Okay, I am not writing this post to offend anyone or get anyone defensive at all. I would like this to be more of an educational and thought provoking piece.
Firstly, let me preface this by saying that my kids, by NO means, eat perfectly. I don’t keep them away from any food group at all but when it comes to their regular, daily diet, I like to keep it clean and be aware of what I give them.
I want you to think back to your childhood. What are some foods your parents gave you regularly? Foods that you ate for lunch or breakfast more than once a week. Cereal, hot dogs, box mac and cheese, whatever. Now, as an adult do you ever fall back on those when you need comfort food or something easy to grab? I know I do. You ever wonder why that happens? It’s because cravings start as a toddler. Whatever you ate regularly in your most formative years (0-6years) is what you will always fall back on as far as cravings. Some of mine are very healthy. For example, my mom always had us make ‘balanced’ meals (we all pitched in on making meals in our house). So if we were going to have spaghetti for lunch there had to be a salad or carrots or something as a side that we all were required to have at least a little bit of. I crave carrots constantly as an adult. They’re one of my favorite vegetables!
When I read a few studies defining the relationship between brain development and food cravings from the toddler years til mid childhood. I was floored and realized that it was very true for me. I picked up a lot of my love of food research from my mom. I remember from a very young age (this is BEFORE the internet, people) her changing our diets depending on what she found out. I have a clear memory of her discovering that real butter was healthier than margarine and we made the switch. But guess what? I STILL love the smell of margarine…isn’t the funny? As a mother of seven kids and in the perpetual state of pregnancy and breastfeeding she relied on a few standby lunches. We ate hot dogs, mac and cheese, bean burritos (granted they were made with home refried beans and we even used whole wheat tortillas), and chips and salsa on a regular basis. So whenever I feel stressed, sick (especially during pregnancy) or lazy I automatically want to eat those foods. It’s the same with breakfast cereal. Of course, my mom never bought the sweet stuff but it’s the ones that I grew up with that I crave like cheerios, corn flakes and raisin bran. All the healthier stuff but definitely not nutritious in a way that breakfast should be.
Do my kids ever eat hot dogs? Yes, they split one every single time we go to Costco. Do they ever have ice cream? Sure! In the summer I make them ice cream cones occasionally. When we’re at parties I don’t ever forbid them cake or cookies. The point is, those are treats and special occasions. I want them to enjoy special foods as a treat, not a daily thing because daily things because habits and unhealthy habits create unhealthy bodies.
So, what do my kids eat every day? Well, we start out each day with either oatmeal (that I fortify with eggs whipped in, cinnamon and vanilla) topped with local honey or plain yogurt with raw oats mixed in and honey on top. Lunches are generally roasted veggies and leftovers from dinner the night before. Eli and Avery like very different things so I do sometimes prepare their lunches differently. For dinner they eat whatever Shane and I have. Tacos, meatballs and roasted veggies, pasta, pizza, etc. I make all our food from scratch so there’s quality control there.
My goal here is that when my boys are grown or teens, they won’t crave an unhealthy meal when they want a comfort food. They’ll fall back on foods they ate every day as a child. Maybe Eli will want warm chili beans and roasted green beans and Avery might want a plate of cantaloupe and sharp cheddar.
I have a unique foundation because of how proactive my mom was. We never drank soda and so I never acquired a taste for it. We didn’t have fried food and so I don’t crave it. She instilled in me a love for homemade pizza, and also allowed me freedoms to learn how to experiment in the kitchen. Our family cooked together often which makes me excited for when my boys can do more with me. I loved the treats we had like on Sunday nights when my dad would make an amazing batch of buttered popcorn and Orange Julius. In the summer we sometimes had root beer floats. There are so many good things that I instilled in my brain and the few things I consider to be unhealthy habits I have been able to break from being regular (like the box mac and cheese).
I’m hoping with my boys that they will be spared the cravings for things that can only be created by regular exposure as a young child so that they can start their lives with a good foundation of health and build on that with their own likes and dislikes. Also having a clear understanding of what ‘treats’ are and what daily food should be. I don’t care that Avery loves donuts. He gets them on his birthday and occasionally on Sundays as a special treat. I don’t care that Eli loves French fries. He gets them as a treat when grandma comes over and sometimes when we eat out as a family.
The point is, it’s not regular. The point is, it’s not a habit. The point is, most of what they eat is nourishing, filled with variety and fun to eat. I love that I have this control over their development and I try not to take it lightly. I am honored to shape their future health and I want to do my best.
I hope that this post makes you think twice about giving your baby rice cereal as a first food, or fruit snacks and gold fish regularly (as a treat, I think it could be special!) and I hope this is not offensive in any way. I encourage research and want you to look up how eating habits affect a young and developing brain. It’s fascinating and revealing for our culture.