A for Effort…

Cade: “Mommy, pick up your weights!”

Me: “No, Mommy can’t use the weights for this one.”

Cade: “But they all have weights, Mommy.”

Me: “Mommy’s not quite strong enough yet, buddy.”

Little man loves to “help” me workout by pointing out whenever I’m not doing something exactly like “them”, but I don’t mind, it’s a fun way to engage while I get my workout completed. The above conversation, though, spurred a mini revelation about exercise in general.

So many times in life we are told we will be graded or evaluated on merit. Pretty much as soon as you enter the school system the idea of work for credit is ingrained into your brain. And I am all about fair evaluations and challenges to help us all grow and learn! But. I do remember a particular moment in middle school that changed my perspective on grades-and all subsequent evaluations-forever. In true ADHD fashion, I had painstakingly rendered by hand a picture of the Michigan flag for my state project. But since I was running out of time to complete the project when I finished the flag-and because pine trees are boring-I used pastels to hastily sketch the state tree. I accomplished everything else in the project to the letter, to the best of my little 6th grader brain ability.

I got a C on the project and a parent teacher conference. My teacher flat out said I cheated, since no-one who drew that flag would also draw that tree. I clearly had had blatant outside help. I was so confused. And devastated. I felt sick to my stomach. I had worked so hard to get that flag perfect. I internalized it as my own fault-not that I was a cheater, I was very hurt and upset by that accusation-but because clearly I had tried too hard. I should’ve halfway done both the tree and the flag, and then none of this would’ve happened.

“Work Smarter, Not Harder” is a slogan I’ve seen everywhere, and the hallmark of EMS. The job is hard enough, no need to make it any tougher. In our true culture of “easier, faster, better” skating through by doing things well but not appearing to put much effort into them is lauded as ideal.

Exercise is the opposite. If you skimp through your workout, you get no A for completion, you burn no extra calories, you win nothing. If you work your tail off and hit muscle failure halfway through-you reap far more. Exercise truly evaluates your EFFORT. I can skate through a lot of workout programs, I’m familiar with the moves, know ways to ease off certain muscle groups, can complete the bare minimum and still say I did it-but the only person that effects, is me. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I love to exercise. You get what you put in. You halfway do the workout you get half the results. You are sloppy and inattentive, you drastically increase your chance of injury. You remain focused and pour in your effort-you reap the rewards!

And there are always ways to improve. Recently I’ve really been paying attention to how I hold my abs in all of the exercises, how I draw them into my spine, remembering to engage them and not let them hang loose-this form protects my back AND works my muscles. When you do squats, you should give your backside a little extra squeeze at the top-not because you have to, but because that works the glutes just a little bit more. There are all kinds of ways to increase your effort in exercise, and I am never penalized for trying my hardest for the first half of the workout and then being barely able to complete the last ten minutes due to muscle fatigue. My effort is always duly rewarded and I take pleasure and satisfaction in that tiny little aspect.

SO go you, wherever you may be on your exercise adventure. Whether you are modifying everything or upping your weights every workout, your effort is paying off. There is no comparison here. One person does a pushup on her toes, another on her knees, both hit muscle failure by the end-BOTH earn an A for effort.

Throwing in the Towel

We made it to the end! Last on the list for what not to say to children about food-is when we, the parents, give up. And although this list is about “saying” things to kids, you don’t always have to say anything. If you realize your two year old is not eating dinner so you leave the table and make something you know they’ll eat that is different from what everyone else is eating, well, you’ve encouraged them to stay picky. You’ve told them that they don’t actually ever have to try new foods, they will always get what they want.

