I think it’s so funny the way some books talk about raising kids – like if you haven’t been doing XYZ or if you don’t do XYZ THIS VERY SECOND, your kids will fall into irreversible habits and be on drugs by age 11. In my decidedly un-expert opinion, it’s the grown-ups who have the deeper fears about busting out of habits and routines. Kids (at least my kids) always surprise me by their willingness to switch things up with the schedule. I need to remember that this rule of thumb applies to kids eating habits, too, so just because I have, oh say a Frosted Flakes addict, that does not mean we have lost our shot at raising an oatmeal lover, right? (I’m not sure who I’m trying to convince here.)
Anyway, last year my friend Bonnie told me that she had decided it was time to kick her family’s dessert habit. Her first- and third-grader had something sweet after every single meal. Bonnie and her husband used it as leverage for getting them to eat their dinner, i.e. “If you don’t eat your chicken, NO cookies!” I was fascinated by Bonnie’s goal because I was (still am, actually) in the exact same embarrassing dessert predicament in spite of what all the experts warned against. I was also fascinated by the result. Bonnie announced the new policy to her kids one day over family breakfast: a treat after dinner would be just that, a treat and not a guarantee. There was some whining, but that was it. No complaints, no long and embattled adjustment period and guess what – the kids still ate their dinner! (Maybe because the reward switched to the inedible – “If you don’t eat, no bedtime story.”) Her theory is that you need to announce it in a formal way so that it seems official. Like that other age-old nugget of wisdom, kids actually crave boundaries and rules, even if they don’t exactly realize it.
I was thinking we could follow Bonnie’s lead this week and try to kick some habit we feel guilty about. I might even try to kick dessert. (The problem for me is not really standing my ground in the face of whining kids, it’s more that I love dessert so much and don’t feel like I can ask them to kick the habit as they watch me throw two Mallomars down the hatch.) To get you started, here are a few small habits I’ve kicked in the past few years (most of them on the sly) that may resonate:
Habit #1: We were eating too much sugar-loaded, additive-laden peanut butter.
Skippy was always in my childhood home (and is there still), so in 2003 when I first spread some peanut butter on toast for my one-year-old, that was what I used. I am not a Nazi about keeping processed foods out of my house, but by 2006 we were going through so much peanut butter that it became something of a national emergency when we ran out. So I picked up a few natural blends and mixed it with the Skippy to ease their transition. Over the course of a few weeks, I made the ratio of natural to Skippy greater and greater until there was no Skippy left. Four years later, natural (with a little salt) is all they eat (except when they visit my parents house, they fall all over themselves begging for the junky stuff). Recommended: Whole Foods 365 brand is well-priced and a good place to start.
Habit #2: We only use white flour in my house.
This is big issue in my kitchen and one you’ll be reading a lot about in the next few months. I’m determined to work buckwheat and whole wheat flour into more of my baked goods and also transition away from grains that have no nutritional value toward millet, barley, and quinoa. I figured the easiest thing to start with would be pancakes, which we seem to make every morning now instead of every Sunday like most normal families. I didn’t announce anything to the guinea pigs, I just started throwing a handful of ground flax into their regular mix. (When the cakes are crispy enough, the brown was easily disguised.) That seemed to work well, but then I discovered Trader Joe’s multigrain pancake mix, which miraculously turns out pancakes that look almost exactly the same as the regular buttermilk mix. When I throw a few blueberries in there I feel like supermom.
Habit #3: My kids don’t eat enough fruit
This was actually my friend’s bad habit to break. She became so fed up with the struggle to get her son to eat fruit that she decided the best thing to do was to take herself out of it. She doesn’t try to give him fruit at breakfast or at snack time. She packs it in his lunchbox only, so there is no power struggle. It’s only her son versus the pineapple. And more and more, she reports, the pineapple seems to be winning.
Your turn. What junkfood habits have your kids kicked?