A guide for getting your family to eat nutritious foods, and leave the junk behind!
Offer Johnny a slice of pizza and a Coke and he’ll greet you with smiles and cheers. Give Susie a veggie burger and diet soda for dinner and she’ll brag to her friends about what a cool mom she has. But prepare homemade vegetable beef soups for lunch, served with a slice of sourdough bread and chunk of raw milk cheese, and they’re more likely to turn up their noses and skulk off. What’s a thoughtful mother to do? Having been a mom now these last twenty years, and a former kid, I think I can offer you some options to help get your family off to some better eating habits for which they will thank you later. But first, let’s go over a few things not to do.
Old Habits Die Hard
I can still remember my family making the transition to healthier eating habits way back when I was about ten years old. We had been accustomed to our Tuna or Hamburger Helper and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with hot dogs when our mother, needing to lose weight and various afflictions, decided to get healthy. Out went the white sugar. Away with the white bread! In came whole grain (cardboard) bread and tasteless turkey burgers. Yum, yum! Thankfully, we still had the homegrown produce that my dad and I worked hard to raise in the summer and which my mother labored to put up for the winter.
We kids didn’t exactly look forward to mealtime. So we loaded up at the lunch counter at school and invited ourselves over to friends’ houses for pizza or “real” cheeseburgers and french fries. But at home it did not matter how good for us this or that item was supposed to be, “health food” just wasn’t very appealing.
Now I need to say that my mother really did try hard and had good intentions. She had eight hungry mouths to feed on a limited budget and was trying to do the best she could with what was available to her. And it wasn’t as though everything she made was not to our liking; we all had our favorites (mine being that Kraft Macaroni and Cheese with hot dogs!). We also watched with amazement as our mother’s health problems melted away along with the weight that she was rapidly losing. I am thankful for this very positive lesson in how our eating habits affect our well-being.
But from this example I think we can draw a few conclusions about what not to do.
Don't Shock Your Family
First, don’t try engineering a sudden and major overhaul of your family’s eating habits; let it be a gradual, progressive change for the better. And don’t expect your family to enjoy eating what you put before them just because it is healthy. Children, and spouses as well, don’t necessarily appreciate the “good for you” factor when it means they are feeling deprived of their old, less healthy foods. It may also be unwise to withhold all of your family’s favorites; perhaps holding onto a few things as occasional treats or rewards is appropriate, or re-create these same foods as healthy but appealing choices. That said, let’s consider some things we can do to encourage our families toward healthy eating habits.
Get Everyone Involved
Involve the Whole FamilyThe first thing I would suggest any spouse or parent to do is to involve the whole family in the raising and preparation of your meals. This can be as simple as having the family participate in growing a vegetable garden (even a small child can grow lettuce and tomatoes in his own plot of earth), to teaching your children how to cook. When your family is involved with the food set before them, they may take more pride and interest in what they eat.
From an early age our children have always shown a keen interest in what Mom is doing in the kitchen, often begging to help. Why squelch that wonderful desire to be of service and the opportunity to learn through imitation? I invite them to join in, assigning age-appropriate tasks to everyone. A child of three can help make a salad. At age three or four, children can begin measuring and mixing. By the time they are six they are able to begin making bread. And by eight they can, with guidance, actually prepare a whole meal.
As you might guess, in our family all of the children from the youngest to the oldest are regularly involved in preparing our family’s meals. It just takes a little patience (which is not always easy) and a willingness for things to take longer and be messier. But the long-term rewards are well worth the effort!
It might just be the homeschooler in me, but sometimes we “explore” a new food before we eat it, just to make it more interesting. That Mediterranean lamb stew, for example, becomes far more palatable once we have discovered how lamb is raised in different parts of the world, as well as why particular spices and vegetables are used in that area. And just where is the Mediterranean Sea, anyway? This approach sometimes works to get a child’s mind off the “strangeness” of a new food and focused more on its uniqueness.
Okay, so your child has helped grow the cabbage, aided its transition to sauerkraut, knows a little about the origin of this wonderful food, and now is sitting at the table with a large scowl across his face. “I am not eating that!” So what are you to do? Well, it’s time to pull out the big guns.
Children Need Guidance
Many believe that a child will instinctively crave the very foods his body needs. I am skeptical about that premise. My kids’ insistence that they must have a candy bar does not tell me that their body needs sugar and artificial flavors and colors. Fuel perhaps, but garbage, no! Most children need a little parental guidance, even clever persuasion at times. The desire for good, nutritious foods does not always come naturally. So parents, don’t wimp out!
This is not unfamiliar territory to me. We have had guests in our home who actually bring their children’s food along with them, lest they be asked to eat what I might prepare. Poor kids! We do our children a grave disservice when we don’t teach them to try new things, but instead indulge their immature and limited tastes.
The strategy we have employed in our home for this problem is simple. We insist that each child have a little bit of everything “good” for him or her before being allowed those foods that the child prefers. For some children this may mean no potatoes or slice of bread (always slathered with mounds of raw butter) until the steamed carrots and sauerkraut have been finished off. For others, they must first eat the salad before they may have their main dish. Sometimes the first foods are put on their plates to disappear before the more welcome foods are even within reach. You come to know each child’s likes and dislikes, and must plan your strategy accordingly.
Of course, tantalizing them with a piece of fruit or other dessert will usually help all but the most stubborn of individuals to overcome their aversion to steamed spinach or broccoli. The rest of us will be sure to make plenty of noise over that delicious treat, which further provokes the stubborn one to get through his grumpy resistance. And if he doesn’t, well, there’s always tomorrow. Eventually hunger wins out and the plateful of food is consumed. Cold, perhaps, but a lesson is learned, which makes it easier for the next mealtime.