Ouch. This one is a tough habit to break. I don’t know any parents that like dealing with a cranky, hungry toddler. I also don’t know a lot of parents that are adept at creating meals every night with enough side dishes to please everyone. This is where my slice of bread at night thing comes in handy. The slice comes at least an hour after dinner-so it isn’t an immediate, “here, let me feed you something else” and despite the amount of dinner consumed they only ever get one slice and that is the only pre bed snack they get. Cade can choose butter or no butter, Zane gets PB and honey. It’s part of their routine-they’re offered bread an hour after a good dinner (which often isn’t eaten completely) and bread an hour after a not so good dinner, and it helps take the edge of the hunger from a not well eaten dinner so that they at least fall asleep at night. Now, if they didn’t eat much at dinner they usually wake up ready to eat off my face if I don’t get oatmeal provided quickly enough, but hey, that’s life with toddlers. And so far, Cade is still a more adventuresome eater then a lot of two year olds. Tonight he actually tried chicken and red beets in goat cheese. He didn’t eat a lot-although he licked all of the “pink!” cheese-and he was more interested in trying to cut the chicken then consume it BUT he tried it.

I may phase this “pre bed” snack out, regardless, because I really want to encourage my boys to eat a variety of foods-but it’s a nice fall back for when I forget to make them a side at dinner that I know they’ll eat. And if I do it ONLY when I forget to make them a side at dinner, then I feel like I AM reinforcing the idea that they’ll always get what they want. But if I do it consistently around 7-730 and it is always the same thing, then it seems more like normal routine and less like “something special”. Like, when the boys don’t eat a big lunch-for whatever reason-but the typical snack they get when they wake up is a banana. They like bananas-but I’m not reinforcing that they don’t need to eat lunch since the banana doesn’t happen AT lunch.

Does that make any sense? Lol. Anyway. I am relieved that I have made it to the end of this list. I love reading Maryann’s blog, but this consistent posting thing is not my forte-especially this time of year. I’ll keep working on it, though, and maybe get a few recipes up. 🙂

Guilty Pleasures

Number 9! “We don’t eat cake often because it is bad for you.” 

Now the child equates pleasure with “being bad”. Womp womp. This falls under the category of “food judging/labeling” but I like that she includes all of the different nuances of judging on her list, because too often we think, “well, I don’t do it blatantly or like so and so does, so it’s ok…” when the literature points to the contrary. With eating disorders and child obesity on the rise, it’s important to stop equivocating and start putting a tiny grain of faith in the research. This particular method of judgement is crucial, in my opinion, because it can so easily extend to other areas besides food. “Well, if all the food I like that tastes delicious are BAD for me, then these other things I like must be bad…and THEN well if a thing is BAD then it must be pleasurable.” Uh oh.

End story here people: food is food is food. At our house, “Food gives us energy and strength.” ALL food. From cupcakes to carrots. That is ALL I say about food to the kids. Internally, of course, I’m trying to slant the victory towards fruits and veggies, but I do this WITHOUT telling them. I am not talking about sneaking vegetables into dinner-Maryann actually address the problems associated with this method in a different article here-I’m talking about eating lots of healthy food in front of them and making all sorts of (genuine) “yum yum!” noises the same as if I am eating cake. I’m talking about not keeping cookies, crackers, or less nutritionally desirable food in the house so that when it comes to snack time their (and my!) only options are somewhat healthy.

The suggestion made for this particular scenario is to explain that we only eat cake sometimes-like at parties or celebrations- and that we’ll have more cake then. We do this with the boys and bread. I monitor their bread intake because too much and-not only do they eat less fruits and veggies-they also don’t poop. So all wheat based products get limited throughout the day. However, I make my own bread so I don’t feel bad giving them a piece consistently. They may get a piece during the day, but they almost always get a piece as a pre bed time snack. So if Cade asks for bread first thing, I simply say, “No, bud, it’s oatmeal time. We’ll have bread tonight before bed.” I repeat it however many times I need to, but usually just once is enough to satisfy and we don’t have to label anything.

