Food

by Deb on July 13, 2010

Food

Welcome to the July Carnival of Natural Parenting: Let’s Talk About Food

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have written about their struggles and successes with healthy eating. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

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This is not the post I intended to write.  That got longer and longer and requires more research, so I’m currently deciding whether it’s gone too far off topic or if there is a series coming up in the future.  Plus the holiday has brought the big girl’s Jekyll and Hyde personality out in all its glory, so if you make it to the end I’m going to shamelessly beg for help.

We all know that a healthy diet is important for children to grow and develop.  Most of us know intellectually that it’s important for them to be able to learn, although that can be a bit more difficult to see in front of us than their size and shape.  And there is the vexing question of exactly what makes a healthy diet.  Everyone you talk to, neighbours, teachers, relatives, doctors, online friends, seems to have a different idea of what children should be eating.  It’s something I really struggle with, in fact I’ll say I find it the hardest part of parenting.  I don’t have good eating habits myself and I really want to help my children develop better ones than I have, but at the same time I know that seeing me obsess about food is a problem all in itself!  I’m sure I overthink it and would do better to relax, so I’ve tried to come up with some simple, easy to use rules.

When I was teaching I often used the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating with my classes, and there are some simple explanations in Get Up and Grow: Healthy Eating and Physical Activity for Early Childhood.  Based on these and a lot of other reading, talking and thinking, I’ve got myself down to three rules that make life easier for me because it decreases my stress over details.  I’d like to emphasise that this is a work in progress – I don’t always or even mostly manage to follow the rules, they are just a way to try to make my life easier.

Eat food.  Not too much.  Mostly plants.

This is a quote from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food.  I’ll admit straight up I haven’t read it, but the quote is simple and easy to follow – eat real food, not drinks, replacements, vitamins, supplements, fruit ‘products’ or anything that would have been a special treat when I was little.  Don’t stress too much about numbers of veges and fruits, it’s all food.  Not too much, I interpret as listening to your own body.  Don’t eat until you feel uncomfortable, something I find I do far too often.  Be confident that there will always be more chocolate, or chips, or whatever it is, and just eat what you need right now.  Mostly plants is perfect – we’re not vegetarian and I have no intention of becoming vegetarian, but meat is a minor part of the meal not the main event.  We do have vegetarian days regularly because I like the recipes.

Balance every meal.

Western diets tend to balance over a day – lots of cereal in the morning, cereal and vegetables or dairy at lunchtime, then meat, veges and more cereals for dinner.  In Australia and the UK they promote a certain number of veges or fruits per day.  I found this stressful because I had to keep track of food all day to remember if we’d had enough veges or pieces of fruit or too much bread (I told you I overthink this).  But only thinking about one meal is easy.  If you balance every meal, your day will automatically balance.  If you eat veges with every meal, you will meet the recommended number.  If the mood isn’t right or you’ve run out of something or it’s easier to just have noodles for dinner it’s ok, because the other meals will cover everything so you’re not missing out completely.

I treat the day as 4 meals – breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks.  Breakfast I don’t worry about balancing and it’s Weetbix, yoghurt or bread, but lunch and dinner I try to have half cereals, half veges and a bit of protein.  I know that doesn’t add up and it annoys the maths teacher in me but you get the idea.  It’s a different ratio, but I got the idea from Just Bento – brilliant site, if you have to make lunchboxes check it out!  Snacks the girls choose, but I suggest they include fruit, vegetables and dairy over the day.  Sometimes it’s a good theory rather than something I actually manage, but when things do go off the rails it helps me not stress about it, just start again balancing the next meal.  It stops me getting in a rut – sometimes you go so long without eating broccoli and then have it again and think oh yeah, I really like broccoli.  Even though it’s a green vegetable and we’re all supposed to eat them only out of duty ;)   By thinking of each meal as it comes it makes me think of things that taste good, rather than things that are easy to make quickly without much thought.

You don’t have to love every meal.

I got this one from the lovely Mira only recently.  She pointed out that over a lifetime we will eat something like 87,000 meals, not including snacks.  That’s a lot of meals.  Say you have a choice between hot chips or steamed veges and you prefer hot chips.  Do you really need to eat them 87,000 times?  And do you think you will love them 87,000 times or will you get sick of them?  Maybe having steamed veges most of the time will give you what your body needs, give you lots of variety and introduce you to other tastes you’ll enjoy.  And after all, if you only love one meal every week that’s still over 4,000 meals you’ll love in your lifetime.  And that’s a lot of meals too.

