Years ago I began hearing phrases like “Eat Clean” and “Real Food”. At the time they were hot buzz words mostly among fitness and nutrition coaches. It has since become a more mainstream eating “trend.” Although I hate to even call it that, because “eating clean” is not anything new or trendy at all. It is really about getting back to our roots (pun intended), the way our ancestors ate before the Industrial Revolution when Americans began moving to cities for factory jobs and did less farming and cooking themselves. As a result, they were seeking out “convenience foods”. In my opinion that’s how things spiraled out of control over the following decades leading to our generation growing up eating processed everything; Lucky Charms for breakfast, McDonald’s for lunch and TV Dinners. In my eyes, it’s perhaps THE reason why more than one third of our population is considered obese including nearly 18 percent of our children. Now our generation has to be the one to try to reverse this trend and improve the health outlook for ourselves and our children.
While we never had a name for it, “clean eating” is really the way our family has been eating for a long time. It’s our way of life. Everyone’s definition of “eating clean” may be a little different. For us it means eating whole foods as close to their natural state as possible with little to no processing or added ingredients. Since my husband and I are vegetarians, our plates include a lot of meat free protein. Our kids do eat meat so you’ll see in the recipes below how I prepare both options for most meals.
These days, many health aware adults follow a “real food” eating plan. They’ve cut out the processed foods and learned to “eat clean.” But I talk to many parents who struggle to help their children transition and cut out the junk.
- They’ve tried cleaning out all the cabinets and eliminating all the highly processed foods in the past and the kids just wouldn’t eat the new foods that they prepared. They don’t want to waste food and money and they don’t want their kids to go hungry, so they fall back into their old routines.
- They’re tired of making separate meals for themselves than they do for their children, but they keep doing it because they can’t bare to listen to the whining that comes with new, unfamiliar foods. They want quiet! So they keep making the frozen crinkle cut fries and Kraft Mac & Cheese.
- They’re avoiding going “clean” because they’re afraid it will be too difficult. With busy evening schedules, practices and homework they feel there’s just not enough time to deal with it.
- Some perhaps just don’t feel like they know how to start off so they never even try.
I’ve experienced many of these same struggles. I want to share what I’ve learned. So I’m here to provide you with some meal ideas and recipes that work for our family of five to help you begin to get your children on a healthier track while you also get healthier too.
HOW DO I KNOW
First I want to say that I am not an “expert”. I am not a nutritionist or a dietitian. I am not a doctor or a trainer. While I am certified by the Growing Healthy Eaters training program, most of my knowledge comes from the real world. I am a mom with three young, loud and crazy children that I’m constantly running after. But one thing we rarely argue about is food. They love artichokes, asparagus, brown rice, chickpeas, almonds and they’ll even eat tempeh. Granted, our family owns a produce market and we’ve been feeding our kids raw vegetables from our store since they could eat solid foods. So maybe that’s a bit unfair. But, I know how to get kids to eat healthy food because I’ve taught my own three how.
In my role as Director of Communications & Community Outreach for our family’s century old wholesale produce market I say that a love of healthy eating runs in our blood. As part of my role I get to share what we know about healthy food through community education events and in the coming months we will begin our From Seed to Spoon educational classes. But enough about me.
Before I share some recipes I want to share a few general thoughts and tips.
I call my approach “Real Food for Real Life” because life is busy here. I am not the most strict “clean eater” you’ll ever meet. I don’t have time to bake my bread or tortillas from scratch every week. I don’t make my own chicken stock, ketchup or jelly. I have done my research over the years and I have found the best store-bought items with the cleanest, fewest ingredients in them. I am satisfied with using some of those items to supplement all the many fruits and vegetables and whole foods that make up our diet.
Overall my goal is to keep it simple. I’ve followed clean eating meal plans that want me to cook quinoa porridge with protein powder for breakfast or some intricate shrimp dish for lunch. That takes too long and my kids will whine. For me this is about eating quick, simple, whole foods that my family will eat, not creating time-consuming fancy recipes.
As you know if you read my blog regularly, I try to “keep it real.” I am not going to sit here and tell you to never eat regular ice cream or shame you for buying your kids donuts now and then. To me that’s just a little too extreme. The way I see it, if you eat “clean” 80 to 90 percent of the time, you can indulge sometimes with wine and dessert. Food is something to be enjoyed in life, not feared. Enjoy some treats here and there. If you don’t, you may end up feeling deprived over time and perhaps fall back into unhealthy ways all the time.
TIPS FOR SUCCESS
… and other things to know about helping kids eat healthier
- Don’t expect to have success going cold turkey. In order for new habits to be formed (especially for children) changes need to be made gradually. If you to try to change everything all at once, you will be met with much resistance. If you throw away every item in your pantry your family will not like you. Trust me, I know from experience. The kids will rebel and you will not succeed. Try changing one thing at a time.
- Don’t make a big deal about it. If you start out saying, “Things are changing around here next week! We’re all going to start eating healthier. No more Pop Tarts, no more chips or cookies…”, your kids are going to fight every single thing you serve them. Simply begin making some new recipes or serving them in new ways and see what happens. Handle each eye roll as it comes, but don’t set yourself up for failure by announcing that you are overhauling everyone’s diet.
- Introduce new foods in combination with old ones. For example, make whole wheat pasta in combination with regular pasta the first couple of times (half and half). Gradually switch to all whole wheat. Or, serve brussels sprouts with their favorite chicken dish rather than a whole new dish full of unfamiliar foods you’re not sure they will like any of. Even if they take a tiny taste of the sprouts, consider it a success!
- Give it time. It probably took us months of eating plain yogurt instead of the kind with the fruit and sugar mixed in before we actually sort of liked it. Now it’s just what we eat and the old stuff tastes way too sugary.