Tomorrow will be the last post on picky eaters! If you want more pretty cool tips and tricks, follow the Raise Healthy Eaters blog! (And no, she doesn’t pay me to advertise, I’m pretty sure she doesn’t even know my tiny blog exists, haha. Still! Good stuff. 🙂 )

Judgement

This is probably one of those things that sneaks into conversation without anyone even realizing it. 7th on the list of 10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Child About Food is the commonplace, “Eat this, it’s good for you.” This, unfortunately, backfires and basically tells the kid that it’s going to taste awful. I find that any judgement about food is bad. Don’t say food is bad, don’t say food is good, don’t try and convince children that vegetables will give them super powers, or anything along those lines. Setting up food as good or bad just invites an unhealthy perspective on food-like guilt and shame, or the reverse a sense of “rightness” or moral superiority-all centered around one of the basic needs of life.

At our house, food is food. I do say things like, “food give us energy.” but I don’t say things like, “carrots are good for your eyesight” or the reverse “French fries can make you fat”. There is no good and bad, no healthy vs unhealthy dialogue between the boys and I. Now I DO pick foods that I believe are healthy, I DO think there are foods that are better for your body, and I try to present balanced meals. We generally don’t keep less nutritionally desirable foods in the house, so we don’t really have to fight this battle at home. When we eat, we talk pretty much only about taste. “Mmmm mommy likes this. Do you like yours, Cade?” “Do you think this is tasty?” Cade answers yes or no and their is no judgement for either response. If he says No it’s just an, “Ok, well Mommy will eat it then because she likes it. Would you like this?” Food is food is food. However, when we go out to get ice cream or get a hashbrown or fries at McDonalds, the tone of voice and conversation remains the same. Food is food is food. When the boys are older we can start slowly talking about nutrition, but there will be no food shaming. I like French fries on the rare occasion. So I eat them. I like peach pie, too. And cake. And a Dairyman from Hickory Farms (helloooooo cheese!). And I don’t feel guilt or shame when I eat any of the above-despite them not being a superfood omega 3 fatty acid antioxidant vitamin powerhouse fighting cancer food, or whatever.

Don’t tell your kids vegetables are good for them. Don’t even say it around them. Don’t judge food.

Praise

Past the halfway point! Number 6 on our list is praising children for eating more than usual at a meal. Now, some parents don’t say “Good Job” ever-but we aren’t those parents. We do try to encourage without an endless stream of banal “Good Jobs” floating after every accomplishment, and I definitely engage with the boys and ask them questions about what they accomplished or ways to do it differently or how it felt or blabbity blah. I can’t seem to help myself with that, it’s just the natural course of interacting with toddlers. BUT we do use Good Job on occasion, because sometimes I think kids need to know when a job is well done, and I don’t think it is a horror or a sin to have them seek parental approval. Ahem, that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.

On this one, Maryann is specifically addressing any sort of praise after a large meal. This continues to mess with the child’s understanding of internal hunger cues as their desire to please overrides their body’s needs. We don’t say good job at the end of meals, in fact, we don’t say it much at all during the dinner. If anything it is at the beginning. If I offer Cade a new food and he tries it I praise him. He doesn’t have to eat all the rest of the food on his plate, and each subsequent bite doesn’t get praise, it’s just that initial taste. And then I ask him how it tastes, whether he liked it, what other things he likes, etc., etc., etc. So this one isn’t a struggle for us. I do sometimes get a little nervous about how little the boys eat at meals, but I am more likely to be guilty of food pushing. If they eat a lot I’m just relieved, ha, and don’t say anything at all in case I jinx it.

Not Just For Kids

“If you eat your veggies, then you can have dessert.” ….This, to me, is a two things in one on “what not to say about food” and I think it really needs to be struck from not just our dialogue but also our thought process. This 1.) makes veggies a chore and 2.) dessert a reward. Leave food rewarding to dog trainers, don’t teach it to your kids, but better yet, examine your own mindset.

This is THE way society views food. Health bars that are “guilt free!” (there should be no guilt to begin with). “You won’t believe it’s good for you, tastes just like dessert!” (So, things that are good for you automatically taste horrible). The number of commercials with women practically making love to tiny cups of yogurt compared to others staring woefully at wilted salads in their quest to “be healthy”…This mentality that vegetables taste gross and if you do something good you should reward yourself with sweets is ingrained into the fabric of this culture. Statements like this make vegetables work. A chore to be done. Business to get through. A task to survive. And dessert is made MORE desirable by making it a reward. Believe me, people, we don’t need any help in making dessert desirable-it’s flipping delicious. We-the entire human race- are always going to enjoy the taste of sugar (and how it lights up the happy places in our brain).

