes, green bell peppers, olives, pickles, red onions, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar. (Yeah, I know).

And the boys? Initially, it was only pickles…but in the last year, they’ve added green bell peppers, olives, and red onions. I’m hoping they’ll add spinach soon…but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

My husband gets pretty pumped when he sees the kids eating vegetables, and he frequently makes REALLY loud, boisterous comments about it in public.

A typical family lunch at Subway:

Child number 2 takes a bite of his sandwich.

Hubby: “AWWW….YEAYA….that’s ma BOY!!

Please don’t do this…not today.

Hubby: “I can FEEEEEL da vegetables!” (Stands up in booth, flexing muscles).

Please sit down. Please sit down. Please sit down.

Hubby: “Come on, boy, show me the MUSCLES! (Child stands up to flex).

This can’t be happening.

Hubby: “THAT’S WHAT IIIIII’M TALKING ABOOOUUUT!!”

Show’s over people. Turn back around, and eat your sandwiches.

***

Right now, you and I are creating the eating habits that our kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We do this with:

· The foods we eat OURSELVES

· The things we say about food & our attitude towards food

· And here’s the big one: THE FOODS WE CHOOSE TO BUY AND KEEP IN OUR PANTRIES

If it’s important to us that our kids develop healthy eating habits…if it’s important to us that they avoid diseases down the road like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…then we need to take some action now.

ROLL UP YOUR MENTAL SLEEVES

Yes, we need to respect our kids’ taste preferences. But I swear to you, it’s 100% mental. I believe we have more influence over their preferences than we think.

My kids LOVE hot dogs…and until recently, they could eat all the hot dogs their little child hearts desired (not at home, but other places). However, that quickly changed after I wrote an article last month called “The 5 Nastiest Foods in America.” In that article, we ranked hot dogs as the MOST heinous (and carcinogenic) food. Ironically, the article was to be published on our blog the same day that hot dogs were being served at the school cafeteria.

That morning, I showed my kids pictures of mechanically separated meat (one of the main ingredients in hot dogs). I explained that Mommy likes the taste of hot dogs too, but after seeing what goes into them, I don’t feel like eating them that much.

My kids actually agreed…they were so grossed out. I packed them an extra special lunch (banana/nut butter sandwich…their favorite), and gave them permission to get chocolate milk at the cafeteria, to offset their melancholy.

Of course, then they went to school and grossed out all their friends, and everyone went home hungry that day.

Diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant in this country…and science has spoken loud and clear on this issue: FOOD MATTERS, and it matters a lot.

We don’t raise our kids, never mentioning the risks of smoking, say a Hail Mary, and then just hope that they never smoke. We need to talk with them them about nutrition, too.

LYING, CHEATING, AND TRICKERY

The fact is that most kids are NOT going to be excited about vegetables. Our mission as parents is to get our kids to tolerate vegetables, until their taste buds mature enough that they actually like them.

So in my own home, I use a combination of lying, cheating, and trickery to accomplish this lofty goal. (Okay, the lying not so much).

CHEATING:

1. Make the foods they like, just with better ingredients.

· HAMBURGERS: Our family loves veggie burgers with cheese, and all the fixings. I usually serve them with whole grain buns (Nature’s Own) and a side of sweet potato fries. (Wal-mart has several good brands of veggie burgers in the frozen section. Try them out, to see which ones your family likes best).

· PIZZA: My mom and I like to make pizzas with whole grain pita bread, Heart Smart Prego (less sodium than most), and our favorite veggie toppings. (My kids like chicken, olives, and pineapple).

· CHICKEN NUGGETS: I love the chicken nugget recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, “Deceptively Delicious.” She has lots of great recipes with hidden veggies, such as quesadillas with squash and burgers with zucchini.

2. Hide stuff in their food.

· When I make chicken noodle soup, I serve it in a flattish bowl, and mash up the carrots and celery with a fork so they’re undetectable.

· When I make banana-berry smoothies, I add a handful of kale (you can’t taste it, I promise. If you could taste it, there’s no way I would drink it myself).

TRICKERY:

1. Find ways to make dinner more fun.

· My four-year-old son wouldn’t touch his chicken the other night. Thirty minutes later, we had cleared the table, but he was still sitting there…having a standoff with the chicken. I gave him a toothpick, and he happily stabbed and ate the rest of it. Go figure.

· Last night, I served veggie burgers with tomatoes and butter lettuce. My boys don’t like lettuce at all. AND they had never tried this type… so the odds were against me big time. However, I picked up a piece of lettuce and said, “I bet I can crunch louder than you can.” And they both ate it. All of it.

GET THEM INVOLVED

Children live in a world of giants.

They walk around, navel-high to a sea of people who are all bigger, smarter, and more powerful than they are. All they want is a chance to contribute something…to add a bit of value…to be given a task that might *seem* a little too grown-up, then wrestle it to the ground, put their foot on it’s back, and say, “I did that.”

So let them help in the kitchen. Let them cut up some fruit. Let them pick blackberries on a farm. Find ways to help them take ownership of their nutrition.

And most importantly, we as parents need to let GO of the mess. (This has been hard for me…but I am slowly getting there). Twenty years from now, our kitchens will be perfect and spotless…but silent. Let’s enjoy our kids now, while we have them close.

Yesterday, I jokingly asked the kids, “SO….what are you making me for dinner tonight?”…which must have come out something like this: “kabuba snufer bezuma,” because they looked at me like I was speaking Swahili.

Although I was completely kidding, I guess they saw it as a challenge…because 30 minutes later, the kids pulled me to the kitchen table, sat me down, and served me dinner.

Each of them had designed and illustrated a different menu. They took my order, provided “musical” entertainment while I waited, then brought out my food. (Okay, so it was a tortilla with cheese that had been overly-nuked, with a side of Mott’s applesauce…but still…I think it was the best meal I’ve ever eaten).

My second favorite part of the evening was when I looked at the kids’ menus, and realized it was all nutritious stuff…soup, salad, wraps, yogurt, fruit, and milk. But hands-down, the best part of the evening was seeing the huge smiles on their faces as they watched me eat.

* * *

Katie Suarez’s blog, Eat for Your Life, has been nominated for an international weblog award. It’s the story of a mother’s battle with cancer, and a daughter’s fight to save her. Recipes, health, humor, and inspiration that might just change your life. eatforyourlifetoday.com

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