So they’re my three practical rules, and this is ignoring all the psychological and attitudinal things because I’m trying to get it into one post and it’s already getting long (again).

The problem

So the problem.  Big girl seems to be extremely sensitive to her blood sugar levels.  Not medically or anything like that, but when she is fed she is sweet, caring, inquisitive, helpful, confident and generally the sort of kid you like to show off.  When she hasn’t eaten for a while, she isn’t.  Way, way, waaaaay isn’t.  And one of the things she will fight you on is trying to get her to eat something, so it tends to spiral.  She just doesn’t seem to get hungry or notice it.  At home it’s not too bad because we know and it’s part of the routine, when we’re away it’s more hit and miss but we’re aware of it.  But I’m starting to worry about school next year (yes, overthinking) and packing her food for the whole day.  There is just no way this child will be able to learn or even pass as human if she’s not eating at recess and lunch.  She’s not ridiculously fussy but is a bit, and she’s intolerant to tomatoes, strawberries and kiwi fruit, although we’ve re-introduced small amounts of tomatoes and seem to be ok (incidentally, did you know food intolerances can cause sleep disturbances?).

So spam me.  I’m after low-GI, kid friendly foods that can be packed in lunchboxes, preferably ones she can help make herself.  I figure I can try them out with her over the next 6 months and work out which ones are a hit.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

amandab July 13, 2010 at 8:59 am

I wanted to join in on this one, but I got my dates wrong, and my market wasn’t on until the weekend, so I missed out :(

I am trying, until we get our vegies and fruit trees planted and growing (the backyard has pretty much been cleared now, so we ARE closer!), to only buy my fruit and veg (and meat) at the farmer’s market. This means that what we are eating is fresh and seasonal, not something that has been in storage for goodness knows how long! Okay, we might get sick of the sight of a few things (everyone went off cauliflower after a month), but the great thing is, when something new comes into season it is exciting, and you can fill up on that until it’s gone too. Asparagus season is one of those highlights of the years.

This is what I learnt from Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Have you read it? It is very America-crentric, but generally a good and informative read.

As for snacks .. dips and bread/biscuits/vegetable sticks? Princess loves finger type food, or as she calls it “things on a plate”. Cold meat, cheeses, olives, cherry tomatoes .. all bite size portions, lots of variety. That said, she eats it EVERY DAY, so whilst there is variety on her plate, the meal doesn’t change greatly from day to day. There ARE many ways to make little changes, adding some fresh or dried fruit, changing the vegetables/pickles, but the important thing for her is, she CAN pretty much make it herself, I just have to get everything out of the fridge for her.
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:19 am

We love things on a plate :D I think I need to be more adventurous with our eating, it seems to be the same things over and over. Not recipes so much but ingredients. I think I got into the habit when there wasn’t much around and I haven’t looked for new things.

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Melodie July 13, 2010 at 3:33 pm

Those are GREAT rules to live by. Awesome. As for your daughter, she sounds like I used to get. I went to a naturopath who told me I was hypo-glycemic and that the best way to deal with this would be to have something protein heavy for breakfast. As a vegetarian this meant whole grain cereal like oatmeal with nuts seeds and dried fruit, peanut butter on toast or eggs. (I usually ate plain cereal or toast with jam or honey). When I started doing this I could make it much easier to my next meal and my irritability pretty much completely disappeared.
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:00 am

She loves our homemade muesli bars which have lots of oats, nuts and seeds in them, that would be a great snack. I haven’t made them in a while, thanks for reminding me!
Breakfast is another struggle, I can see that 8am starts next year is going to require a lot of schedule changing for us to make it LOL

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Dionna @ Code Name: Mama July 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm

I agree w/balancing foods more throughout the day – we do tend to be carb/grain heavy at certain times, I’ve been trying to get away from that myself.
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:02 am

It’s probably the thing that’s made the most difference for me. In summer it’s easy with salads but some days I’d find myself trying to fit a whole day’s worth of veges into dinner, and it doesn’t work. But once you accept that lunch isn’t just a sandwich with spread, it makes life easier and more interesting. The bento site is great.

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Kadiera July 13, 2010 at 11:40 pm

At times, I’ve suffered from hypoglycemia. Like another commenter, I did better with more protein first thing in the morning.

