Today’s blog post is something that I have wanted to address (rant?) for quite a while, but I wasn’t sure if it would be a good idea. This blog is relatively new yet, and I’m trying to find my voice and figure out how to say what I want to say without being as blunt as I tend to normally be in real life.
It is a big struggle...because editing myself is not my strong suit.
So, without further ado, let’s just get into it.
As most of you probably know, I do lots of nutrition consulting. This means that many people openly talk to me about their health struggles and goals and dreams and poop problems. I love it.
Why do I love it? Well, because it wasn’t too many years ago that I was miserably unhealthy and confused about what to eat, was wondering why my thyroid wasn’t working, and above all else trying to figure out the age-old question of “Why could I live off of pizza and beer in college and be thin, but now I eat pounds of lettuce a day and never lose an ounce?”
All of that to say that I get it. I do. And I have been fortunate in my journey thus far (It’s not over by any means) because I found a nutritional path that made sense to me, and I got so excited about it that I pursued a career teaching others what I have learned. My family has also been along for the ride, and even though it would be easier at times, I do not have robots for children. They have their own likes and dislikes and don't blindly eat and enjoy every creation I put in front of them, but they are turning into pretty adventurous eaters and I am pretty dang proud of them for that.
(Is it working? I am trying to make you understand that I am, at my core, a decent person, because I’m about to start my rant and it might sting a little....)
Here’s a truth bomb for you: If you are a busy mom who is struggling to figure out how to find “yourself” and your health again in the chaos of your everyday life, and you are cooking two+ meals at a time because your kids (or husband, partner, etc) won’t eat the vegetables and healthy food that you’re already preparing for yourself to eat, you are insane.
Ok, let’s clear the air on one issue: If someone you are cooking for has allergies and needs to be accommodated, that’s another situation. I’m not talking about that.
The reason this is on my mind lately is that lately I have had even more clients than usual tell me that eating nutrient dense foods over processed garbage food is really hard for them because cooking two dinners every night is exhausting.
Well, DUH. That sounds exhausting!
So why are you doing it?!!!??
Here are 3 questions you may want to ask yourself if you are currently cooking multiple meals (in addition to the nutrient dense ones you are making yourself) to accommodate picky eaters:
1. Are you waiting for someone to give you a trophy?
Is this a pattern in your life? Do you overly accommodate others around you at the expense of yourself? This is hallmark behavior in someone who will run themselves into the ground with adrenal fatigue, and I talk quite a bit about what that is in this blog post. Essentially, for perfectionist women in general, it's common to put everyone in front of ourselves and then wonder why we aren't getting the validation we so OBVIOUSLY deserve, and feel lots of stress around that situation. Cue the cortisol stress response.
Are you waiting for someone to notice how hard you are working to keep everyone happy but you never get that gratification? Look inside. You don’t need the validation...you need to take care of your own health. No one is going to give you a prize for putting yourself last. I often see clients making this excuse about cooking multiple meals because they really don't want to give up the feeling of being a martyr to their family. Is that your real reason for stressing yourself out to the max? (No judgement from me if it is! Just food for thought.)
2. Are you serving the best interests of your children (in the long run)?
Nutritionally speaking, your kids need those "healthy" nutrient-dense food options even more than you do. Gut flora and function is critical to a child's immune system, mood and cognition as well as hormone balance, and developing a taste for a wide variety of foods is paramount.
This brings us to the next point - do you want to raise a picky eater? Is that your goal? If not, then don't make it so easy for your kiddos to have their "tried and true" kid food options instead of trying new things every chance they get. Interestingly, kids that are very picky eaters and will only eat a handful of foods are generally very deficient in the mineral zinc. So, consider that their pickiness might be a clear sign that they really need some vital nutrition that is missing from their current menu.
This one might be a little out there, but I sometimes wonder this about my own parenting, so I'll pose the question here: Are you raising a kid that will be a good spouse to someone someday? And by that, I mean would you expect your child to cater to their partner the way you are or expect it of theirs? Yep, I went there, but don't worry....I ask myself this same question about 893,334 times a day, so I clearly have no clue how to parent, either.
3. Is this a deeper issue between you and your husband or partner?
I am not a counselor or psychologist, so take it or leave it when I say this, but if your husband or partner is sabotaging your efforts at being a healthier and happier human being, and raising children that have a chance at adopting those same healthy habits from a young age, then it sounds like there is a deeper issue than dinner menus at play. I think I'll leave it at that.
So if you are ready to end the insanity of cooking multiple meals, you're in luck, because I do have some strategies for getting those kiddos on board with new food items. (Husbands are on their own.)
Count the colors.
