Monday, February 27, 2012

Guest Blog: Healthy Eating Habits in the Real World

Getting your boys to eat the good stuff

by Katie Suarez

Nutritionally speaking, we’ve raised our two boys and one girl exactly the same…but the outcomes have been disturbingly different.

Case in point: Halloween. We don’t let our kids have much food coloring. So after they came home from trick-or-treating this year, where do you think we found them? Well, my daughter (always the rule-follower) was next to the trash bin…systematically chucking every piece of candy that was tainted with food coloring.

And the boys? After searching the house over, I eventually heard voices in their room…from behind the bed. Already, there was a pile of wrappers on the floor. “Don’t go for the Jolly Ranchers,” advised the older one, “They take too long to eat. Here…have another box of Nerds.”

And when I ask the kids what they want for dinner, what do they say?

Child#3 (BOY): “Chocolate Ice Cream…he hit me.”

Child#2 (BOY): “McDonald’s Cheeseburger…he hit me first.”

Child # 1 (GIRL): “Greek Salad, with extra cucumbers…please Mommy.”

So, yeah...I know a little somethin’ about boys. And nutrition (or the lack there-of).

So I thought I’d share a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way…real-world ideas for getting the little darlings to open their traps and insert their dinner. Even if it’s green…and doesn’t come in a bag with a side of fries.


(Not to be confused with “Your kids are what YOU eat.”)

I don’t know about you, but I didn’t like broccoli when I was little. I’m pretty sure that’s because my Mom didn’t like broccoli. She NEVER served it. So when we went to a dinner party, and I saw the broccoli staring back at me from the plate, I was all like: “WEIRD FOREIGN GREEN STUFF! RETREAT RETREAT!”

However, I did enjoy Dr. Pepper quite a bit…which my mom drank and served in copious amounts every day at dinner (and breakfast). It’s true that we need to expose our kids to a food at least five times before they’ll consider eating it. But the question is…what KINDS of foods are we exposing them to?

I’ve been able to track our family’s progress in this area with a highly technical, scientific method—namely… by watching what our kids order at Subway.

When the kids were small, they would only ask for turkey and cheese on their sandwiches. But as the years went on, I guess they looked at our sandwiches, and figured they were missing out on something.

So now my daughter orders what she calls her “veggie delight” with turkey, spinach, tomatoes, green bell peppers, olives, pickles, red onions, salt, pepper, oil, and vinegar. (Yeah, I know).

And the boys? Initially, it was only pickles…but in the last year, they’ve added green bell peppers, olives, and red onions. I’m hoping they’ll add spinach soon…but I’m not holding my breath on that one.

My husband gets pretty pumped when he sees the kids eating vegetables, and he frequently makes REALLY loud, boisterous comments about it in public.

A typical family lunch at Subway:

Child number 2 takes a bite of his sandwich.

Hubby: “AWWW….YEAYA….that’s ma BOY!!

Please don’t do this…not today.

Hubby: “I can FEEEEEL da vegetables!” (Stands up in booth, flexing muscles).

Please sit down. Please sit down. Please sit down.

Hubby: “Come on, boy, show me the MUSCLES! (Child stands up to flex).

This can’t be happening.


Show’s over people. Turn back around, and eat your sandwiches.

* * *

Right now, you and I are creating the eating habits that our kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives. We do this with:

· The foods we eat OURSELVES

· The things we say about food & our attitude towards food


If it’s important to us that our kids develop healthy eating habits…if it’s important to us that they avoid diseases down the road like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes…then we need to take some action now.


Yes, we need to respect our kids’ taste preferences. But I swear to you, it’s 100% mental. I believe we have more influence over their preferences than we think.

My kids LOVE hot dogs…and until recently, they could eat all the hot dogs their little child hearts desired (not at home, but other places). However, that quickly changed after I wrote an article last month called “The 5 Nastiest Foods in America.” In that article, we ranked hot dogs as the MOST heinous (and carcinogenic) food. Ironically, the article was to be published on our blog the same day that hot dogs were being served at the school cafeteria.

That morning, I showed my kids pictures of mechanically separated meat (one of the main ingredients in hot dogs). I explained that Mommy likes the taste of hot dogs too, but after seeing what goes into them, I don’t feel like eating them that much.

My kids actually agreed…they were so grossed out. I packed them an extra special lunch (banana/nut butter sandwich…their favorite), and gave them permission to get chocolate milk at the cafeteria, to offset their melancholy.

Of course, then they went to school and grossed out all their friends, and everyone went home hungry that day.

Diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are rampant in this country…and science has spoken loud and clear on this issue: FOOD MATTERS, and it matters a lot.

We don’t raise our kids, never mentioning the risks of smoking, say a Hail Mary, and then just hope that they never smoke. We need to talk with them them about nutrition, too.


The fact is that most kids are NOT going to be excited about vegetables. Our mission as parents is to get our kids to tolerate vegetables, until their taste buds mature enough that they actually like them.

So in my own home, I use a combination of lying, cheating, and trickery to accomplish this lofty goal. (Okay, the lying not so much).


