What should I feed my child? As moms we all just want the best for our children, including giving them the nutrients they need to grow big and strong and really thrive. I have had years of practice, lessons and mistakes with nutrition and finding the balance of health and what our food industry is really is today. My hope for you is you take what you can and start practicing healthy nutrition foundations with your own children. Know there will never be a perfect eater, or eating situation. BUT there are many ways we can prioritize healthy eating for our kids to have this knowledge when they are old enough to make their own choices.
A real life story…
My 7-year old daughter came home from school and said to me, “Mom, I want to be a normal kid that eats processed sugar for lunch at school. Please can I just be normal!?” (if you are wondering if my child actually said this, oh yes, she did. 7 going on 17). I pulled her on my lap and hugged her close and asked her these questions: “Do you get stomach aches? No. Do you get headaches?No.Do you sleep well and have a lot of energy? Yes. Do you focus and do well in school? Yes. Do you play 3 different sports well? Yes. At this point she was rolling her eyes and huffing and puffing saying “ooooook MOM, I get it!!!”.
More nutrient dense food please.
Our society paints the picture that what a child should eat is different from what adults eat. If you need an example, have you ever noticed what’s on the “Kid’s Menu” at most restaurants? Since they are little and growing it’s ok for them to eat junk food all the time. When in reality they need nutrition more than adults. Just as they need more sleep, they need protein, fats, and minerals for bone and brain growth. They need carbs and fats for constant energy and focus because everything is a learning experience. While their immune system is strengthened and built they need all the nutrients, antioxidants, and minerals they can get from fruits and vegetables. When I say they need “more”, I don’t mean portion size I mean they need these nutrient dense foods offered to them more.
Our children are running on fumes and we expect them to perform all day everyday at school, play 2-3 sports, and not lose their sh*t at the end of the day. Where do we find this balance of serving real food and letting them experience what our world actually is, aka processed food.
The truth is…
I am going to hop down off my soapbox because I am far from perfect. And this world we live in definitely does not make parenting, feeding your child or ourselves easy. After having my daughter my husband and I have gone through many seasons of nutrition, from being vegetarians, gluten and dairy free, low carb, and high fat. You name it, but always healthy. We made the decision early on with Greye that if we wouldn’t eat it, we wouldn’t feed it to her. For example if I wouldn’t eat a grilled cheese and bag of chips for lunch everyday then I would not feed my daughter that.
My daughter was an amazing eater. Loved all foods, veggies, fruits, beans, salmon, eggs, she would eat anything. It wasn’t until she went into 1st grade where kids sat together at lunch that she realized her lunch box was different. Her lunch of homemade gluten free bread, fresh vegetables, fruit, and dates or figs for a dessert was nothing like what the other kids were eating.
I refused to send her with packaged processed food every single day, but at the time school lunch was free (because of Covid) and she begged me to get school lunch. The school did offer yogurt , fruit and hummus and vegetables as an option sometimes. This was among all the processed mac and cheese, pizza, and chicken nuggets. I compromised and said she can get school lunch once a month.
Thinking this compromise would solve my daughter’s need to fit in at the lunch table, we moved on. I started noticing full lunches coming home in my daughter’s lunch box. I asked her about it and she said she wasn’t hungry. It kept happening for a month before my husband sat her down and got her to admit that she was telling the teacher she didn’t have a snack each day. The teacher would then send her to the cafeteria where they would feed her gummy bears, cheez-its, or some other processed snack(without checking in with us at all).
My little girl had orchestrated this plan… had kept this secret, this burden, for 30 days, at the ripe age of 6 years old, all to be able to show that she had a packaged food just like the other kids.
As parents we were taken aback. Not only that she had done this on her own but also that this is what the world is right now. But after talking it over, I refused to hurt the relationship that I have with my daughter over goldfish crackers. I compromised once again, with one processed snack in her lunch each day, and a health bar with her snack that she got to pick out at the grocery store. Even though this situation angers me beyond belief, it was a huge eye opening lesson for our family.
If this is how our society is, how do I feed my child?
1. Babies love nutrient dense food.
Building a healthy foundation with food is your best option. When your baby starts eating solid foods offer mostly nutrient dense foods. The more real food you feed them the more they crave these foods.
2. Do not make a separate meal.
Kids should be eating whatever you are eating at dinner time. Breakfast and lunch might look a little different but make it similar to what you have on your plate. For example:
We have salads for lunch, my daughter’s plate has cut up veggies, a fruit, a cheese stick, sometimes a peanut butter with raw honey sandwich, or a quesadilla with black beans and cheese.
3. When making a meal, or your child’s plate, think of the three macros.
Carbs, fats, protein. Note: Carbs can be vegetables, rice, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Not always processed empty carbs.
4. Rule in our household before any packaged foods, or sugar is that you must first fuel your body with what it needs.
This can look like a healthy meal first, or a healthy snack accompanied along with a processed snack.
A healthy balanced foundation for kids.
My prayer for my daughter is that she will always have the healthy foundation with food that we have built for her to fall back on. Ultimately we can’t control our kids’ food forever. We have to trust that we put in the work when they were little and that when it comes time for them to choose things on their own they will decide what makes them feel the best.
Talk about it…
I will ask my daughter…
What fills you up?
Does it give you energy?
What hurts your belly?
What makes you feel tired?
Bring awareness to how different foods make them feel. If your child is older, talk to them about different foods and let them help in the kitchen. My daughter and I love to come up with recipes that mimic treats but with healthy clean ingredients.
What to look out for when feeding your child.
- Sugar and flour are addictive and also empty calories so they do not fuel the body correctly. Interpretation, kids will want more and more and not be satisfied.
- Sugar does a number on the gut, digestive track and also disrupts sleep. Avoid close to bedtime.
- If your child’s diet is based on processed foods from a young age, this is what they will crave.
- If your child is having trouble focusing in school, gets headaches or stomach aches, check their nutrition and sleep.
- Nutrition and sleep support each other. Eating the right food supports good sleep and vice versa.
- Do not rely on school lunches.
The number one thing you can do when feeding your child
Lead by example!!! If you are eating Mcdonalds and telling your child to eat their broccoli, why would they ever do that?! You need to eat how you want them to eat. Children are ALWAYS watching and don’t miss a thing. By observing you and following in your footsteps this is ultimately how they will turn out. So stop for a minute and think about how you eat daily (this can be hard to come to terms with). Are you setting the example you want to see?
FYI no one is expected to be perfect. Find a balance for your family that will support your health and your child’s. Also know this isn’t set in stone, nutrition is always evolving. What works for you now might not work for you years from now. The easiest place to start is by stocking your fridge with real food and eating it with your family. Plain and simple.
Two of my favorite recipes my daughter and I make together..
Power packed pancakes:
- ½ cup of almond milk
- 1 ripe banana
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg white
- 1 ½ cup of gluten free rolled oats
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp baking powder
- Put in the blender and blend it up.
- Use ghee on the pan for a healthy fat.
- You can add apples to this recipe or drop a couple of dark chocolate chips onto each pancake while they cook. We have these in the freezer for a quick delicious breakfast.
Banana ice cream:
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk
- 3-4 frozen bananas
- ¼ cup maple syrup
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- Blend it up(it will be really thick)
- Add dark chocolate chips
- Keep in the freezer for a delicious treat
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