When my son went in for his seven-year checkup, I was shocked to learn that he had gained 15 pounds from the previous year’s visit. (He had also grown four inches, but that was overshadowed in my mind by the other number.) Fifteen pounds is a lot for anyone to gain in a year, but for some reason it seems monumental when you’re talking about someone who’s only been on the planet for seven years.
The doctor was concerned — this gain made his BMI creep up a bit into the high end of the normal range — and she began grilling him about what kinds of foods he liked to eat and what kinds of activity he likes to do. The basic rule of thumb she gave him/us — and I don’t disagree — that it’s a good idea to eat lots of fruits and vegetables and also to avoid/minimize consumption of foods you have to unwrap in order to eat. As we stood in that exam room, I did a mental inventory of our pantry — granola bars, crackers, chips — and grimaced. It was embarrassing to think about how much processed food, processed carbohydrates in particular, I rely on in order to get us fed on a weekly basis, despite my best efforts to get some nutritious stuff down the family’s collective gullet. (I won’t comment in depth about the effect this had on my son, but I will note that this inspired no small amount of anxiety in him that, while it eventually faded, made him very nervous about what kinds of foods he was eating.)
Since then, I’ve been much more aware of how balanced (or unbalanced, depending on how busy I am and how on the ball I was while making the weekly grocery list) my kids’ meals are, and have been taking a hard line on things like snacks and treats. Sometimes I’m more successful than others, but here are some of the rules of my kitchen these days:
- At least one fruit and one vegetable with each meal. Sometimes this is in the form of a squeezy applesauce in the lunchbox or some frozen veggies tossed into the thermos of noodles. With dinner, everyone gets a salad or, at the bare minimum, some cherry tomatoes and carrot sticks. Sometimes they don’t get eaten, but at least it’s on the plate. In fact, last night, my son ate all of his broccoli without being prompted! Baby steps.
- If you’re not hungry for fruit, then you’re not hungry. I’m frequently being pestered for snacks before and after mealtimes, and all the times in between that. Sometimes, depending on the time of day and what the kids have eaten so far, I will capitulate and let them have some cheesy fish crackers. But lately, I’ll offer them a choice of fruit (I most frequently have bananas and apples on hand, and whatever’s in season) and when they complain or flop on the floor in protest because what they really wanted was a cookie or chips or some other sort of “sometimes food,” I repeat this mantra until they either capitulate or give up.
- You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. I have had good luck finding inspiration for healthy, wholesome meals from sites like 100 Days of Real Food (which is kind of preachy, but I’ve learned how to tune out the really pedantic stuff) and Easy Lunchboxes. There is a whole host of resources out there; I’ll post some of them to our Pinterest board after SXSW.
The other piece is exercise. Given their druthers, my kids would win gold medals in couching. These kids are avid consumers of (appropriate) pop culture, from Adventure Time to My Little Pony to Skylanders. But as the weather is getting a bit more palatable, we’ll be doing a lot of biking, swimming, and just running around at the park. I’m not going to be a calorie-counting, eating-disorder-projecting psycho mom obsessing over every ounce of her kids’ body fat. But I will be modeling good eating habits and involving them in as much physical activity as possible.