1. Make the foods they like, just with better ingredients.

· HAMBURGERS: Our family loves veggie burgers with cheese, and all the fixings. I usually serve them with whole grain buns (Nature’s Own) and a side of sweet potato fries. (Wal-mart has several good brands of veggie burgers in the frozen section. Try them out, to see which ones your family likes best).

· PIZZA: My mom and I like to make pizzas with whole grain pita bread, Heart Smart Prego (less sodium than most), and our favorite veggie toppings. (My kids like chicken, olives, and pineapple).

· CHICKEN NUGGETS: I love the chicken nugget recipe from Jessica Seinfeld’s cookbook, “Deceptively Delicious.” She has lots of great recipes with hidden veggies, such as quesadillas with squash and burgers with zucchini.

2. Hide stuff in their food.

· When I make chicken noodle soup, I serve it in a flattish bowl, and mash up the carrots and celery with a fork so they’re undetectable.

· When I make banana-berry smoothies, I add a handful of kale (you can’t taste it, I promise. If you could taste it, there’s no way I would drink it myself).


1. Find ways to make dinner more fun.

· My four-year-old son wouldn’t touch his chicken the other night. Thirty minutes later, we had cleared the table, but he was still sitting there…having a standoff with the chicken. I gave him a toothpick, and he happily stabbed and ate the rest of it. Go figure.

· Last night, I served veggie burgers with tomatoes and butter lettuce. My boys don’t like lettuce at all. AND they had never tried this type… so the odds were against me big time. However, I picked up a piece of lettuce and said, “I bet I can crunch louder than you can.” And they both ate it. All of it.


Children live in a world of giants.

They walk around, navel-high to a sea of people who are all bigger, smarter, and more powerful than they are. All they want is a chance to contribute something…to add a bit of value…to be given a task that might *seem* a little too grown-up, then wrestle it to the ground, put their foot on it’s back, and say, “I did that.”

So let them help in the kitchen. Let them cut up some fruit. Let them pick blackberries on a farm. Find ways to help them take ownership of their nutrition.

And most importantly, we as parents need to let GO of the mess. (This has been hard for me…but I am slowly getting there). Twenty years from now, our kitchens will be perfect and spotless…but silent. Let’s enjoy our kids now, while we have them close.

Yesterday, I jokingly asked the kids, “SO….what are you making me for dinner tonight?”…which must have come out something like this: “kabuba snufer bezuma,” because they looked at me like I was speaking Swahili.

Although I was completely kidding, I guess they saw it as a challenge…because 30 minutes later, the kids pulled me to the kitchen table, sat me down, and served me dinner.

Each of them had designed and illustrated a different menu. They took my order, provided “musical” entertainment while I waited, then brought out my food. (Okay, so it was a tortilla with cheese that had been overly-nuked, with a side of Mott’s applesauce…but still…I think it was the best meal I’ve ever eaten).

My second favorite part of the evening was when I looked at the kids’ menus, and realized it was all nutritious stuff…soup, salad, wraps, yogurt, fruit, and milk. But hands-down, the best part of the evening was seeing the huge smiles on their faces as they watched me eat.

* * *

Katie Suarez’s blog, Eat for Your Life, has been nominated for an international weblog award. It’s the story of a mother’s battle with cancer, and a daughter’s fight to save her. Recipes, health, humor, and inspiration that might just change your life.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Parents Need to Eat Too

My boys, as I've mentioned before, are not adventurous eaters. And you know what? Neither am I. I've gotten better as I've gotten older: In the old days, I considered yogurt a scary food and refused to eat Chinese or Mexican food because I couldn't identify every single ingredient. Now, I eat yogurt (mostly vanilla, though; I'm still not a fan of fruit) and have recently begun considering the fact that I may be missing out on something truly fantastic due to the fact that I believe seafood to be yucky, even though I've never tasted it.

Is it any wonder that my boys are picky?

Parenting, though, has a way of bringing out the best in most of us. Because I love my boys, I want them to be as happy and healthy as possible, and I know that learning to enjoy a variety of foods is a big part of that. I also know that good nutrition is important for me. I want to be around as long as possible, and subsisting on a diet based on meat, grains and dairy won't cut it.

So I've tried to improve our diets, but...

Despite a myriad of excuses (I'm too busy; I don't have time; it's not a priority right now; the boys eat half their meals at their Dad's house anyway), I finally realized that our family faces two major obstacles to healthy eating:

1) I don't eat a particularly healthy diet

2) I don't know how to prepare healthy, interesting, good tasting foods

I eat -- and prepare -- the food I grew up with. I'm pretty good at making meat-potato-and frozen veggie meals. I can make spaghetti, pizza, burgers and all that. But when it comes to interesting, healthy meals and snacks? I'm lost.

Enter two new books, Elizabeth Pantley's The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution and Parents Need to Eat Too, by Debbie Koenig. Pantley sent me a copy of her book after I, uh, made fun of some of her suggestions in an earlier blog post. Koenig's publicist sent me her new book as part of a promotional tour to celebrate the release of Parents Need To Eat Too. (Full disclosure: If I manage to get this post up in time, I may be eligible to win some kind of cooking tool or appliance.)