Ok, admitedly, this isn’t going to work if your kids are in middle school, but when they are younger, this is a great practice: Most nights at dinner, both of my kids cound up how many “colors” they ate that day. (I hope it’s obvious that they aren’t eating skittles and counting the colors, but rather counting the colors of fruits and vegetables they had.) This is a fun little contest that they must get a lot of excitement about, because I never ask the question and one of them brings it up almost nightly. #thelittlethings
Transition slowly, but not too slowly.
You probably thought I was going to suggest that you “hide” vegetables in smoothies and sauces so that your kids (and husband?) eat them unknowingly. You’re wrong. I don’t think that helps young minds to be open to new foods, tastes and ideas. In my opinion, they need to know that they can like vegetables and new things. (And that even if they don't like it, they can still eat it.)
So, my strategy is a bit more direct in that I sometimes craft a meal by adding a new item into something I know is already tried and true. Here’s an example: I recently made some awesome spicy spaghetti sauce and was planning to serve it over zucchini noodles, but I made a small amount of some regular spaghetti noodles (I think they are made out of brown rice / quinoa flour? Back down, gluten police.) that I mixed with the zucchini noodles and then smothered in spicy spaghetti meat sauce in a bowl. I served a bowl to each of my kids (ages 3 and 7) and then made a big bowl for my husband and myself that didn’t have the brown rice noodles in it.
What happened, you ask? Well, both kids noticed that there were two kinds of noodles (since they weren’t hidden, persay) and just ate it all together because there was no way to untangle the noodles even if they had wanted to. Interestingly, my son tried to untangle them so he could eat just the zucchini noodles and proclaimed them to be his favorite food he had ever eaten in his whole life. Was I shocked? Pretty much. I knew they would both eat their dinner, but I didn’t expect them to be ecstatic about that one component. Ultimately, I think that’s fine: You don’t have to love everything you eat. It’s ok. If you’re hungry, you eat it anyway and move on. Then, over time, you may come to really enjoy those things that you didn’t like at first! (My son did NOT enjoy anything green until recently, but he still got it on his plate every single meal.)
Luckily, our tastes change over time as long as we keep trying new things. Case in point: I remember my younger self thinking beer and coffee were both awful tasting. I was an idiot.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
I'm thinking this is probably just sage advice for parenting in general, but If you say “This is what we’re having for dinner tonight.” then you have to mean it and be willing to enforce it. Don’t go make something else if they don’t eat dinner! You need to let everyone know that you make one dinner and that’s the choice, and they don’t need to eat it if they don’t want to, but they do not get another option. So, if they want to eat something, this is the option. (Yes, they would rather eat grilled cheese and ketchup as a vegetable than chicken and vegetable stir fry. So would my kids, but if the grilled cheese isn't an option, they will eventually eat the stir fry.)
What is going to happen? They are going to test you. DUH. They are kids. Get your husband or partner or other family members on board beforehand and let them know the rules have changed, and here’s the new program. Done. Don’t waver and be prepared that it might take a few meals before they realize that you are serious...there is no other dinner coming their way.
News flash: Your kids will not starve to death. Ever. They will eat. Stay the course. Ultimately, there is a survival (and comfort?) mechanism wired into our brains that is going to kick in and they will eat something when they get hungry enough. And along those lines, if you’re accustomed to feeding your kids highly processed convenience foods because you know they will eat them without a fuss, ask yourself if you are actually feeding them any nutrition….and if the answer is no, then you are already starving them. Of nutrients that their growing bodies really really need! #moretruthbombs
Cheerfully invite your husband / partner / whoever to prepare their own meals as long as they don’t sabotage your efforts at having your kids eat the most nutritious options that you’re making.
We'll just let that one speak for itself. ;)
I have come to realize that quite often, when someone asks me a question about how to navigate a specific hurdle to their food choices, what they are really doing is asking for verification on what they already know.
So, if that person is you, and you need to hear it from an impartial third party, let me be that person: You don’t need to operate like a short-order chef in a diner. It is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, and your health and sanity is at the top of the list.
In fact, I have recently written multiple blog posts about the hormonal effects of chronic stress response on our body HERE and HERE and even created an entire E-course on how to heal your hormones and kick fatigue to the curb, so you know it's something that a lot of my clients are suffering with.
I totally get it! As a bonafide perfectionist-Type-A-superwoman-mother-martyr myself, I know these very traps and how easy it is to let our own health and happiness suffer a bit at the expense of making everyone else's lives around us magical. Seriously. I get it. BUT (you knew there was a "but" coming your way...) if you don't feel like a unicorn everyday, you have to get rid of the things that are causing you stress. Cooking 2+ meals at a time is definitely stress.
At this point you either love me or hate me, and if you hate me I hope we can still be friends, just don't tell me that the reason you're so exhausted is because you have to cook 2+ meals every night and it's hard. (Although, if you don't agree with what I have to say about this or aren't willing to change your current habits about it, you probably aren't still reading this post. Let's be real.)