When we first went on our healthy eating kick, I went cold turkey. We removed everything processed and unhealthy from our kitchen. We were left with a bottle of salad dressing and a can of butternut squash. Everyone cried. Me, especially.
Not surprisingly, after a dinner of “Chickun Fingers” and “Avocado Fries” my husband seemed to suddenly remember something we needed from the store, or that the car needed gas, and he would take a few minutes to take care of things….He would come home smelling suspiciously of fast food.
It didn’t hurt my feelings. I was very empathetic. And jealous.
No need to go to those extremes to eat healthy, whole foods. Here are some more steps to a family with happier, healthier, eating habits.
Step 6: Embellish!
It is amazing what a little embellishing can do to healthy food. I know, I know, a purist would be horrified at my suggestions that follow, but, this has worked to get my children to eat things they may not have ever even considered.
Here are some examples:
Embellishing Salads: Croutons, unhealthy salad dressing, even–gasp!–bacon crumbles or deli meat (the horror!!!!) will do wonders to make a salad more appetizing to a little child. Also, be sure to make the lettuces or spinach truly bite size for a child. My two year old loves salad, because he likes the dressing and dried cranberries. Chow mein noodles or fried wonton strips make another excellent and crazy embellishment. Eventually, you will see that you can cut down on the embellishments as the family become more used to what real good food tastes like.
Embellishing Otherwise Unappealing Porridge: We make seven grain cereal, oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, and other warm, homemade cereals in the morning. Some children don’t like them. I have found that adding almond milk instead of water, brown sugar, maple syrup, butter, vanilla, raisins, orange juice and dried cranberries–all of these can make it easier for children (and adults) to eat.
Another winner is chocolate chips. Don’t be too aghast. They are high quality chocolate chips, so we can feel better about it. I often let them each have five chocolate chips in their oatmeal, and you wouldn’t believe how much more they eat.
Okay, so this probably won’t work if your kids are used to eating Gogurt and corn syrup in everything, but this is for after you get rid of anything with corn syrup. That has to be kind of a cold turkey thing. Sorry, but it really does. Once you do it, though, I can guarantee you won’t like corn syrup anymore. You’ll be able to taste it in everything. Blech.
Embellishing “Healthy” Meals: If you are starting to make mostly vegetable/not so much meat dinners, you may need to embellish your meals a bit. Having “healthy” taco soup? Embellish with tortilla chips and cheese and sopapillas (with honey…yum.) or churros.
Serving up another green salad for dinner? Make some rich, buttery garlic toast to go with it, or grill some steak to go on top. Roast some potatoes and top them with cheese or make some different kinds of dipping sauces for the potatoes (we like a mayo/lime/sriracha for some kick, or fry sauce made with bbq sauce instead of ketchup, or even an onion dip).
I know I have mentioned cheese–I actually believe in cheese, just about 1/3 of what is called for in the Standard American Diet. I like organic cheese and raw cheese, and my kids do, too. I never liked cheese (with the exception of brie) before I tried raw cheese. Yum. Cheese sticks things together, which is nice. It’s good for stretching things out, too).
If you’re not too sure what to do with the vegetables, if you are trying to make a side dish, look at how really nice, sustainable restaurants prepare them. That should give you some ideas. Restaurants try to prepare things that most people will enjoy, so you can guess that they might appeal to at least someone in your family. How about grilled tomatoes and spinach in orange butter sauce, like at La Jolla Gardens in the Riverwoods in Provo, Utah. Or maybe Roasted Sweet Potatoes with Molasses Glazed Apples ( I would roast instead of boil), like at Communal?
If that’s too hard, I recommend grilling the vegetables with a touch of olive oil and a sprinkle of Italian seasonings. Nothing says “meat” like a grill, and that smoky flavor makes the veggies more palatable to those who don’t like them. (A good mix is zucchini, yellow squash, red bell peppers, big mushrooms, big tomatoes, onion wedges, and asparagus or beans…yummy!) Grilling veggies and putting them on hoagies or focaccia with an aioli sauce is also a great dish, and that’s not a side, it’s a main meal.
If you’re having veggie sandwiches for dinner, buy some chips (maybe Kettle Bakes or Sun Chips or something not too crazy). Or pretzels. They serve the same purpose.
If you’re doing a baked potato bar, include a few “non-healthy” toppings like bacon, sour cream, and–(look the other way, my healthy friends), some CHILI (homemade, of course). It doesn’t have to be a lot–just enough to remind everyone of the good old days when you ate for pleasure, but then felt awful afterward.
I love yogurt, but was having a hard time getting the kids to eat it for a lunch. That’s when I dug out the ice cream parfait glasses (which we got at a thrift store for $3 for the whole set of 9). I layered them with fruit, yogurt and granola. But, that’s not what got my little ones to scarf them down–no! It was the few colored sprinkles I put on top! Suddenly, it wasn’t lunch, it was a party!
Just remember that these are supposed to be embellishments or accessories to your meal. Go lightly.
