getting kids to eat well

No good deed goes unpunished

In the first couple of weeks of the new school year, I, along with some other parent volunteers, stood in the lunch lines and helped the kids make “healthy choices”.  I aptly named myself the “Fruit & Veggie Pusher” because, we all know the healthy choices were just getting more (or any for that matter) fruits and vegetables on those kids’ plates.  The school lunch provider (corporate lame processed food broker) now give the kids the choice to take “as many” vegetables or fruits as they’d like (while they’re in line, but can’t go back for more) and usually doesn’t actually serve them to the kids.  The children can pick out individual containers (or none at all) of the “healthy choice” stuff.  Now, at the end of each line is a prominently displayed case of snack foods.  I think it’s ridiculous that they have snacks at lunch. 

Do you know how many kids I saw not eat their healthier foods and go get 2-4 bags of chips every day?  Too many!  These are empty calories that will just make most people fat.  They provide no nutritional value, but there they are… at $1 a pop for the kids to buy (if their parents haven’t put restrictions on their accounts). these kids eaten enough food to go on for the rest of the day?  Well, not if they’re not taking the fruits and vegetables.  And then there are those kids who are already too big and they certainly don’t need any more calories, empty or not.   I know that a lot of parents think that give the kids the choice and they’ll learn to make the right decisions.  Well, not always. 

Studies show that even adults make poor eating decisions and will overeat more often than not, and will take junk even when they’re not hungry.  (Read Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink)  Anyway, my kids aren’t allowed to buy the snack foods at school.  I just wish it wasn’t allowed in schools in the first place.  Because I feel that other parents, if aware of their children’s real eating habits and what the snack foods will do in the long run, they wouldn’t want their kids eating them as well.  They care about their kids, they want them to be happy and grow up healthy.   And, I’m not saying I don’t buy these snack foods occasionally, but I certainly don’t want my kids eating them daily, and especially in place of real food.  So, I just seem I’m just on a rant at times… until I found out what a real rant is one day.   

On Fridays the kids get ice cream.  Many look forward all week to that treat.  My kids are actually allowed to buy one; it’s only once a week.  Anyway in our first week one parent volunteer asked me about the frozen desserts that were displayed (they weren’t ice creams).  They were artificially colored, flavored stuff and sweetened with high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  The mom thought that the food service provider had stopped using HFCS.  So, when the Food Service Director (FSD) came in, I asked him about them along with numerous other things.  It was one of the only things he acted on.  He got rid of them, in between service.  If it had been me, I would’ve sold them and then not bought anymore, but I’m not in charge. 

Anyway, the following week when there was no ice cream or any other frozen treats I asked the woman in charge of the kitchen why not.  She said because of the HFCS stuff taken away last week that they can’t buy them.  I reminded her (since I was there during it all) that they could buy stuff that wasn’t sweetened with HFCS (I can’t get the artificial colors banned yet).  “Well, I just got a list today” was her response.  Well, no biggie, I thought.   Ha-ha!  Until the gym teacher came in.  She was screaming at me, “why isn’t there any ice cream?!!”  I told her that when the FSD came in last week that he got rid of them because of the HFCS.  Then I told her to ask the women that worked there about it because she kept on about it.   A few minutes later she came back out and got right in my face yelling, “Who says they can’t have high fructose corn syrup?!  Is this a government ban?!  Is it the FDA?!  As a parent I want to know!!”  For goodness sakes, she’s one of the ones teaching our kids’ health and nutrition.  I tried to calmly tell her that it was most likely the Food Service Provider’s decision, but it may be because of the USDA’s health guidelines.  I tried to tell her that they can buy real ice cream and that there is all natural pudding there.  Oy.  I’ve always liked this woman, and I was quite shocked at how she treated me.  I wasn’t there to get rid of the ice cream.  I was trying to get the kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.  I would like the snack foods out, but I haven’t pushed on that yet.  I really want to do good for the children.  One girl’s lunch with mostly healthy choices (she ate the scrambled egg first).

