Healthy Eating and Kids: Sugar junkies and greens lovers
Sugar versus greens: let’s talk about healthy eating in our kids
My dear friend Christina suggested I write a post about healthy eating. She said she had always been impressed by how “healthy” my daughter’s diet was. The first thing I thought was: What?! My little sugar junkie?! Truthfully, if left her to her own devices, she would live off chocolate and sugar. Through an IV. That is how much she loves it. As a baby, I delayed introducing sweets thinking that may help prevent a sweet tooth. Clearly that failed.
Starting off right
Naturally, I don’t leave her to her own devices and she really does have a varied diet. She does eat sweets, but in a controlled fashion. I made it a point to exclusively breastfeed until she was 14 months old, because I am a firm believer on the benefits of breast milk. Her first baby food was mashed avocado. I found a great website with amazing baby food recipes. I used to make all her baby food myself and freeze it in little ice cube size portions.
As she got older, she went through a picky eating phase as all toddlers do. I knew she would not let herself starve, so I would not give her something else to eat if she refused what was on her plate. She could either eat what we offered or not eat at all (I know, she lived, don’t judge). When she emerged from toddlerhood, she actually ate a great variety of vegetables.
We have a rule that you have to try everything at least twice before saying you don’t like it. We also use her “sugar love” to our advantage. If she doesn’t want to try something at all, she gets no dessert. That usually works. By the way, her desserts are most often a small low sugar cinnamon cookie, fruit with yogurt or a piece of dark chocolate.
She has seen me frequently drinking green juice, so she has developed a taste for it! I make hers with some apple (mine is with lemon and ginger and no apple). The sweetness of the apple masks the bitterness of any kale or chard I put in it. Juicing is an easy way for her to get her greens in without any struggle. She learned to love spinach by roasting it with some olive oil in the oven until it became crisp. Crunchy spinach is one of her favorites. She also still loves her first food, avocado, and broccoli, lettuce, tomatoes, Brussels sprouts, celery and cucumbers, among others.
I use stevia when baking and a little maple syrup to satisfy her sweet tooth without having to deal with the deleterious effects of refined sugar.
I also was never big on snacking. Many people are big on providing snacks to their kids multiple times a day. I found that when she would snack, she would be more likely to refuse her lunch or dinner and eat less of the healthy foods I provided. I would much rather have her eat her main meals than snacks, so I limited snacks or skipped them all together.
The younger your kids get exposed to vegetables and other healthy foods, the easier meal times are. Smoothies instead of green juice are a good option if your kids (or adults) dont like greens. Start with fruit only (bananas are very sweet) and nut milks, add cinnamon, a splash of vanilla extract, stevia or maple syrup to start the habit and get buy in. Then slowly start replacing that banana with berries (which have the lowest sugar content of fruits) and start adding mild tasting greens such as spinach. You can also add a spoon of a nut butter of your choice to blend, which kids usually like.
Our love for sugar
In terms of her sweet tooth, I later found out I was destined for doom. We are genetically programed to like sweets (some more than others).
Research has shown that fetuses in the womb can discern between sweet and unsweet amniotic fluid. The fetuses will actively swallow more amniotic fluid when it is sweet vs unsweet. Our brains are hard wired to like sugar. Amniotic fluid present during pregnancy reflects the tastes of whatever the mother is eating (click here to read more). If the mother eats a lot of certain foods during pregnancy, it is likelier that her baby will prefer those particular foods when they start eating solids.
Breast milk also reflects the flavor of whatever the mother eats. Our first experiences with taste are though amniotic fluid and breast milk. So fascinating!
I tried to practice healthy eating during my pregnancy (after the first trimester, before that it was puke-ville and anything went) and breastfeeding time. Based on the research, I think that probably helped set her taste palate. She came with her sweet tooth built in, or at least so it would seem. There are two things that she has never really liked for unclear reasons, papaya and potatoes (yep, she doesn’t love french fries!). Interestingly, although I love potatoes, I really don’t like the taste of papaya and rarely eat it. So, she certainly had no exposure to papaya during gestation and breast feeding. Of course, please remember this is not to mean all children have a sweet tooth!
Now, as a reminder, let me finish by saying it is important to keep expectations real. My daughter still puts up a fight often times when it comes to trying new things. Also, if given a choice, she will take that candy over veggies any day. We can’t expect the kids to stop being kids. The main thing about this is to set the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating. Don’t go for perfection now, keep your eye on the big picture.