During the month of May, I participated in a Whole30 Challenge with Lindsey from One Mother of a Day. The Whole30 program is known as a “nutritional reset”, where you eat only real, unprocessed foods for 30 days. (Check out this post from Lindsey on how to prepare for the Whole30 program.)
You must abstain from added sugars, alcohol, grains, legumes, dairy, white potatoes, and products with carrageenan, MSG or sulfites. I did a loose version of the program and concentrated on cutting out grains and processed foods. I did not participate to lose weight or inches, I simply wanted to improve my overall nutrition and observe my relationship with food.
I embarked on this challenge alone. I did not make changes to the family’s entire diet. My family was indirectly impacted because I was buying less junk in general so I wouldn’t be tempted. But sometimes I was having an entirely different meal than my family; I would have tuna and avocado for lunch but still give the kids cold cut sandwiches or I drank a smoothie while everyone else had pancakes.
I chose to do this alone because my kids are still young and one of them is extremely picky. He also happens to be the one who is as skinny as a rail and has a ridiculously fast metabolism. I used to sometimes play the “if you don’t like what’s for dinner then don’t eat” card and he would often choose to barely eat. At his check up we saw his weight dropped and his doctor became concerned. I left that appointment feeling like the worst mother ever. I am still trying to find the balance of making him eat all his vegetables and giving him all the calories he needs. It takes a lot of effort to get those calories in him. My younger son, however, will eat pretty much whatever I tell him to and is open to trying new things.
In a perfect world, my kids would eat exactly what I eat, all the time. I learned a lot about nutrition over the years and have been experimenting with what works best for my body. I would have loved it if the whole family got onboard with the Whole 30 Challenge, but right now it’s not realistic for us. But that Mother’s Guilt kept creeping back up and I’d think “If I know it’s good for me, shouldn’t the whole family be doing this?” – even though the rational side of me knew it wouldn’t be the best move right now. We don’t eat unhealthy, but I’d be lying if I said processed foods were never on our table.
I asked some of my fellow mom friends about how they handle family meals. Some of the moms were in the challenge with me and others were not. Their answers were all very different; some ate the same exact meals as their kids while others ate dinner after the kids went to bed. Some made different meals for their kids if they didn’t like it, while others stood their ground and didn’t make any additional meals. There were moms who spent many hours meal planning each week and others who admittedly ate out a lot. While the answers varied, the intent was the same: we were doing our best to meet our own family’s nutritional needs. These methods vary from family to family and even day to day within the same family.
Life gets busy and every family is different, but here are a few things I like to keep in mind when it comes to healthy eating for the family:
1) Have healthy alternatives.
If you are like me and constantly worried about your child’s caloric intake (as in getting enough in), I think it’s helpful to have easy, healthy alternatives on hand if they don’t like what’s for dinner. In my house, that’s some combination of a nut butter sandwich, apple sauce, yogurt and broccoli. These are the things I know my kids will eat and I don’t have a problem with any of them.
2) Similar, if not same, meals.
If you are trying out a different nutrition program, like Whole 30, Paleo, or gluten-free, your kids can have similar meals as you. For example, when it’s taco night, I’m the only one who doesn’t eat the shells. I will have everything else, but I will make a really big salad with an extra helping of chicken. If it’s spaghetti night, I used spaghetti squash in lieu of noodles. You don’t have to cook two separate meals, but you may have to cook one extra vegetable.
3) Keep genetics in mind.
It’s comforting for a parent to hear their child is in the higher percentiles for height and weight. It’s like the bigger and faster they are growing, the better we feel about what we are doing. But it’s important to keep genetics in mind when thinking about feeding our kids. Some kids will barely be on the weight curve no matter how much eat and others will be at the top without eating a bite. It’s just important that we try our best to give them the best quality of calories.
4) It’s about exposure.
I read once that some children will need to see, smell, or touch a food 12 (that number may be off) times before they will eat it. My son takes about 20 times! Even if our children don’t eat the same thing, it’s still beneficial for them to be exposed to the different foods we put on our own plate.
5) Something old, something new.
If everything on the plate is new, chances are my kids won’t eat it. I will try and put an old favorite together with something new so I know they will eat something!
6) Talk about it.
Whether you are making slight changes to eat healthier or big ones like going vegetarian, you have an opportunity to teach your kids about nutrition. It’s important to talk about why you are making the change. Eating healthy is not only good for you but makes you feel good and strong. It’s important how you phrase it as well – the different food on Mommy’s or Daddy’s plate isn’t a punishment, it’s a way to feel stronger.
7) Give yourself a break.
Every meal isn’t going to be perfectly balanced. Some weeks are so busy and you will have to order out more than you’d like. It’s important to look at the big picture when it comes to your family’s nutrition or you will be stressing yourself out every day.
As parents, it’s our job to make sure our children are getting everything they need to grow up and be healthy. We need to make sure they get the proper nutrition now as well as learn how to do it properly on their own as they get older. I will not be there when my kids are old enough to choose their meals outside of the home, but I can teach them what I know about food and hope they develop a healthy relationship with it. My Whole30 experience didn’t include my whole family, but even just the few healthier choices they made here and there was an improvement. Maybe I can’t get them to eat exactly as I do now, but I can set the example and expose them to as many healthy choices as I can. Each family is different when it comes to nutrition philosophy and we have to do what works best for our unique situations. The common, and most important, thread is that we keep healthy choices on the forefront and help them develop a good understanding of nutrition.
Thanks for Reading,