Step 7: Cut out the store bought candy and junk.
This really has got to go. The soda. The neon colored chewy candy.
Make your own instead.
If you want it that badly, then you will appreciate it more if you have done the work to have it. I have found that just the task of making it from scratch usually helps to avoid having too many snacks. Also, if you make it yourself using higher quality ingredients and, perhaps, in some cases, cutting out some of the sweetener, it is better.
If you feel like soda, make homemade root beer. If you don’t want to do that (I will never want to do that), then you probably don’t want it that badly.
If you get a craving for chocolate covered cinnamon bears, then make your own. Actually, I think you need a chemistry lab and a plastic plant to manufacture the cinnamon bears, so you might have to settle for something like this instead (using brown rice syrup and dipping them in chocolate).
Personally, I don’t crave anything that much when it involves sweating, boiling, timing and a candy thermometer. I’d rather go without.
Involve your children in this process. It is a wonderful learning experience for them to realize just how much effort goes into creating their little candy fixes. They learn that it’s kind of, well…a waste. That it would be better to reserve these treats to truly special occasions. But, every hour of every single day does not a holiday make (of course, some people may argue with me on that point–it seems like we celebrate at least three times daily for some thing or other in this society!).
Step 8: Don’t Lie.
Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t lie to your kids.
Dates do not taste like caramel (although, if you haven’t tasted caramel for a while, they might, at the right consistency, taste caramel-esque but that is not the same as tasting JUST LIKE CARAMEL!).
Cashew cream does not taste like whipped cream.
Nut milk does not taste like cow’s milk, and “cheezcake” doesn’t taste like real cheesecake. Breaded mushrooms do not taste like calamari. They just look like they might.
That is so horribly traumatic to do to someone. They are looking at what looks like “chicken nuggets” but they bite into it and it tastes like…walnuts and sundried tomatoes.
GROSS FOR KIDS AND FOR ME! (My husband took one whiff and ran an errand…presumably to Arby’s.)
Don’t make something that looks like a Hostess cupcake, but is really..almonds, date paste, and coconut. Just don’t.
They may taste good, but don’t go making them look like the corn-syrupy, white floury pleasure of the time before-we-had-to-eat-papaya.
If you are trying some new thing, call it like it is. If it’s a bunch of nuts, then call it “Nut Nuggets” or something. If you have to think of a deceitful name to even begin to think of it as palatable, it probably isn’t.
(I have to say, I like a lot of raw food treats. A lot. But, I just don’t think they taste anything like donuts, or brownies or anything…they just taste good to me….and some of my kids).
Incidentally, in raw food treats recipes, I often replace the overused nut flours with oat flour. It helps it be not so, well…nutty.
Step 9: Don’t Be Afraid Of Doing What Your Family Likes.
You know, we just had barbecue ribs for dinner the other night. It’s not bad. It’s whole foods. I made the barbecue sauce myself. With organic, no-corn-syrup ketchup. I even used pork (we hardly use pork unless we can get it from happy pigs). We had the barbecue ribs on WHITE ROLLS. It was yummy. With white flour. With Sun Chips.
It is fun to do things that are comforting–but it takes time to understand the difference between comfort and crutch. Sometimes, we use food as a crutch, and it’s an emotional thing. Sometimes, it’s even an addiction to pleasure. Sometimes, it is our way of trying to fulfill a need without having to do the work.
But, really, it’s just food.
It should not be edible media. It should not be about pleasure. It should be about nourishment and…joy.
It’s okay to have sausage links and eggs and hashbrowns. Just make sure your sausage was healthy before it became sausage, and your eggs were from happy, pastured hens, and your hashbrowns weren’t treated with all kinds of weird chemicals. If you can’t do that, try your best. And then pray. And let’s not eat it this everyday. The good earth is full of variety. Let’s take advantage of it.
If you tried to get rid of everything in your diet that has been modified, altered, chemically sprayed, and was corrupted in some way, you’d have to go the Andes and live off of only sunshine and rainbows. This just isn’t realistic.
What you can do, is take a look at the Word of Wisdom (or even the story of Daniel in the Old Testament). Then, think about it. Study it out in your mind. Pray and ponder. Then open your refrigerator and pantry with a prayerful heart and start cleaning out. It will work. Try to eat as many foods as you can as close to their original form as possible.
Ask your kids to help you find insight. Ask them to ponder and pray and study. Ask them to listen to the Spirit as they eat. It will be amazing what they might tell you.
Fruits and vegetables really can take center stage, and they should, when possible.
Step 10: Cope With The Change In Your Family’s Lifestyle and Your Own Issues.
Okay, I’m sorry, but Step 10 is worth a whole post. So, I will have to make a Part 3. This way, I will keep you all in suspense (like Christmas, only healthier). It’s probably the most important thing to tackle in changing your lifestyle to allow more healthy foods into your family, so it won’t be super short. I am verbose, you know. So, until next time:
Go get some brown rice syrup for those homemade chocolate covered cinnamon gum drops!