I think I’d look into Japanese-style bento box lunches. While the traditional bento is a bit heavy on white rice for my liking, substitute brown rice, or more veggies, and she’d probably do fine. While “cute” bento is what gets shown around the net, they don’t all have to be cute to be pleasing to the eye. A mixture of colors and textures can be well balanced and nice looking.
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:05 am

She loves brown rice with furikake, I’m going to have to get more into the little vege recipes and convince her to eat them.

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Kate Wicker @ Momopoly July 14, 2010 at 2:11 am

I just wrote a long comment that was lost in our lousy Internet connection. Ugh. Anyway, this was a great post. Eating healthy is so simple, isn’t it? So why is it so hard? :-)

I agree with Amanda about finger foods and dips for kids. My girls love a yogurt and PB dip served with fruit and carrot sticks. Just mix plain Green Yogurt with peanut butter. They also love hummus with veggies and whole wheat pita slices as well as a white bean dip I make. Puree white beans with garlic, olive oil, and of your other favorite spices.

As an aside, I chuckled at your Jekyll and Hyde reference because my kids the same way since our recent move! Ugh (again). It’s been one of those “ugh” kind of days.

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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:07 am

OK, *rolls up sleeves* must learn to make hummus. I love the idea of bean dips, thanks for that recipe. She does love avocado dips, the advantage of beans is we can get them anytime.

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Kat July 14, 2010 at 4:57 am

Those are good rules to live by! My little guy has propelled me into the world of food intolerances/sensitivies and yes we have learned the hard way that they can cause disturbances in pretty much anything! I am also working daily to find good, healthy, easy recipes that we can all eat and enjoy. I have a few favs I’ve found and I promise I’ll be back to share them (incidentally, right now I need to go start working on supper!). :-)

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Jessica - This is Worthwhile July 14, 2010 at 5:03 am

My husband was 33 before we discovered he was hypo-glycemic. I started packing snacks in my car and he felt so miserable that his girlfriend had resorted to taking care of his food needs he started to take care of them himself (and right he should!). It shed a different light on his entire childhood experience because no one knew (or cared) that he had blood-sugar issues; he was just punished for his bad behavior.

Your daughter is incredibly lucky to have such sensitive and aware parents as to even think (or over think) this issue. It’s major. And I’m sure you’ll figure it all out – can you speak with her teachers about her food issues? Maybe they have snack time? And kids are 1000x more likely to do something when someone else besides their mom is asking them to do it (like eat a snack). I wouldn’t worry too much about that ;)
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 10:16 am

Thanks. I can see it would be so easy to think she was being naughty if we hadn’t seen so often the link between food and her behaviour. And I do feel sad for other kids and families because it makes such a huge difference. They do have a snack time, it’s getting her to eat that can be hard. But she loves cleaning up for her teacher, so this might be one of those things where Mum just loses out :)

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TwinToddlersDad July 14, 2010 at 12:57 pm

Very cool blog! I am glad I discovered you through the Natural Parenting Blog Carnival.

I think we tend to focus a little too much on the “what” of eating, rather than than the “how” of eating. Eat this, not that. This is good for you, eat more of it. Too many rules, too much confusing information. No wonder eating has become such a difficult experience these days!

Love your perspective about 87000 meals over a lifetime. We should better start thinking about how to make each one of them both healthful and enjoyable. That is if we are lucky to get to 87000!

Keep up the good work. I am adding your blog to my Links page and plan to return soon to read more of your posts!
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sally July 14, 2010 at 12:58 pm

We have similar problems here.
Both myself and my DD are sensitive to not getting food at the right times. I’ve know about myself for years, the breaking point was when in tears I told my mum I wasn’t hungry, she basically force-fed (well told me, I didn’t have a choice and to just try it) a smoothy. !0 mins later I felt 100X better and had to apologise to my mum :) .
DH has just picked up, that if I forget to give DD her afternoon snack she becomes very emotional and unable to cope in the run up to dinner time.

On the school front, I’ve found that the routine of a school day helps most children eat, because they are told that this time is for sitting down and eating.

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Marita July 14, 2010 at 7:09 pm

I love that ‘balance every meal’ philosophy.

We struggle with Heidi because she has intolerances, allergies and also is very sensitive to the texture of food and experiences flavours in different ways to what we do. Makes for interesting times.