I've been perusing both books for a couple weeks now, and you know what? They've affected my shopping, cooking and eating habits. Both books include plenty of recipes, and a number of them sound so yummy and easy that I tried them. Want proof? On a recent trip to the grocery store, I put brussel sprouts, asparagus AND sweet potatoes in my cart. Better yet -- I've used and enjoyed almost all of them! (The brussel sprouts are still in the fridge, but I really want to try the Leaf Us Alone Brussel Sprouts recipe in Pantley's book.)

Koenig's book is aimed at new parents. The book starts, "If you're holding this book, odds are congratulations are in order. Either you're a new parent yourself, or you know someone who is." Well, my baby just turned six, and although I know new parents, I have no intention of giving the book to any of them. That's because I want to keep it! My baby might be six, but I'm still strapped for time and struggling to figure out how to prepare nutritious, great tasting meals in little time. If you ask me, Parents Need to Eat Too is a great resource for all parents.

The book is chock-full of easy, delicious sounding recipes. I've already made Buckwheat Carrot Muffins and Baked Sweet Potato Chips. And despite the author's own full-disclosure warning about the muffins ("I'm not gonna lie: Thse are health-bomb-type muffins"), my sons gobbled them up. I think they think that anything that looks like a cupcake must be good.

I had some trouble with the Sweet Potato Chips -- they burned before they got thoroughly crisp -- but Koenig assured me in an email that slicing them thinner and taking them out sooner might resolve that problem. I hope so, because the ones that I managed to rescue from the oven were delicious! The kids didn't eat them, but they did try them because they smelled so good while baking, and I consider that a step in the right direction.

No book can solve my feeding frustrations, but with these books in the house, I feel as if I finally have resources to help me plan and prepare easy, healthy and appealing meals and snacks.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Ways to Help Boys Learn

Did the Josh Powell case throw anyone else for a psychological loop? Powell, as you probably know, is the man who torched his house when his two sons arrived for what was to be a supervised visit. I'll be writing more about the case, and why it struck me, next month. In the meantime, I'd like to point you to a couple other posts I have floating around the Web:

Finding Friends (for you and the kids!)

Teaching Writing in Your Homeschool

The Case for Play

10 Essential Supplies for Homeschooling Boys

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Obstacles to Play

Happy February! Initially, my plan was to begin a discussion of boys, nutrition and healthy eating today. I've got some great guest posts on the topic lined up for the month of February, as well as a few thoughts of my own. But I just can't seem to let the topic Play go just yet...

Yesterday, a good friend of mine, a teacher at a local parochial school, announced via Facebook that her school was hosting a Pay to Play Day today. The word "play" caught my eye, but the details of the announcement are what stirred my passion. Why? Because Pay to Play Day works like this: kids bring in a non-perishable food item or $1 for the local food pantry, and, in exchange, earn the right to play their HANDHELD VIDEO GAMES for half an hour!

I get it; I really do. It's a lot easier for the teachers to supervise kids who are quietly absorbed in video games. It's even possible to lead a class while a couple kids opt out to play MarioKart. But seriously? Our kids need more time to play sedentary video games?? What about the kids who would rather go outside and play? Can kids buy their way out for some extra time on the playground? The answer is no. (And what of the larger lesson here for kids, the "play" somehow equals "digital entertainment?" Don't too many of our kids already buy into that notion?)

Meanwhile, I got an email from a dear homeschooling friend who lives in another state. It was nearly 70 degrees where she lives earlier this week. Her kids, who were outside playing, attracted the attention of a local newspaper photographer. He spent an hour, she said, snapping photos of the kids playing. The photos were meant, I'm sure, to illustrate the wonderful, spring-like weather. But the reality behind the photog's stop was that her homeschooled kids were among the only kids outside on such a fine day. The photographer didn't select her kids because they were particularly photogenic, amazing or important, but because they were outside, playing. And that, in and of itself, is a rarity these days.

Is it any wonder that we have kids who are disconnected from nature? Any wonder we have obese kids who would rather sit on the couch and play video games than run around the neighborhood? It's because we have essentially locked these kids inside secure, so-called "nurturing" environments their entire lives. A child who spends the first four years or so of his life in a childcare center, with very little time spent in active play, and then the next 12 years in school, where he's lucky to get recess even once a day through the age of 10, is not a kid who is going to organize a spontaneous, active pretend game on the playground or in the woods with his friends when given the chance. When given the chance -- finally! -- he will wander around aimlessly, claim to be bored, and ask to go home, because he will not have learned how to play independently and actively in the outdoors. He will have learned the lessons we have taught him very well: He will have learned that it's better to stay indoors, to stay sedentary, to do only what others tell him to do. And somehow we blame "kids these days?" It's time, instead, to look squarely at the obstacles that adults place in between kids and play and kids and learning.

BTW...the petition that my boys and their friend started in an attempt to get more outside recesses? It didn't go well. Within a day, they were called to the office, where the principal explained that the decision to stay in is based on concerns for student safety.

P.S. I'm blogging over at The Homeschool Classroom too. Come see my post, "10 Essential Supplies for Homeschooling Boys."