Another of our three winners in the “How do You Raise Healthy Eaters?” contest, this is from Shanda Blake of Saratoga Springs, Utah, a busy mom of 7 kids, ages 1 to 15!
I started with breakfast: how can I make breakfast healthier?
I bought a grain grinder and started making my own flours. Grains are so much cheaper, fresher, and healthier than buying flour from the store. Then, I started making my own pancakes, muffins, and waffles using all healthy ingredients. I always double or triple the batch and freeze the rest so the kids can pull them out for quick breakfasts or after-school snacks later. We always have some fruit that’s in season (because it’s cheapest in season), lying around the kitchen for toppings. I love making “apple butter” (see recipe in the next post) and freezing it to use as a topping as well.
Lunches were harder, since we’re always in a hurry. We were a mac-n-cheese, ramen-noodle lunch family before. Now, I know better and can’t stand the stuff. We now love all kinds of healthy “fast foods,” and we’ve discovered healthy whole foods that are even quicker to make.
Ants on a log. My kids never get tired of this one. Celery,”good” peanut butter, and raisins on top. If you’re feeling adventurous, use “red ants” (dried cranberries).
Wraps. Lettuce wraps or whole-grain tortillas. The possibilities are endless, and a lot of toppings can be pre-cut when you have more time. Put white beans (or any kind, like black, pinto, or kidney) in containers in the fridge so they’re ready to go when you need them for snack and lunches, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers (red, green, and yellow), lettuce etc. I don’t ever pre-make them. I just set everything out and let the kids build their own.
Smoothies. Smoothies are a great on-the-go lunch. Add chia seeds, or nuts, or plant-based protein powder, and the extra protein will keep kids full longer.
I don’t love titles like vegan or vegetarian. Once you start adding a title to what you eat, you have to follow all kinds of rules. I don’t like rules. We are a “real foods” family, if I were to ever give us a title. Instead, I like to give my kids the tools they need to thrive and survive in real-world situations.
Have quick teaching moments–and I mean quick, so they don’t get bored. Like, I’ll say to my kids when we’re eating a salad with spinach in it, “Did you know there is more calcium in spinach for strong bones than in a glass of milk?”
What they understand is that spinach is healthier than milk, if they want strong bones. I don’t have to give a long lecture/rant on how milk is bad. I just let them know that spinach is better. In the real world, they will encounter some meat, they will have a little butter, and sugary treats will be offered to them.
If you have ingrained in your children, “We are vegan,” before they can make their own choice about that, when they hang out with their friends or are out in the world, two things could happen that aren’t good. One, they may rebel and eat everything they have been taught not to eat. Or two, they may freak out and say there is nothing here I can eat, make all kinds of commotion, and annoy everyone being high maintenance.
I want to teach my kids to just make good choices. What are the healthiest options there? Can you eat before you go? If there are sweets, can you just choose one? I always tell my kids, “Just use good judgment; if you can’t, then I will have to help you.”
I always get the younger ones coming back to me with a small handful of something, asking, “Is this good judgment, Mommy?” When they are in charge, they will almost always take less of a sweet treat or a less-healthy choice. I am giving them the tools to have a healthy lifestyle even after they leave the nest.
We love to eat a variety of things at dinner. Again, it’s all about choices. I think it’s a great teaching opportunity when we all sit down together and eat a meal. It also gives kids an opportunity to watch Mom and Dad eat. Teaching by example is the very best way.
Dinner for us is a good quality fish or chicken, whole grain pasta/with a healthy sauce, or whole grains like quinoa and brown rice. Big giant salads are fun to do with lots of stuff in them or on the side to build your own. The rest of the meal is fruits and veggies for toppings or side dishes
The more choices kids have, the more they feel in control and enjoy eating healthier. For example, if you say, “We’re having broccoli tonight, that’s your only choice, eat your vegetables!”doesn’t give them a lot on options especially if they don’t like broccoli. You can smell a fight coming on, with that one, from a mile away.
Last night for dinner our menu was wild-caught salmon, homemade whole grain muffins (can be pre-frozen from when you make your bigger batches), zucchini sautéed in olive oil, cut up tomatoes and cucumbers all from the garden, and a watermelon. I told the kids to choose at least two sides and we had no arguments, most of them took more. They all found something they liked.
The photos are of Shanda’s 14-year old daughter, Alyssa, picking apples in a tree, and 3-year old Brock picking honeydew melons. When they got sick of eating the melons, Shanda pureed them, froze them in ice-cube trays, and put the “melon cubes” in gallon freezer bags for later use in green smoothies. [Note from Robyn: great idea! And, the seeds in a melon are edible and very nutritious, so puree those, too!]
Shanda does “embarrassing” things like stop her car to ask a person with a fruit tree whose fruit is dropping to the ground, if she can come and pick it. Even apples that haven’t been sprayed can be cut open, and the good parts pureed for fruit leather. This keeps costs low due to having a freezer full of whole foods at all times. In this way, she befriended an 87-year old lady, who is healthy and spunky and always making something homemade with fruits and veggies. This relationship and mentor-ship has blessed Shanda’s family’s life. She asked the elderly lady what her secret is to health. The lady said she eats a clove of garlic every day and works in her garden!
Shanda concluded, in what she wrote me:
I try to learn something new every day about healthy eating so I can be a better mama. I don’t make a “big deal” about it. It’s just the way we live. I want my house to be a happy place to eat. I love raising healthy kids, and I love making healthy food! Just pick a place to start, and go from there!
Comment from Robyn: Shanda’s positive energy is likely part of why she’s succeeding at raising healthy kids. I love the idea of not making a huge big deal about everything. Just do it. Quietly. Rants and raves are embarrassing to kids, and example and consistency are what sends roots deep anyway. Also, her Apple Butter is similar to what I use as a topping on pancakes and waffles, especially Pumpkin Waffles in Ch. 10 of 12 Steps to Whole Foods. (I make it raw, without coconut sugar, though, and put a little maple syrup in it.) This keeps you from putting lots of a concentrated sweetener on your pancakes!
My next post will share some of Shanda’s kids’ favorite healthy recipes.