I’ve had it. My husband has had it. We are cracking down on the picky eating.
This is a very long story which I’ll not share today. It involves picky eating, wanting junk foods, past food allergies, food sensitivities, and oral sensory (food texture) issues with one child. This post is about the solution not the back story.
I tried this last May and gave up after about three weeks. It may sound silly but we stopped when the website went down for days and days I couldn't get more blank food diaries. This week it is being tried again.
It is just a coincidence that this week the White House is pushing parents to make changes to their children’s diets in order to try to curb childhood obesity. The statistic they are using is that 1 in 3 American children are overweight. However this new campaign is not lost on me. I’m telling my kids that President Obama wants these changes for them, that our government is very concerned about children not eating well enough and about them not getting enough exercise. Maybe if they're a bit mad at our President they'll not be only angry with me. (Somehow they blame only me when truly my husband is in agreement with this.)
This week I am reviewing the U.S. Government’s Food Pyramid with my children. The government website allows you to plug in the person’s age, weight and height and it makes a food plan for them. This can be printed as a one sheet reference. If you have not seen this yet, check it out: My Pyramid Plan.
The next step is I have my children making their own food choices. The government website also has a one page food tracking sheet, a food diary basically. I printed these for my children. Each day they will use the sheet to figure out their own meals. You can access this by plugging the data into the websie at the My Pyramid Plan link, then clicking on this which appears in the right sidebar: "Click here to view and print a PDF of a helpful Meal Tracking Worksheet."
They can plan their own meals for breakfast and lunch. I don't care what they eat from the choices we have here at home so long as they fit into the plan. If they eat all their breads at breakfast that is their choice and their problem! They can prepare their own breakfast and most lunches can also be made without adult supervision due to the fact that I’ve taught them how to use our appliances and they know all the safety rules from years of practice with close adult supervision. In this way I am not acting as a short order cook making up to four meals, a different one for each member of our family.
For dinner my husband or I will make a meal for the family of something that he and I plan to eat. This is a well-balanced meal. The kids are offered these foods. If they refuse to eat it they can make their own dinner from whatever is left on their food diary as available options.
We always have a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables in the house. Snacks or meal side dishes can be fruits and vegetables. My kids also eat garden salads, sometimes large ones as the entire meal.
The Food Pyramid food planner looks a lot like the old Weight Watchers plan to me. There are units such as one vegetable is ½ cup and it says one of my sons should eat 2.5 cups a day (5 servings). The food intake is broken down by one day; the person is supposed to eat all of the portions in one day and not go over the recommended intake (the same as the old Weight Watchers plan). The food diary sheet from the government website reminds me of the food diary that I used when I was on Weight Watchers too. It has blank lines to fill in to show what was eaten at each meal or snack. As you fill out the foods you eat you can cross off or keep a tally of what is left for available options.
It is very different for a mother to dictate to a child what they can or should eat, all through the day, versus giving them the choices and letting them make all the decisions. My kids are now 12 and 9 so they are fully capable of handling this. Having concrete information on paper they can hold in their hand is helpful because they see the differences between what they want and what they should have to eat in order to have balanced nutrition.
Last year my sons were shocked at the fact that they had been overeating bread products (one bagel counts for more than one portion of a bread and they had wanted to eat two or three bagels in one sitting). Another thing that surprised my sons was that when they did eat all that fruit and vegetable at meals they had little room left for breads. A large garden salad and a half cup of raw carrots eaten before the spaghetti was served meant they had little room left for the pasta! They said, “We can’t eat a lot of pasta when we eat all these vegetables!”
One issue I had last year when I did this was they sometimes refused to eat much for healthy snacks or lunch. Then later when we were in public they would being LOUDLY proclaiming in front of strangers that they hadn’t eaten and they were SO hungry and could they please go to McDonald’s since we’d be driving past it? Or saying, “I never ate lunch, I’m starving” (when it was 11:30 a.m. and it was not even lunch time yet). They even have gone so far as to say (while in a doctor's waiting room) "You never feed us, I am so hungry!" which was a total lie. Or when in the grocery store they’d start begging me to buy foods we rarely or never buy, soda and chips and all kinds of garbage. When I said no they would loudly say I don’t feed them and such. They were making it sound like I was a neglectful mother.