But vegetables don’t taste gross (at least not all of them. I’ve yet to meet a pea that I didn’t DIDN’T like). They may not taste like a triple chocolate lava cake- but that doesn’t make them automatically gross. Or even work. Your child will be flooded with this idea that vegetables are work and dessert is the best thing ever- keep it away from your own dinner table. Maryann suggests saying the veggies taste like “x food” that the child likes, and above all to model healthy vegetable eating.

This is not easy for me. The idea that vegetables are work has been my mindset for years. Even though I naturally do LIKE some vegetables, I think of them as “not really food”.  Ridiculous. Since having Cade and Zane my vegetable intake has increased and I am slowly, painstakingly changing the way I view them. From zucchini noodles to eggplant (which I really, really like) to the typical steamed side of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower, veggies are making a regular appearance at the dinner table-and throughout the day. So far it seems to be working. We talk about vegetables in the same manner that we talk about icecream. Tonight Cade requested more carrots to eat during TV time. I really think the fact that I eat veggies around them all the time is the biggest influence on both boys’ veggie eating habits. And we don’t have dessert at the house, although we do go out for icecream on occasion. There are no cookies, no cakes or pies or candy…pretty lame, I know, but the boys seem to be thriving just fine.

So this No No is a big one, folks, and it’s for adults as well as children. There is nothing wrong with enjoying food, including dessert, and it should be completely guilt free (unless you’ve swiped the last piece of pie from your sister, or something, SHAME ON YOU). Vegetables are food, too, and they can taste good. Toddlers may never be vociferous vegetable eaters-and that’s ok-but don’t turn them into vegetable haters.

Fooooood Pushing, Yum

This point. Oh how I internally struggle with this, “No No” on the list. Don’t say things to your child like, “You didn’t eat enough, take a few more bites.” Or “You need to finish what I gave you.” Or ANYTHING along these lines.

This is so tough, y’all, because toddlers are WEIRD. They will devour two week old bread crumbs from under the couch one day in their quest to end their apparently insatiable appetite-and the next day they’ll have three bites of dinner and want down from the table. And we parents are RESPONSIBLE for these little idiot creatures, they need to eat and some days seem too stupid to figure it out! The struggle is real. Both boys are cranky when they’re hungry and then they also sleep poorly, I made it my mission early on to simply stuff food into Cade any time he looked even a bit irritable. He slept GREAT! And then when he became verbal he started asking for food every time he got upset. Womp, womp. I just created an emotional eating monster. Booger. So it has been a work in progress to correct this-and now he usually demands hugs instead of food (which is actually more aggravating for me because I am not a touchy feely person but whatever, I’d rather hugs then emotional eating). But, still, on those days he barely eats…

Now, I’ve gotten a lot better about this behavior because of my experience with Cade, so Zane hasn’t been fed every time he gets upset, but there are still days where I worry because I don’t think he’s eaten enough at the table. I’ve never actually said, “You haven’t eaten enough.” But I have absolutely pleaded and cajoled and reasoned with my sons to eat MORE. And this is bad, precisely because it teaches them that external factors (like me, or a clean plate) are better judges of satiety than internal hunger cues. What I love about Maryann’s post is she offers a “hint” for this No No, and the hint is that toddlers need to make mistakes. They NEED to go hungry, you guys, even though it goes against every parenting instinct and emotion, they need to learn to monitor their hunger cues and the only way they can do that is to, you guessed it, go hungry. This is a really, really important “No no” and she provides a link to a study that illustrates the connection between food pushing (it doesn’t call it that, though) and childhood obesity.

