If you’re a health-conscious parent, you know it’s not easy to keep junk food and sugary snacks from your kids. Sometimes it feels like they are attacking from every angle! From sales girls to grannies, from birthdays to daycare, it seems like everyone is trying to feed my kids sweets.
This summer my mum invited her friend Rosanna to stop by to meet the grandkids, my sons Dominic (age three) and Oliver (age one). Rosanna burst through the door and immediately thrust a package into my toddler’s hands. “It’s a treat for you! There’s a present inside!”.
I grabbed the box of Disney-character shaped chocolate popsicles and diverted Dominic’s attention to the transferable tattoo stickers inside. “Look, Honey. Rosanna got you tattoos!”.
A quick peek at the ingredients as I shoved them to the back of the freezer confirmed what I already knew: junk food is made from junk. Sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil, tricalcium phosphate, mono and diglycerides, cellulose gum, salt, polysorbate 80, polysorbate 65, carrageenan…
Later that evening I told Rosanna–a mother of two school-aged kids herself–you can’t just go giving junk food to toddlers without checking with the mums first!
“Of course I can!”, she said. “I knew you’d just take it away if I showed it to you. Besides, isn’t it better to give them little treats all the time? I always have cookies and soft drinks in the house; that way my kids know it’s no big deal and don’t gorge on that stuff when they encounter it at a friend’s.”
Huh?!? In case you haven’t yet guessed, this is not my logic. That just means they get highly-addictive junk and sugary foods in their system every day. How is that a good thing?
The way I see it, my kids will have a whole lifetime of having poor options thrust in their faces and having to make choices. I only have a few brief years during which I can (more or less) control what they eat to provide their growing bodies with nourishing foods, develop their palates to like healthy foods and educate them about what foods are healthy.
NOT EVEN BIRTHDAYS?
A week before Dominic turned three another mum from the daycare called me. “Our sons have their birthdays on the same day! Yippee! Let’s make a joint party at the daycare. I’ll bring the cupcakes!”
Ugh. Does it have to be cupcakes? With icing? Why don’t I bake them a low-sugar banana bread instead? I suggested. They’re only turning three…
“Oh don’t be such a killjoy. My kid already gets banana bread all the time; the point is give them a treat! Besides, they’re only mini-cupcakes, not full-sized ones.”
I brought fresh watermelon slices to the birthday party. Half the kids were just as excited to get watermelon, the other half turned up their noses at the idea of eating fresh fruit when there were cupcakes to be had.
Am I too militant? Maybe I should relax a little? I called to check in with my friend Giselle, a like-minded mum with toddlers. She had some good tackling fuel for me.
“I hate it when the kids have birthday parties at daycare; they just eat icing and junk and come home all wired! Why can’t they just get banana bread?” Whew! I am not alone.
IF IT LOOKS LIKE CHOCOLATE, AND TASTES LIKE CHOCOLATE…
Dominic’s best friend Ziggy provides some perspective on the matter. Ziggy is three, and is severely allergic to wheat, milk, eggs, peanuts and tree nuts. Closely monitoring his every bite is a matter of life and death and has become second nature to his parents. The good news is his mum is a terrific cook who makes him delicious home-cooked meals with lots of great veggies and protein. He might get roasted cauliflower and broiled salmon one day, and grilled zucchini and spicy chilli the next. And he LOVES it!
Although Ziggy’s allergies present a scary reality for his mum and dad, they’ve also been a powerful learning tool as we try to teach our toddler about food and nutrition. Our son knows that Ziggy can eat fruits, vegetables, meat and fish. We get to know ingredients and practice which foods belong in those categories by playing a game at mealtimes, “Can Ziggy eat this?”. And it’s just the best kind of peer pressure to be able to truthfully say: “Aren’t you going to finish your brussel sprouts? Ziggy LOVES brussel sprouts, you know. He would’ve gobbled up that whole plate up by now!”
Lucky for Ziggy, his mum’s repertoire goes beyond brussel sprouts and includes homemade baked sweets that he can enjoy. We were invited over the other day for wheat-free, egg-free, dairy-free, nut-free, sugar-free brownies (recipe below!). His mum says “Ziggy loves these, but poor kid doesn’t know anything else! We’ll let Dominic be the real judge.” Jury is in… Dominic loved them too! Fact is, any chocolate treat to enjoy with a pal is treat enough.
Best friends Ziggy and Dominic sharing a brownie moment
THE NOTION OF TREATS IS OURS, NOT THEIRS
As one of my personal training clients rightly pointed out, “As mums, we’re creating our kids’ relationship with food. My own mother used to say, ‘Come sit and have a nice piece of cake.’ Why nice? But that’s what I remember and hear in my head.”
The point is kids don’t have a preconceived notion that something is a treat; we adults create and foster that idea. On a recent cold Saturday, my husband and I took Dominic skating at an outdoor rink. Someone asked us if we were taking him for hot chocolate afterwards as a treat. Is skating a chore? Does it need to be offset with a pouch of artificial flavour, colour and dehydrated marshmallows mixed in hot water? My son has no such notion that skating is accompanied by hot chocolate. For a three year old boy, going skating with the family IS the treat.
