My kids are heading to Kindergarten in a few weeks, and I have started not-quite-stressing over how to make sure that they eat well while they are away from the house. My stress is caused by my finicky daughter who has a dairy sensitivity and the fact that the school just adopted a nut-free classroom policy. I understand the concerns with nut allergies, but the nut-free environment has limited several of my dairy-free options (e.g., Almond milk yogurt). The school website directed me to this "Safe Snack" list. Six months ago I wouldn't have thought twice about buying many of the products on the list, sticking to the "healthier" options. Today my worldview is different, and I question why our schools think it is okay to suggest such unhealthy snacks for our children.
The debate about food and health is one that I have come to understand only recently, after being hit with a brick about my own health. I had followed my college friend's shift in nutrition and eating curiously via his Facebook posts and wondered why he and his wife turned their efforts to creating a green grass farm. I thought I lived a healthy life, but my definition of eating well was limited to eating low calorie foods, staying away from junk foods, and balancing the "food groups" that I had learned as a child.
When I realized that I was not, in fact, healthy, I decided to learn more about nutrition, and I began working with Csilla from Shining Health. Within a week I had changed my eating habits. Within a month I had removed processed foods from my pantry. Within two months I had participated in a cleanse and taken my daughter off of dairy. In the last six months, my family has made major changes in our eating and our health. I'll share some of the most significant.
Being a mom with a full time job means that I balance work life with home life. I have never liked to cook, and after long days at work, I was often too tired to cook. Prepared foods were staples in our home, and aside from our fresh organic fruits and vegetables, I did not pay much attention to the ingredients in the items I bought from the store. If it was easy, I tried it. If my husband and kids liked it, I bought it again. If we didn't have anything to cook, we ordered in.
We still eat out and order in, but I also cook regularly, and none of the foods are processed or prepared. We don't even have Kraft Mac 'N Cheese in our pantry anymore!
I Plan Meals.
As part of the cooking commitment, I had to learn to plan meals. Emeals.com has been incredibly helpful. The clean eating menu comes with a grocery list, and I have easily been able to adapt the weekly plan to the needs of my family. Just today I signed up for the lunch menu plan in hopes that I can plan and shop for the kids' lunchboxes at the same time I am thinking about our family dinners.
I Read about Real Food.
I found Emeals through the blog 100 Days of Real Food. It's now one of my favorite blogs, and the author is a mom who writes about the challenge of raising kids with real food. She posted her own "safe snack list," which she also convinced her kids' school to adopt. In addition to this blog, I've branched out on Facebook, the blog sphere, and Pinterest to find others who are struggling (or have struggled) and allow their stories and recipes to influence my own. My new favorite magazine is Clean Eating.
I Eat a Lot of Green Stuff.
I always knew vegetables were important, but Csilla helped me see that I didn't know nearly enough about veggies and that I wasn't eating nearly enough of them. Now I know what kale is - and how it tastes and how to blanch it so it is sweeter. I can tell the difference between chard and collard. I buy organic spinach every time I go to the store. I've even figured out how to get my daughter, who doesn't like anything green except grapes and peas, to eat it. (We wrap it around fruit.)
I Buy Organic.
Before working with Csilla, I rarely bought organic food. It was too expensive, and I didn't understand the health benefits. Our family now eats grass fed or organic meat. Period. The warnings about hormones, which I kindly ignored when my acupuncturist told them to me year after year, have sunk in. It's in my daughter's and my best interest to eat better meat, and it's good for my husband and son too. Similarly, I buy organic fruits and vegetables whenever possible. This commitment not only means spending more on grocery bills, but it also means driving farther to a store that stocks the meats and quality produce. As I have been hearing more and more lately, it's better to put the money and effort into shopping now, rather than into doctor's visits in the future.
After Csilla took me on a tour of my local grocery store, I realized that I could shop in five small sections, rather than wandering the aisles as I used to do. I shop more often, according to the needs of my meal plan, and with the exception of my meat budget, I find that I am not spending any more than I used to. I buy less "junk" when I'm out of the other aisles.
I Don't Buy Milk.
During one conversation with Csilla, I learned that carbs make people tired. I casually mentioned that perhaps my daughter's dark circles were because she is a "carb girl." Csilla told me that dark circles are a sign of dairy sensitivity, and she recommended that I read Is This Your Child by Doris Rapp. As I read about dairy allergies (different from lactose intolerance), I repeatedly checked off my daughter's symptoms. I removed dairy from our house for four days, and when I reintroduced it, within ten minutes, my daughter, who is normally sweet and easy going, had a meltdown. Wondering if it was a fluke, we tried again... and again. Each time we allowed her to drink a cup of milk, eat a bowl of ice cream, or eat a container of yogurt she became a different child. So now we steer clear of dairy. I've also switched to Almond and Coconut milk for the rest of the family.
I do not consider myself a hard core health nut. My kids still eat "treats"; we continue to buy pizza at our favorite restaurant; we all eat french fries. But I also don't consider my changes a "phase." Before I worked with Csilla, I subscribed to the belief that "I ate this way as a kid, and I'm healthy enough." I now realize that the food industry has changed - and that maybe I wasn't as healthy as I thought. From the time they began eating solids, I tried to teach my kids to eat "healthy snacks" and to limit "treats." However, my definitions of those two terms has changed. "Goldfish" is no longer a healthy snack. As I move forward, sending my kids to school for 7 hours per day, I will have to trust my 5-year-olds to start making their own healthy choices. I intend to fill their lunch and snack boxes with delicious options that will make them want to eat real food. Perhaps this is the biggest change of all.