So I’ve been good about this lately, and I’ve found a compromise so to speak that makes me feel like I’m not being a neglectful parent while not encouraging the boys to eat more-I ask if their bellies are full. And if Cade says yes (or Zane signs “All done”) then that’s it. Cade has gotten really good at this. He’ll eat half his oatmeal one day and say, “My belly full, mommy.” and get down and play. And he doesn’t whine about food until snack time. Other days he’ll clear his bowl no problem before saying he’s “all full up”. Zane, however, will sign “all done” just to get out of his chair and pest me to be in my lap to keep eating. It’s a work in progress…

The Comparison Game

I never thought about how frequently we as parents can fall into the trap of comparing our children to others in order to encourage good behavior until my sister started considering potty training with her daughter. She made the statement that she didn’t like comparing E w/other children like, “Your friend is using the potty now, don’t you want to, too?”. She drew the now glaringly obvious parallel that using other children as comparisons for your child’s behavior is ridiculous because we then turn around and tell them they should stand fast against peer pressure as adolescents. The first item on the “No no” list by the blog Raise Healthy Eaters is just this. Her point is that kids interpret comparison phrases negatively in a way that undermines their confidence. So instead of encouraging your child to diversify you’ve just instilled in them the idea that “so and so” is a better eater then they are. Eating shouldn’t be a competition.

My immediate response is, “well, duh.” But then if I’m honest, I have totally done this. Not often, not even recently, but it has absolutely happened. Zane usually eats just about anything and he’ll eat any meat/egg/bean-so plenty of protein. I’m pretty sure Cade is a vegetarian. I have tried reasoning with Cade to eat meat because Zane likes it and eats it. Oops. I’m glad this hasn’t been a habit of mine, so now I’ll just be doubly mindful of not using phrases that could be misconstrued as comparisons at the dinner table (well, not just at dinner, pretty much in anything-constant comparisons don’t make for a healthy sibling relationship). We DO discuss what everyone is eating, just to have some sort of conversation at the table (Cade is 2.5, conversations are tough to maintain at this age). I’ll say, “Mommy is eating this, what are you eating Cade?” and then either Cade or I will say what Zane is eating. Cade actually does this on his own now but it hasn’t seemed to effect his willing or unwillingness to try foods in any way. Sometimes, for example, he will only eat broccoli (and Zane usually only eats carrots) but the other night he wanted carrots, too, and had quite a few. He likes naming foods-even if he isn’t eating them-and since he’s 2 he also likes dictating who is going to eat what. “I eat broccoli, and you eat cauliflower, and Zane bug eats carrots, and that’s it, Mommy. That’s all. Ever.”

I’ve never thought of myself as a bad eater, but I have thought of myself as a picky eater-and that’s next on the list.

10 Things You Should Never Say To Your Child About Food

It’s Not You, Food, It’s Me

My biggest frustration with cooking is that it seems like I make all this tasty food and mess and I am the only one eating it. My husband has a pretty boring diet, and he’s a grown man, I’m not about to try and force him to eat something-although in his defense he generally tries everything I make AND he has branched out a teeny tiny bit and actually eaten other foods besides rice. But still, it’s not like he’s wolfing down any great portion sizes. Which leaves me with two toddlers. Zane is still in garbage disposal baby phase-besides one or two random foods, he’ll eat pretty much anything. He’s beginning to get pickier, but I can count on him to usually eat something at dinner-however he’s still got a little stomach (despite the huge redneck beer belly he waddles around with). Cade is in the full out picky phase-he loves bananas for three months-then he hates them with an ardent passion for four months-now we’re back to needing “bana” pretty much for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. His appetite is as wonky as his likes and dislikes. So usually I’m left with a ton of leftovers and wondering why I even bother.

I’ve mentioned before that my mom’s work with eating disorders has made me more aware of food relationships, and I want to build a healthy one for my boys. THAT is the main reason I continue to struggle in the kitchen, make messes, and provide food every dinner-despite the fact that I am typically eating the majority of it. So I did (and still am doing) what I always do-read, read, read, research, research, research. And I stumbled upon this blog. And it is GOLD. The writer is a mom and a registered dietitian, the writing is straightforward, she gives you the “Do’s and Do Not’s” and backs it all up with the “Whys”.