More often than not when this tactic is employed the resistant person is surprised to find that she actually enjoys the offending food. This has been the case every time one frequent young guest of our family has sat down to dinner. We only insist that he sample each new thing. He ends up loving it and gives glowing reports to his mother about what a good cook Mrs. Diaz is!
On the rare occasion that a child truly does not like a particular food you may decide to insist, or not, that he have a bite of it before going on to finish the other items on the plate. If it is a food you feel is particularly important for the child’s health, by all means make it necessary for the child to eat it! If it’s not that important, then allow for the occasional optout.
Train the Taste Buds
Of course, all of this is easier when a child is started on these foods early in life. Our most recent baby, Lauren, began solids with steamed spinach enhanced with much raw butter and has enthusiastically devoured it each time we have put it before her. Ditto for steamed carrots, sauerkraut and brown rice. She has never been fed fruit juices, cereal or other common baby foods.
Refurbish Favorite DishesA big part of the strategy is recreating old family favorites to make them into healthier meals. This does not mean dull and tasteless, however. It is relatively simple to replace ingredients such as margarine, white flour and sugar, with butter, whole grain fresh-ground flour, and honey or Sucanat. When a recipe calls for Jell-o, try making your own with plain gelatin and organic fruit juice with a little stevia added. Or when your family wants a casserole, chuck the store-bought cream-based soups and make your own using homemade chicken stock, butter, raw milk and arrowroot powder. And don’t even think about using non-dairy whipped topping—make real whipped cream instead! We find that the entirely homemade versions of favorite recipes are far tastier than the processed versions anyway, in addition to being much healthier.
Proud to be Different
One last objection to eating well which one will occasionally hear from their children, is that some kids find it difficult to do anything different from their friends. For instance, it is popular now among some young people to be vegan and eat soy foods. Many of course still want their sodas and doughnuts. An important responsibility of parenting, however, is teaching our kids to stand on their own, often against the crowd and what is “in,” and to instead stand up for one’s principles and all things good. If they can be shown that junk food and alternative diets really are destructive to human health, then perhaps we can appeal to their intellects to follow a more solid path towards better health while setting a good example for their peers.
With these ideas, perhaps you’ll find the transition to far more healthful eating habits relatively pain-free for you and your family. The following are some family-pleasing recipes to get you started. Bon appétit!
Family-Friendly Recipe Ideas
Macaroni and Cheese
1 pound brown rice elbows, cooked
20 ounces shredded grass-fed cheese
1 quart whole milk from grass-fed cows
1/2 cup arrow root powder
1/2 cup butter from grass-fed cows
2 teaspoons dry mustard
2 teaspoon sea salt
In a large bowl toss rice elbows with melted butter (if the noodles are hot, save yourself a step, the butter will melt on its own). Combine milk with dry ingredients and pour over noodles. Stir in shredded cheese. Put in a large baking dish, brushed with butter, and bake at 350° for 45 minutes. This dish goes well with those nitrate-free hot dogs from pastured hogs or beef!
Here is my family’s favorite meat loaf recipe, handed down to me from my Great Aunt Alma. This recipe is very easy to double or triple, (as I always do), and it freezes well. I think you’ll agree that it is the best meatloaf you have ever tasted!
1 pound ground beef or beef-heart mix
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I use my sourdough bread crumbs, or gluten-free muffin crumbs, dried out in the oven) or crumbled pork rinds
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1 teaspoon celtic sea salt
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2/3 cup milk or stock
1/4 cup catsup, preferably homemade, or crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese
Mix beef, bread crumbs, onion, seasonings, liquid and egg together and pat into a loaf pan. Mix castup or crushed tomatoes, honey, mustard and nutmeg and spread over meat loaf. Top with grated cheese. Bake in a pre-heated 350 oven for 45 minutes.
Maureen ’s Best Pecan Pie
3 eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 cup crème fraîche
1 cup brown rice syrup
1/4 cup melted butter
1 cup Sucanat, Rapadura, Muacavado or Maple Sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 cups crispy pecan halves
1 1/2 cups crispy pecan pieces
Beat together all but pecans. Add pecans and stir. Pour into soaked pie shell and bake for 55-60 minutes.
Pie Shell2 1/2 cups sprouted whole grain flour (see note 2 below)
3/4 cup cold unsalted butter
1/4 cup cold lard, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons Sucanat, Rapadura or Muscavado sugar, optional
1 teaspoon sea salt
About 1/3 cup ice water with 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
In a bowl combine the dry ingredients. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter and lard until the mixture is a coarse meal. Drizzle the ice water over top, a tablespoon at a time, tossing the mixture with a fork until the dough comes together. Do not handle with your hands. Divide in half and chill. Roll out on a pastry board, handling very little with your hands.
A Few Suggestions to Ease the Burden of Food Preparation
- Involve everyone in the family, assigning particular tasks to individual family members such as tending the kefir, making the sourdough bread or brewing the kombucha.
- Pre-soak or sprout quantities of grains, dehydrate well, and store in the pantry for quick and easy baked goods, pancakes, even yeast bread!
- Dedicate fifteen minutes each evening before bed to handle your cultured foods and to start the next day’s bread.
- Make everything in at least double quantities so that you always have another meal in the freezer and enough mayonnaise to last a month.
- Keep a few basic foods on hand for quick and easy meals such as sauerkraut, sourdough bread, raw milk cheese and high-quality salami and bologna.