Ugghh... it's not always easy- even in my house.

So, many people think that my kids always eat well– without a fuss.  But you know if you read my blog that that is not always the case.  A few nights this week have been especially difficult with my middle son.  Each time I put dinner on the table he whined and cried that he didn’t want to eat what we’ve made.  And when I say he whines and cries… he whines and whines and whines then cries.  It’s not always easy to ignore (especially when I’m PMSing) but I don’t give in and eventually he comes around. 

Except several nights ago I did let him eat something besides the dinner I made.  It was a delicious chicken fried rice– brown rice, chicken, kale, beet greens, Chinese cabbage, red cabbage, mushrooms, broccoli, carrots, egg, red bell pepper, garlic, ginger, leeks, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, ground pepper.  He cried and cried.  He said he liked many of the ingredients, just not all together.  I compromised once he was calm and could talk rationally. I said if he ate another 20 forkfulls (basically more than half) then he could get something else.  I wanted to make sure he ate the most nutritionally important food before the yogurt and pasta.  By compromising I’ve potentially set myself up for more whining in our future.

The next night my husband made bucatini spaghetti with a delicious sausage tomato sauce and a salad.  We both couldn’t believe he whined about that one!  He wanted the pasta plain with butter and no salad.  But we remained firm.  He ate it.  All of it.  Even his salad. 

Plus it was fun to eat!

I feel that I chose my battles again.  I know my middle son doesn’t really like those one dish meals where everything is combined.  I felt the compromise wasn’t really giving in (fooling myself?) because he still ate the majority of the meal.  It is so much easier to always give them what they want.  Unfortunately, easy isn’t always best for them.  But it does get easier.  He will keep trying new things and getting a taste for them and I will figure ways to satisfy us both.

Hodgepodge Meals & Tips for Reheating

Sometimes when I’m not in the mood to fully “cook” I will make a bit of a hodgepodge – sort of like a buffet of grazing foods or I will serve up leftovers.  But the leftovers needn’t be all the same thing for everyone, but whatever they want from the choice of foods that we have left over.  This way one son might be eating pork, broccoli and pasta and another one bowl full of chili and brown rice and yet another with vegetable soup, pasta and cheese.  I use up the left over food and don’t go crazy making 3 different meals, just reheat ones already made.  And they usually get what they’re in the mood for and will eat it all.  

A more buffet style is putting out cooked and raw vegetables, cheeses, hummus, fruits, and other bits and pieces.  Then it’s more of a casual grazing and since all the choices are healthful, I don’t have to worry about the portions since, not only are mine not likely to take a ton of the more calorie-laden foods like cheese, but they’re not likely to pile up their plates with food. Yesterday, my youngest two each had a packet of roasted seaweed, tons of raw carrots and bagels for lunch. 

So key here is making sure they get healthy choices even when you’re not really “cooking”. 

Here are some tips on reheating those leftovers (especially right now the Thanksgiving turkey and mashed potatoes):

Microwave heating mashed potatoes: add a splash of milk to potatoes and stir with a fork in a microwavable bowl.  Heat on high stirring occasionally.  You can add gravy after the potatoes are slightly warm.(These mashed are not as fluffy as normal but hopefully you get the idea)

Reheating poultry in the microwave: cover pieces with a damp paper towel and reheat on 80% starting with 1 minute.  Flip and move pieces around then repeat until hot.  The turkey/chicken/duck won’t be rubbery and dry this way.

For a dinner plate with different items, you’ll want to reheat only those things that are the same (meats, vegetables, grains, etc) as they may take different lengths of time and temperature.  I usually put all of one item in a bowl/plate reheating the items that take longest first.  Then assembling the plate of food and maybe giving it another 10-20 seconds.  

Stews, soups and one-pot meals like chilies and curries can be heated together in the microwave.  Some sauces need heating on a stove over medium-low heat, especially cream sauces that would otherwise break.