When we first switched to real, whole foods free from gluten, dairy, refined sugar and additives, the hard part was re-stocking my pantry- doing the hard work of finding recipes and figuring what on earth to cook (7 years ago when we started, there actually wasn't a lot of info on the internet... or maybe it was just that I was still rather a techno-phobe??). Getting Friendly Food into the kids when they were little was actually the easier part, because they just accepted what we fed them when they liked the flavour, and my oldest, who was almost 5 at the time, actually felt so much better that he could see a direct correlation and he understood what we were doing was great!
Since then, the pantry and cooking routine is just second nature, but the harder part is keeping the kids on board with believing that sticking to the program is actually worth it. Mr now-nearly-12 has no memory of how sick he was before we switched. He doesn't remember that prior to switching, he'd never done a solid poo in his life, how he complained multiple times a day about his sore tummy, how he was riddled with eczema, how he had no energy and poor concentration. And they don't remember how tired I was. They don't remember a mum who had to nap every afternoon, who was crabby all the time because she was always lethargic, who suffered from regular headaches and stomach upsets that made her, um... let's just say 'irritable'.
So, here's what we do: As it naturally comes up, we regularly discuss the best ways to fuel our bodies. How refined sugars and carbs, particulary those with gluten are hard for us to process, fill us with toxins the body struggles to deal with, and contribute to things like poor heart health and insulin resistance. We talk about the need our bodies have for good quality grass-fed proteins, about sourcing our protein from ethical sources (both for the benefit of the animal and ourselves), and how protein gives us long lasting energy for the day. We talk about fats that are beneficial and necessary for our body, vs. fats that cause inflammation and sickness in our body. I get them involved in choosing meals and helping to prepare food. They see what goes in the food they eat.
I go to a lot of effort to make food for them that tastes like treats (so they're not 'missing out') that is actually still nutritious and good fuel for their bodies. For example, they adore my popcorn, which consists of air dried corn, covered with good quality extra virgin olive oil, Himalayan sea salt and Vital Vege Powder (which is basically powdered, concentrated fruit and veg!).
We try to make healthy food fun. It takes time. And effort. Like researching and sourcing 'Friendlier' lolly alternatives so we could enjoy making this Gluten Free Gingerbread House together.
By way of encouraging any of you struggling with this journey- YES, it can often be frustrating and overwhelming. I may or may not have been seen to throw my hands in the air and mutter “I give up”. There are times when I wonder if anything is getting through to those adorable freckle faced munchkins at all!
Let me illustrate....
My kids have a lolly stash. Yep, Friendly Food Karen lets her kids keep lollies. And I'm not talking about the 'Friendlier' kind! Don't get me wrong, I don't buy the lollies. They keep being given the lollies at birthday parties and such. They each have a bag full with their name on it. After dinner, it is our tradition to eat a little 'dessert'. This has usually consisted of a couple of squares of 70% cocoa chocolate or a Friendly Food cookie I may have available, but the kids often ask to eat something from the stash. I've never felt comfortable forcing the kids to get rid of the lollies when they receive them- the lollies are theirs- and all I can do is hope that the information I've presented them over the years may have an influence on their decision whether or not to eat the lollies. So far, it hasn't! They don't throw away the lollies. They keep the stash, slowly consuming one lolly at a time after dinner if there isn't something else on offer they'd prefer. It frustrates the bejeezus out of me.
It's really hard to watch my kids when we're eating out with friends. Other families will happily let their kids consume a couple of glasses of soft drink; a deep fried, nutrition-void meal; chased down by a high sugar dessert like ice cream. When we eat out, we set the boundaries before we go so that the kids know what to expect and also know that they shouldn't keep begging us to change our minds. Usually we'll compromise on one of those options (ie. A glass of fizzy OR a deep fried meal without veggies OR a dessert). Then they sit and watch their friends eating all of the above, looking all forlorn and shooting glances at us like we're the worst parents in the world. And then the other adults we are with offer our kids some of their fizzy drink in an attempt to reinforce that we actually are terrible, not-fun parents, and our kids would be much better off in their care. Anyone else know what I mean??
One of my kids in particular loves opportunities to choose his own food when I'm not around. It's his chance to eat (and by eat, I mean pig out on) all the stuff I don't keep at home. It drives me insane. I try not to say anything because I want him to feel like he has this freedom without my judgment. Plus, I also have to remember that in similar circumstances, when faced with yummy food I don't keep in my own pantry, I often lack self control too. But it's still hard to not say anything!
And then there are the complaints that we always make our own pizza instead of ordering regular pizza (even though they LOVE our home made pizza!), or that they are the only ones at school who don't have chips or lollies in their lunch every day, or that they really miss cereal....
And then there are the regular issues that I'm sure most parents have with their kids- Friendly Food eaters or not. Being a 'healthy' family doesn't make us immune!
My younger son goes through phases with my cooking. There are times when I just can't seem to please him with the snacks I prepare for their lunch boxes. Something will be returned from school with the explanation that he doesn't like it. But he used to eat it. But he doesn't like it. But he used to like it. But he doesn't want me to put it in his lunch box any more. Arguing is futile.
BUT THEN.... you occasionally get those moments, those brief windows that give you hope to keep going, the 'wins' when you silently pat yourself on the back and fantasize about being awarded 'Parent of the Year'...
When I say we'll eat out, they get excited and automatically ask if we can get Sushi or Thai food- the choices that they love that they know will have some reasonably Friendly choices. By the way, they also love Subway, commercial pizza and fish and chips, and will sometimes ask for these too- but these are choices we leave for very rare occasions. We certainly know how to celebrate in our family, and we sometimes indulge in foods we don't normally consider healthy. But I love the fact that my kids can be just as excited about eating these rich, sugar-filled desserts (top picture) as they are about eating a completely nutrient dense, gluten and dairy free meal like the second picture at Luke Nguyen's 'Red Lantern' for their Dad's birthday. And I LOVE The fact that they're so used to trying new foods that they ate everything we ordered! Win!!
The other day Mr 12 was telling me that he didn't need as much food in his lunch box that day as he planned to buy some food from the canteen (we give them a small amount of money each term for them to spend at the canteen as they choose- just another little thing that's hard for me to do that allows them a little freedom). He very quickly added, though “Well, I know that it won't actually have much food value, but you know what I mean”. So, even though he's continuing to make choices that I don't necessarily want for him, at least he's making them as informed choices- he knows full well why the canteen 'food' isn't actually food! Win.
And then there are those nights when we sit down to a completely healthy, nutrient dense meal that I've gone to a significant effort to plan, shop for organic ingredients for, and then prepare, and my two beautiful boys enthusiastically tuck in and exclaim 'Oh, yum. Thanks so much for dinner, Mum'. Win.
Oh, and then there was the time they decided to make my birthday cake for me- wheat/dairy/sugar free. All by themselves. Truly the icing in the cake (pun intended!).
So, we continue this journey of education. Of letting our kids know why we make the choices that we do. Of giving them some freedom to make choices for themselves. Of watching them make choices that result in me fighting myself not to jump in and tell them they can't. Of putting in all the time and effort it takes to prepare 3 good quality, nutrient-filled, Friendly meals a day from scratch. Of finding new ways to make Friendly Food fun so they have positive associations with stuff that's good for them. They won't always make the choices I'd like them to, but I'm holding on to hope that at some point when their rational brains are fully developed (apparently for a male that's not 'til they're 25!) that they might come back 'round and do the same for their own kids. Because their future and their health and wholeness is worth it.
Thanks for taking the time to read my ramblings! I'd love to hear your comments.
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