- Never force your children to eat (or even taste) anything. That means no bribing them to try it in return for dessert or for other privileges. (This is hard for me).
- Don’t try to be perfect. I am not. If you tell yourself you can never ever eat a cookie or a bowl of your favorite sugary cereal again it will feel too hard, you’ll be grumpy and you’ll give up on it. Let yourself enjoy things you like now and then. It’s not about being perfect. It’s about being healthier overall. Splurging now and then is better than falling off the band wagon all together.
- Let your children help prepare meals if you can find the time. If they taste the new ingredients as they are going into the dish, they will be more likely to eat the meal because the foods in it aren’t unfamiliar and scary.
8. Plan ahead. If you can prep dinner at all in the afternoon (I know it’s not easy) before the craziness of after school by cutting up vegetables or marinating the fish that makes it easier for it to all come together faster later. If you can take the time to prepare some healthier yogurt or whole wheat pancakes on the weekends to have on hand for quick kid breakfasts during the week, that makes it so much easier to make good choices on busy school mornings.
9. Start young. It probably goes without saying, but I feel I still need to say it. Breaking bad habits is SO much harder than building good ones from the very start. Introduce a wide variety of foods from an early age. Even if they don’t like it the first few times, keep serving it up. It takes kids an average of 12 times tasting a new food before they like it. And there is a window before the age of 3 when children are more open to trying new foods. After that window it will become much more difficult.
10. Don’t make special meals. “This is what’s for dinner.” You may hear some complaints that they don’t like it. My response is always something like, “It’s ok if you don’t like it YET. Maybe you’ll like it next time.” This might sound harsh, but it’s how they learn that tastes are acquired.
11. Good food role modeling is key. Whether you realize it or not, your children are watching what and how you eat. If you eat different food than they eat, they’re going to think something is wrong with what they’re eating. If you’re doing cleanses and drinking shakes for dinner, your kids think they should get something different too.
12. Don’t ban treats. If you tell your children they can never have sweets they will become “the forbidden fruit” and they will not learn how to properly self regulate. Then when they are offered treats they will end up overindulging. And when you send them away on their own, they may rebel and do the opposite of what you hoped to teach them. Treats are good now and then.
13. DECONSTRUCT EVERYTHING! For example, for stir fry night, I make the vegetables, the chicken, the tofu, the rice or noodles and the sauce. I put them out in all separate bowls. Everyone gets to pick what they want on their plate. A little or a lot. Everyone is happy.
MY REAL FOOD FOR REAL FAMILIES RECIPES
Phew! Still with me? Following are meal and snack ideas both for you and your family. Like I say above, you’ll see that I almost always serve everything separately, at least for dinner. We all use the same ingredients, but it allows us to customize our own meal to meet all our unique tastes. This is how we manage to be successful at eating clean as a family.
* I put a star by the meals I personally eat every week. I typically eat pretty much the same things every day (except for dinner). It helps me stay on track. I know what combination of foods gives me the right nutritional balance, what keeps me full and satisfied and what helps me burn fat while gaining lean muscle.
🙂 Recipes marked with a 🙂 are kid approved by own three kiddos. These are what they typically eat without any complaints.
Where appropriate I’ve added which and how many 21 Day Fix containers are used for each recipe. Obviously this doesn’t apply to kids meals as we don’t necessarily want to be keeping such close tabs on their portions.
Click on the description above the photo for the full recipe.
Mixed Green Salad with Protein & Avocado*
2 cups greens, 2 hardboiled eggs (or other protein), 1/4 avocado, squeeze of lemon, drizzle of EVOO, salt, pepper (or other 21 Day Fix Dressing)
21 Day Fix = 2 green, 1 red, 1/2 blue, 1 orange
Open Face Egg Sandwich with Vegetables*
1 slice sprouted wheat toast, 1/4 avocado mashed on bread, 2 hardboiled eggs (one on top, one on the side), salt and pepper, 1 cup of baby carrots (about 10) or other veggie
21 Day Fix = 1 yellow, 1 red, 1/2 blue, 1 green
Sprouted Wheat Toast with Almond Butter & Apple, Plus Cottage Cheese*
1 sliced sprouted wheat toast, 2 tsp. fresh ground almond butter, drizzle of honey (optional), 1 sliced apple or other fruit, 1 Container of Cottage Cheese
21 Day Fix = 1 yellow, 2 tsp., 1 purple, 1 red
Click here for my “Real Food” Lunches for Real Kids🙂
Sicilian Salmon with Brown Rice & Vegetables or
Burger Night (My Veggie Burger and/or Store Bought Turkey Burgers) with Sweet Potato Oven Fries & Salad
Roasted Vegetable Pasta & Pizza (Scroll Down Past Veggie Burger Recipe) or
Leftover Night or Go Out
One Mid Morning & One Mid Afternoon
Apple or Banana with Nut Butter
Carrots or Veggies with Hummus
Ants on a Log
Cheese & Whole Wheat Crackers
Cottage Cheese & Fruit
Visit my recipes page for more meal ideas. And you can follow my blog my entering your email address on the homepage for more recipes to come. Follow me on Facebook @runningwithskissors for other tips and inspiration as well.
Best wishes on your journey to eating healthier and helping your family do the same. If you want to join the “Fixate for Family” challenge that I am organizing alongside some fellow Beachbody coaches, comment here or email me. Starting May 9th we’ll be challenging ourselves and our families to get better at “eating clean.” For 21 Days we’ll follow the clean eating plan and workouts that come with the 21 Day Fix program while incorporating family friendly meals like the ones I’ve shared here.
Please comment here or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.