Four years ago my eldest daughter would complain of extreme stomach pain. Every evening and every morning after breakfast we would have the same “drama”. Initially I made the common mistake of assuming it was two common culprits: gluten & dairy. There wasn’t as much information and knowledge back then amongst my mummy friends; or could I say there wasn’t as much hype around ‘free from’ diets for children. Thankfully I surpassed my temptation of falling into the trap of assumption and I sought professional advice. The diagnosis was quick: my child was hypermobile which is more common than I had imagined and her hypermobility was causing her bowels to be too elastic to excrete efficiently. This shocked me as she went to the toilet at least 4 times a day – how on earth could she be constipated? After 12months of child laxative I decided that this could not be the route to my child’s wellbeing. A lot of research and studying led to a massive revolution in my kitchen, both for my children (I had 2 back then) and us parents.I could almost classify my kitchen as a clean-eating, anti-processed culture! From pastas, to frozen foods and pre-prepared children’s meals, everything was removed and replaced by wholesome, fresh, organic produce. In this day in age it is so difficult to stay completely away from processed foods, but my motto was and is - BALANCE! I had no intention of removing food groups from our diets but a massive reduction and a few substitutions were certainly beneficial. Whatever small tweaks and changes i could make to improve my family’s eating habits and diet, was good enough to make a change. White rice was replaced by brown, whole wheat pasta was replaced by spelt and wholemeal, my bread came from a bakery as opposed to a supermarket shelf, my vegetables and fruit were now all organic, my milk was whole fat and organic, my cereal was the boring adult options with less than half the sugar content from the kiddie ones, my butter was full fat organic, my salt was Himalayan, my cooking done in extra virgin olive oil, rapeseed or coconut oils, no more sugar in my cooking...everything was cooked from scratch and from fresh ingredients.
I immediately noticed the difference it made to the gut, to my children’s hair and skin, my hair and skin, no one had bloated tummies anymore and no constipation whatsoever. I couldn’t understand how I ever could’ve had processed meals before.
I often see children having readymade fish fingers, chicken goujons, microwaveable pasta bakes, pizzas, garlic bread, sausages... and not that having these once in a while would kill the children but often mums are deprived of time, patience and quite frankly energy to deal with shopping for, preparing and cooking fresh meals. What I used to find tricky was making kids meals and then finding the time to make the adult meal, spending what felt like an eternity cooking in the kitchen. So I started developing easy recipes that contained all the macro nutrients essential to a balanced meal. I realised that cooking was not necessarily complicated. Elaborate dishes could be prepared with simple means: grilling, steaming, poaching were techniques that could create delicious and nutritious meals for all of us.
I got my children involved in cooking and picking ingredients they would not have tried before, playing a lot with shape and colour to entice their senses. I got them involved with the shopping; taking them to the green grocers once a week to pick one new vegetable/fruit they had never tried together with one fruit/vegetable that was their favourite to give them some incentive. I taught my children about food groups, carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals etc and what they contribute to in the human body. Most importantly I explained the dangers of “too much” and the benefits of balance. Sugar was definitely one topic to touch on. Children understand far more than what we give them credit for. If healthy habits are implemented from weaning stages, children will naturally appreciate good food and a wide array of options. Knowledge is power, so teaching my children helped their choices tremendously.
I often get questioned by mums “do your daughters really eat spinach & kale pancakes?” or comments like “my child is too fussy he won’t even eat blueberries!” My advice to these parents is: make food fun, tailor it to their interests, be creative, story tell, make it magical! My green pancakes are called emoji pancakes at home because it makes the girls chuckle, “blueberries are magical because they make your tongue purple, try them and go look in the mirror”, beetroot burgers are pink burgers, my daughters favourite colour, “did you know that batman ate a lot of carrots for his supersonic night vision? You can have that too!”, “those giant beans are the magical ones that made Jack’s beanstalk grow, imagine what would happen to you if you ate them...” Storytelling around food and creating fun facts for children to want to try things is such a healthy way to approach meals as opposed to “you must eat your greens because they are good for you!” Having said this, we would all go mad if every single meal time there was a need for fabulous stories, however I find after one or two times, my daughters know the drill and often make up their own stories and magic around what they are eating.
Getting children involved in simple cooking also really helps in getting new ingredients sampled by them. Try making beetroot brownies and swap the processed white sugar for a healthier natural sugar like coconut sugar or agave nectar. Stick some avocado in your chicken burgers, let them make their own fish fingers and why not salmon fingers if that’s a fish you struggle getting their liking for. There and numerous ways of adding super-foods to simple child friendly meals. Weekday mayhem might not be the best time for experiments but weekends are perfect. In our house, Sunday is Pancake Day and each Sunday a new colour is picked and the girls suggest ingredients to achieve that colour pancake i.e. spinach-green pancakes, beetroot-pink pancakes, sweet potato-orange pancakes, blueberries/blackberries-purple pancakes and so on.
Remember that children follow by example so whatever eating habits are practiced by parents, children are likely to follow. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind and a sane parent leads to a happy healthy child.
“15min Mom” is my way of guiding busy individuals, in many cases parents, to a health conscious and clean-eating diet without spending eternities prepping and cooking and meals ready in 15mins. Follow on Instagram 15min_mom and Facebook 15min Mom and for nutritional facts www.15minmom.com