Some of what she says I’ve already implemented while others I clearly need to work on and so, readers, as we gear up for the season of mass consumption I’d like to do a series of posts about establishing healthy eating at home. It will have a focus on parenting- but the insights on how to raise a child with a healthy attitude towards food can shed some light on personal habits (good and bad) that we associate with eating, so don’t feel like just because you don’t have kids that you can’t learn something. 🙂

(Seriously check out the blog. Good stuff.)

Comfort Food

So this may be a bit of a paradox, but even though I love to be healthy, I also really love comfort food. And, honestly, I see nothing wrong with it. I don’t make comfort food all the time, but heck yes I still make it. And eat it. And enjoy it guilt free! Now, I’m not about to try and sell you on a chia seed avocado kale wrapped substitute, because let’s face it, that is NOT what most people think of when they think “Comfort Food” and I don’t like deception. Comfort food for me is starch (potato/pasta/rice) and LOTS of cheese. I mean, cheesy overload cheese, three or more different varieties in one recipe type cheese. GIVE ME CHEESE.

Ahem.

Tonight I felt comfort food-ish. I end up making comfort food type stuff maybe once a month- in fact, there is a good chance it is hormone related, haha- and tonight’s recipe was a whopper. Four layers of cheesy potatoes topped with chicken seared in bacon grease covered in more cheese sauce, sprinkled with bacon, and melty cheese on top.

ComfortFood

De-licious! And although not the most nutritious of meals, it was actually pretty “clean”. I didn’t use condensed cheddar soup-I made my own from scratch (which is stupid easy, I don’t know why I thought making things from scratch necessarily meant “really hard to do” but usually that is NOT the case.) And my bacon is sodium nitrate free. And my cheese is natamycin and coloring free. So, clean (ish, some people don’t do dairy), but probably not super healthy. The chicken was melt in your mouth. I have no regrets.

Ok, one regret. We eat pretty well most of the time (we meaning: me and the boys, Brian is on his own) so that means fruits and veggies and plain greek yogurt and homemade bread (for the boys, I actually don’t eat it much anymore) and chicken and beans and oatmeal with coconut sugar and mostly nutritionally balanced stuff. BUT their diet is by no means 100% clean since whenever we go through a drive thru for Brian’s frappe Cade demands fries or a hashbrown. Zane likes them, too. Whatever, I’m not a nutrition Nazi, it doesn’t bother me. I count that as their “10-20%” depending on how often we are out running errands. But it DOES mean I thought tonight’s meal would be a success because-potatoes. Right? RIGHT?

Sigh.

I made a side of steamed broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower since extra cheese can mean constipation if I don’t get enough fiber in them as well. I was smart, and left the bowl of veggies on the counter while I served the main dish, because my boys view that particular veggie combination as dessert. My kids are so weird. Sure enough, both had a few bites of the meal, Cade even told me the potatoes where, “nummy nummy Mommy!” and I got three bites of chicken into Zane before he started spitting everything out and refusing to eat (can we say teeethiiinngg). As soon as I brought the veggies out Zane practically tipped over his chair trying to reach the carrots and Cade promptly told me he was, “All done with that!” pointing at his barely eaten bunch of potatoes and chicken to gobble up the broccoli like it was going out of style. I mean really. It’s COMFORT FOOD. There is BACON. WHAT DID I DO WRONG?

Now I’m stuck with ten pounds of cheesy goodness that only I will eat. Since cleaning up my diet I simply can’t eat the same amount of comfort food I used to (it does not do my digestive system any, ah, favors…) Sure, sure, my kids will devour grease drenched french fries, but cheese and bacon covered potatoes come a distant second to plain, steamed vegetables. I give up.

The only “normal” reaction they have to vegetables is cauliflower. Neither one likes it. I don’t really, either, but I eat it to get my veggies in and to set a good example I suppose. So here’s the face of my youngest trying cauliflower.

Cauliflower