Over a year ago, I transitioned to a (mostly) clean eating lifestyle. While my motivation was to lose the leftover weight from my second daughter, the results also included a healthier relationship with food for both my family and me. I began by eating clean and, at times, eating separately from my family. Over the course of months, my thinking about food grew to include them in the way it always should have.
What is Clean Eating?
Let me be clear: this is not an article about how to keep your child clean while she eats. I absolutely have not figured that out and, if you have, you need to contact me ASAP. This is a post about eating clean or clean eating. It’s the language used to describe a certain style of eating, which includes:
- Avoiding processed foods: most things that come from a box and have more than five ingredients in them.
- Eliminating refined sugars: the processed variation of sugar we see in much of our food.
- Eating actual, real, whole food. While it may seem like I’m being facetious with this one, I’m not. I’m talking about stuff that isn’t tampered with or altered in its journey to our plates.
- Michael Pollan, one of my food heroes, writes about shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. He also begins his book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto with the words, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” His maxim gives us quite a guide.
While I embarked on my clean eating journey as part of a workout program I used to lose the baby weight, eating clean does not have to be about weight loss. It can be about overall health and wellness and a desire to eat slower, simpler foods.
Clean Eating as a Family
I am not a nutritionist. Nor am I a chef or food specialist for children. I am a mom who is doing my best to get my family to eat well. I imagine that you, my dear reader, also fits this description. We are all trying our best and I begin this list with that very assumption.
What I offer are my tips for transitioning your children away from mac and cheese and chicken nuggets and into the world of real, actual food. While I don’t think foods like mac and cheese and chicken nuggets are the devil, I do think you’re selling yourself and your children short if you think these are the only foods they’ll eat.
Transitioning to Eating Clean
Here are my tips for transitioning your children to eating clean.
ONE. Make one meal for dinner. You are a mom, not a short-order cook, for Pete’s sake. You don’t have to make separate meals for everyone in your family. People can adjust. Read: your husband can deal if it’s not meat and potatoes for one night.
Not every meal will be a winner, but it’s a trial-and-error process. We certainly have to supplement dinner at times with some yogurt, cheese, beans, or other filling option so that our kids eat something before bed.
TWO. Eat together as a family. There are about 82,479 reasons to eat together as a family. From connecting after a full day to instilling the value of family time—the benefits are endless.
What I noticed most recently is that, when we eat together as a family (following rule #1), my kids are more apt to eat the meal I’ve cooked. My children will actually devour salmon! My chicken nugget-loving kids love to eat “fishy” and I wouldn’t have known it had we not eaten it together as a family.
Is family dinner always peaceful and without strife? Absolutely not. Depending on the day, there is some weeping and gnashing of teeth and we almost always allow our children to take breaks since they are two and four and still learning how to sit at the table.
THREE. Notice their hungry times of day and feed them the good stuff. This past summer, I counted on my children being starving at around 4:45 p.m. We’d be playing outside and I’d sneak into the kitchen and create a plate of appetizers. They gobbled up things like cheese, carrots with hummus, cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries, or whatever was ripe in our vegetable garden. They were so hungry they were more apt to eat the healthy stuff in front of them rather than begging for other things.
FOUR. Stop buying “snacks.” This is a hard one, and this is something I slowly transitioned to. It began as a selfish choice: I can’t say “no” to Goldfish crackers, so if I wanted to lose the baby weight, I had to stop buying them.
What began as a choice for myself shifted to a choice I made for the sake of my girls. Rather than throwing Goldfish at them every time they were hungry and ruining their appetite for more nutrient-dense foods, I got more creative.
They eat apple slices like they are going out of style and suck down pouches I fill with plain yogurt and a little local honey. I even got into the habit of making my own Popsicles with combinations like coconut milk with pureed pineapple, or plain yogurt with pureed fruit and a little honey. Often I sneak a handful of spinach in and my girls still think they are eating dessert.
FIVE. Make it work for your family. My friend Erin of Erin Holt Health is a certified nutritionist committed to eating real food all the time. She manages to raise a two-year-old with an incredible palate, eating everything from liver (!?) to bone broth.
I bring this mom crush of mine up because there is clearly a spectrum, and you get to decide where you will be on it. I tend to follow an 80/20 rule in my own life and notice my kids, by default, do too. Eighty percent of the time we eat clean, real, whole foods and 20 percent of the time we might not. This guideline keeps me realistic about our lives so that when a holiday or birthday party arises, I watch my children devour their serving of sweets with the confidence they are getting the nutrients they need elsewhere.
With a little patience and some time, you and your family will be well on your way to eating clean. Is it more effort-filled than the old way? In some ways, yes. In others, no. But I know you’ll find the results worth it.
Allison Dudas is a mommy blogger who lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
This article first appeared in Seacoast Moms Blog. For more information, please visit www.seacoast.citymomsblog.com.