As a response and retort, I came up with things to say that were true but would explain it to the strangers that overheard like, “You refused to eat that apple with your sandwich and now you are hungry. If you’d like I’ll buy you an apple now and you can eat it in the car but we are NOT going to McDonald’s as that food is not healthy. Maybe next time we’ll try to remember to bring a fruit snack in the car when we run errands.” Honestly I don't care what other people think of me but it does bother me that my kids were trying to have strangers (or doctor's staff) think I am a neglectful mother when I am not. Perhaps the issue is that this is an outright manipulation tactic that is just wrong! The more I think about this the more something like that should receive a consequence punishment! In my state doctors and their staff are mandatory reporters to the state for child neglect and abuse. I don't need a false investigation of childhood neglect due to the Pediatrician's nurse overhearing that I don't feed my kids!
More than once the strangers who overheard these exchanges would make some audible sound to indicate they heard it all and backed me up. Four times while in grocery stores, other mothers or grandmothers spoke directly to my kids to back up what I said about eating all their lunch when it was offered or about making good food choices. Once when my kids pulled this while in the breakfast cereal and candy aisle, my nine year old begged for candy. I replied, "No I'm not buying you this junk candy when you refused to eat lunch!" I heard a big laugh from the other aisle! Let me tell you, my kids didn't appreciate that their manipulation game backfired and now they had not only me pushing healthy eating but strangers too!
Another trick the kids did last year was they would refuse to eat at home when they knew we’d be at a relative’s house or going to a party. Then while at Grandma’s they’d proclaim they were starving and the food choices there were a much larger variety of processed foods and usually multiple desserts as well as lots of candy. This is the case at my parent’s house as well as my mother-in-law’s. It is NOT good for a child to tell an Italian-American grandmother they are starving. This is a bad situation when we're having a four to six hour visit, or if we're at some big party loaded with chips, dip, pizza, soda and desserts being served in huge quantities! Yes sometimes there are healthy choices but guess which things the kids choose to eat? It can be hard to police them, I give up. Too much policing sometimes leads them to sneak foods, which is not good either.
Peer pressure is also difficult. Children’s birthday parties are usually filled with horrible foods. It is hard to deny my child a soda when all the other kids are drinking the equivalent of two or three cans of soda. (Remember one can is technically two servings.) Sometimes my kids have attended two or three of these parties a month plus family get togethers where bad food is offered, and the cousins are eating and drinking bad foods. This amounts to usually two days a week of really bad eating in one sitting which honestly blows the entire week. Those of you who have been on Weight Watchers in the past realize that just one dessert a week can mean the difference between gaining weight versus staying the same or the difference between being on the plateau or losing a pound.
The most frustrating thing for me is that my husband and I know all about good nutrition. We model a very good diet for our children. We do not use the ‘standard American diet’ in our home. We have many organic foods. We cook almost everything from scratch. Usually the only processed food in our home is dried pasta. Yet this is not enough, our kids seem to crave junk foods. They also seem to not be able to stop eating processed foods such as wanting a whole sleeve of saltine crackers at my parent’s house. I have read that corn syrup stops the body from being able to feel satiated so we end up eating a higher quantity of food. If we eat three cookies from scratch we feel full and don’t want any more but I can eat a whole sleeve of Chips Ahoy. Corn syrup is in all kinds of things from soda and fruit juice and Gatorade to jarred spaghetti sauce to cookies, crackers, and store bought bread. My friend just told me that MSG is in many foods such as bagged chips and snack foods and that it causes us to crave eating more and more, “you can’t eat just one”.
I have a feeling this won’t be easy but we’re going back to the food diaries. I can only hope that when my children look at that chart of what should be eaten in a day, that they will, over time, really get a sense of what comprises a balanced nutritional intake. By putting them in charge of their meals they hopefully won’t be as resentful toward me.
The easier part of this is the exercising. I am mandating that my kids exercise at home. My twelve year old is not playing any team sports and since he’s homeschooled he’s not getting physical activity at gym class at school. My kids have to do vigorous exercise using our treadmill, stationary bike, or on exercise shows on TV. Sometimes, but not ever day, they can use the Wii Fit or Wii Sports. Their progress is being charted on Wii Fit also.
Wish us luck!