What snacks are your kids eating at school? What snacks do they eat at home? On Monday I wrote about how we’re poisoning our children with neon-green high-fructose-corn-syrup crunchies instead of food. I promised then to share my rules for eating food and feeding your kids food.
There’s nothing revolutionary or even original about these suggestions. It’s mostly common sense.
Rule #1: “If it comes from a plant, eat it. If it was made in a plant, don’t.” ~Michael Pollan
What does that mean?
Eat a baked potato, leave the potato chips at the grocery store.
Blueberries = good. Cereal with blueberry flavorings? Leave it on the shelf.
“But my kids love Qrafty Q Blueberry Cereal!”
A watchdog site, Food Identity Theft, inspected the labels Betty Crocker Blueberry Muffin Mix and found that there were no blueberries in it at all. “You can look forward to some blueberry puree in Kellogg’s Special K Blueberry Cereal,” they wrote, “but everything else is artificial: ‘blueberry flavored clusters,’ and ‘blueberry flavored bits,’ along with artificial colors (red #40 lake, blue #2 lake) to give it a realistic blueberry look.”
Rule #2: Choose whole grains over refined grains: Eat brown rice, whole grain pasta, and whole grains breads.
If you want the long explanation about why, read this article I wrote in Pregnancy Magazine, “Wheat? Whole Wheat? What?!” about the differences, and why whole grains are better.
“But they take too long to cook!”
Stick brown rice in the blender for two minutes until it is ground into a flour, stir the flour into approximately 1.5 times the amount of water (like oatmeal), and simmer on the stove for ten minutes, adding water if necessary (if it’s too liquidy, cook with the lid off). Rice mush is what we call this and it’s a huge favorite in our house.
Total time for whole grain rice mush = 12 minutes.
Total time for white rice = 15.
I rest my case.
“But my family doesn’t like whole grain pasta!”
That’s cause you’re buying the wrong brand. Experiment until you find a brand you all do like.
I make a killer lasagna with brown rice pasta noodles and invite whole-grain skeptics over to dinner. After they’ve tried it and say they love it, I tell them it’s made with the verboten noodles. They. Are. Shocked. Then they ask for seconds.
Rule #3: Don’t buy anything that says it is “enriched” or “fortified”: All that means is that the original nutrients were taken out of it in the bleaching process and then synthetic chemicals were put in.
In other words, “enriched” is a code word for unhealthy or bad for you. Only in America.
Rule #4: Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables in all the colors of the rainbow.
Make a rainbow on your dinner plate. This is fun to do with kids (though my 7-year-old candy lover was disappointed the Spider Man taffy he got from a birthday party didn’t count for blue.)
The rainbow we made for an appetizer recently:
Strawberries for red
Carrots for orange
Pineapple for yellow
Kale for green (kale’s not my favorite food but my kids like to eat it off the stalk, like popsicles. It’s super healthy!)
Blueberries for blue (even though they’re purple)
Purple skinned plums for indigo
Rule #5: Don’t buy anything with ingredients you can neither identify or pronounce. If you don’t know what it is, it’s probably not food.
Once you start reading ingredients, you’ll be surprised to find out just how much non-food your family has been eating.
In Inverness a few weeks ago my uncle bought “parmesan cheese.” I read the label. It included “desiccated cellulose” as an anti-caking agent.
My uncle was so disgusted he composted the “cheese.”
Rule #6: Stop the sugar. High fructose corn syrup and refined sugar do little more than hurt your metabolism, pre-dispose you to diabetes, and make you fat.
“But my kids only eat food if I heap sugar on it!”
This is a hard habit to break.
Sugar for dessert every once in awhile is fine.
But sugared cereals, sugar on grapefruit, sugary granola bars for mealtimes are not!
Give them three healthy options for breakfast, none of them sweet.
If they eat nothing, they weren’t hungry.
When they’re hungry, they’ll eat.
Yogurt squeezes with as high a sugar content as ice cream aren’t food. They’re dessert. Gummy sharks made from unpronounceable ingredients aren’t food either. They’re trash.
Rule #7: Kids need healthy fats: We think if the label says low fat that means it’s healthy. But fat is brain food. Kids need whole fats! (like milk and butter). They also need healthy fats in nuts and fish. Omega 3 fatty acids = good for health. They don’t need fast food laden with trans fats and partially hydrogenated fats (Remember Rule #5? If you can’t pronounce it or identify it, don’t feed it to your kids.)
For more than you’d ever want to know about this, check out the Weston A. Price Foundation. Their motto? “They’re happy because they eat butter.” You can find a local chapter of fat-loving, good-looking, slim, health-food fanatics in your area!
Kid-friendly choices for school snacks:
Apple slices and organic cheese
An orange (for Alisa, who hates to wrap things!) or quartered oranges
Celery sticks with organic cream cheese or peanut butter or almond butter, raisins on the side for kids who like them
Kale on the stalk
A cucumber! Or cucumber sticks
Green beans — crunchy and portable. Fun to eat!
Almonds, walnuts, pecans, peanuts, pistachio nuts
Cream cheese sandwich on whole grain bread
Dried mango or other dried fruits (Alisa, another good, no-wrapping-needed choice.)
Whole plain yogurt (preferably organic) with berries or other fruit mixed in
Seaweed! My kids love dried nori.
Any leftovers from a healthy dinner the night before
Norwegian flat bread
Salty pretzels made with white flour aren’t food (they’re empty calories). Cheez-its … need I say more?
Phew, that was a long post.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading.
What rules about food and snacks have I forgotten? What tricks do you use in your house to get healthy, nutritious, real food into your children, your partner, and yourself?
Published: October 20, 2011
Updated: January 12, 2020