For school lunches, can I plug a totally brilliant solution I found for my girls? The ‘Foogo’ pot by Thermos, sold in KMart, not too expensive, also available to purchase online.

Here is a link to the official thermos site – http://www.thermos.com/product_details.aspx?ProdID=740&CatCode=Foog&q=

In summer I put in yogurt with fruit (banana, berries etc). On occasion I’ve pureed some frozen berries and mixed them in with whole frozen berries. Delicious. It stays chilled nicely until recess in the girls insulated lunch bags.

In winter my girls have taken – soup, two minute noodles and vegetable stew to school in their foogo pots. It is exactly big enough for one packet of two minute noodles to fit in and lucky my girls prefer them *without* the flavouring.

It is also great for carrying baked beans and tinned spag. which my girls prefer at room temp.

Such a small thing but it has made a huge difference to the range of what I can make for lunches.
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Deb July 14, 2010 at 7:17 pm

Great idea. I’ve found the girls really like a cooked lunch like noodles or rice, and in summer keeping things cold is a real hassle here.

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Beanma July 15, 2010 at 1:25 pm

I like avocado, egg, humus, cheese, beans for low-GI … not sure how to make them kid-friendly if the kid isn’t eating it in front of you but those are all healthy balanced foods imho!
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Michelle @ The Parent Vortex July 16, 2010 at 9:29 am

I tend to be hypo-glycemic a bit myself and protein in the morning really does help. A soft-boiled egg with breakfast or lunch really helps keep my energy levels even through the day. I also eat nuts & dried fruit as a snack – I call it my “snicky-snack” and it’s a mix of pecans, almonds, raisins, dried cranberries, and pumpkin seeds or figs if I’m feeling adventurous (and have been shopping recently!).

I think the best approach is to offer solid foods she likes regularly, or leave them where she can access them herself. If it’s related to a power struggle she might resist just for the control and would be more likely to eat when she chooses when/where.

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Lauren @ Hobo Mama July 17, 2010 at 8:55 am

I just love this article. You’ve packed so many great ideas into it. The “Eat food” part of Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food — that’s the only book on the subject I’ve actually made it through and read, so I’m quite proud ;) — was so inspirational for me. He had a rule that you eat only what your great-grandmother would recognize as food. That’s helped me a lot. The part about “not too much” is where I always get stuck, of course. Oh, heck, I get stuck on all of it. But this: “Be confident that there will always be more chocolate, or chips, or whatever it is, and just eat what you need right now.” Yes! Why can I not remember that? I think it must be innate, to want to feast while food is available. Like our far-past ancestors who survived must have done. Oh, well! I’ll keep reminding myself I live in a culture of abundance, and maybe someday the message will get through.

Does your daughter like/eat cheese? Or nuts? I find those nice, filling little snacks that are more protein than sugars. I second/third/whatever the dip ideas. Maybe in that line, a little tub of salsa with some cut-up whole-wheat tortillas? I think kids love food that’s a little bit complicated, because don’t we all love to play with our food? :) String cheese is a good one for kids, because it keeps pretty well in lunchboxes AND is fun to play with. You can find organic if you prefer, and it’s just mozzarella. Whole-milk yogurt’s good, too, though you might want to find a lunchbox that fits a little gel ice pack then.
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Annie July 19, 2010 at 6:31 am

Oh I love the idea of balancing every meal – you’re right, that’s much easier to manage than trying to plan it all over the whole day then panicking cos there’s too much to fit into dinner (or else just giving up and realising that no one is eating ANY vegies…)

I also like the concept of only eating food that our great-grandmothers would recognise as food. And as people have said, there are so many different opinions on what is ‘healthy’ food and its really so personal, based on our home situation, food sensitivities, likes etc. It can seem so overwhelming.

I find it easiest to try one new thing at a time, add that to our diet/routine, and once that becomes easy and normal, then try something else. Otherwise I feel like I have to change everything and it again its too overwhelming and I just want to give up.

I used to have trouble with my blood sugar as well and once it dropped, I was completely incapable of making decisions, including deciding what to eat. So those ‘what would you like to eat’ conversations are torture at that point, I needed someone to just hand me food, I’d eat it, and then I could think again. I got better at remembering to eat BEFORE that happened but it did take me a long time. It happens rarely now – not sure if that’s because I do eat more regularly, or I eat a better diet (much less processed food) or if I just kind of grew out of it.

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