So what’s a food-conscious parent to do when the world is trying to feed your kid icing and dehydrated marshmallows? Here are some ideas.
Cook with your kids
The cool thing about this is that it automatically builds in a host of advantages, namely that you’re cooking at home, leading by example, and teaching your kids about ingredients. Dominic got his own whisk, spatula, tongs and lettuce knife for Christmas and loves to “help” me cook. The trick lies in figuring out ahead of time which jobs you’re comfortable with them doing. Dom washes carrots; mummy peels and chops; Dom dumps them in the pot and stirs. I crack the eggs, Dom whisks and shakes in salt and pepper; mum pours the eggs in the frying pan, Dom can help stir with his own spatula.
Kids are usually happy to eat the same thing the grown-ups are eating, especially when they helped make it. So you get a little more rosemary sprinkled in the pot than anticipated. Big deal. I sprinkle the praise on thick, too. You should see Dom glow at the dinner table when I ask my husband, “Isn’t this stew delicious? Dom made it.”
If you cut it, they will come.
My friend Michelle is the mom, fashionista and avid baker behind the food and fashion blog Roasted. She always has some delicious fresh-baked cookies or cake around the house. It’s all homemade goodness, and she shares with her two-year old son in moderation, but her real secret to offsetting the treats is prepping healthy snacks in advance. She leaves out plates of carrot sticks or apple slices and finds that her son (and husband) will just as soon grab some of that as snack on baked sweets.
Define treats that aren’t sweets
A sticker goes a looong way. You get to help brush the snow off the car tomorrow morning! You get to skip shampoo tonight. Yes, you can wear socks to bed. One more episode of Zoboomafoo for you!
Sometimes a kid deserves a reward, and–let’s face it–sometimes a parent needs a bribe. Figure out some treats and rewards that work for you.
Pick sweets you ARE comfortable with
Give my kid a dried fig and you’ll blow his mind. A fresh date and you’ll have a best friend for life. When he wants raisins in his cereal or oatmeal (stone cut, ‘natch) I let him decide how many. He thinks he’s a real bandit, asking for “Three! No, no, four raisins! I want four!”. I sometimes even let him add another four (gasp!) and he looks the very definition of the cat that swallowed the canary.
Just have a cookie already!
And just to show it’s no big deal, some days just have a cookie already with your kid. For no particular reason. Not as a reward, a prize, or a bribe. Just cuz. Just a good ol’ shared cookie moment with mum.
About Maxine Grossman
Maxine Grossman, Personal Trainer, is a mum of two toddlers, personal trainer and nutrition-conscious food enthusiast in Montreal, Canada. When she’s not channeling her creativity into developing new workouts or new recipes, she’s using it to negotiate with her three year old, Dominic. Learn more at www.Facebook.com/MaxineGrossmanPT
RECIPE: FUDGY GLUTEN FREE CHOCOLATE CAKE
This recipe is from The Minimalist Baker.
PREP TIME: 15 mins
COOK TIME: 45 mins
TOTAL TIME: 1 hour
1/2 cup gluten free flour blend
1/2 cup oat flour (ground from Gluten Free oats)
2 Tbsp coconut flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tsp each baking powder & baking soda
1 medium ripe avocado
1.5 medium very ripe bananas
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp honey (or sub maple syrup, agave if vegan)
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1 cup unsweetened vanilla almond milk + 1 Tbsp white vinegar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
Position a rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F and butter an 8 inch round baking pan (or 8×8 rectangular pan) with vegan butter. Toss with some white rice flour (or other GF flour) to coat the edges and remove excess. Set aside.
Add avocado and banana to a large mixing bowl and mash.
Add honey (or maple syrup or agave), vanilla, coconut oil and stir. Measure out 1 cup almond milk and toss in the vinegar. Let set for a minute or two then add to the mixture and whisk.
Next add baking soda and powder and mix vigorously to combine.
Add cocoa powder, salt, gluten free flour blend, and coconut flour to a sifter (reserving oat flour since it’s more coarse) and sift over wet ingredients. Whisk vigorously to combine.
Last, add oat flour and stir once more. Taste a bit to see if it needs more honey. Then pour into the prepared baking pan and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.
Bake for 40-48 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cracks on the top are fine and actually good. The edges should be pulling away from the sides just slightly.
Remove from oven and let cool in the pan for 1 hour. Then, loosen the sides with a knife and place a plate on top and gently flip over. Repeat with another serving plate so it’s right-side up. Dust with cocoa powder (optional) and serve immediately. Refrigerate if keeping longer than a few days. Freeze for even longer storage.
Frosting is really not necessary. It’s very rich and fudgy on its own.
When you pull the cake out of the oven, it will look like it’s not done in the center. That’s fine, it is. Plus, it’s egg-free so it’s fine if it’s a little fudgy in the middle. However, cook for 5 minutes more if you’re concerned. Cooling in the pan for 1-2 hours will finish “cooking” it and will let it set.
Serving size: 1 piece Calories: 314 Fat: 14 g Carbohydrates: 48 g Sugar: 15 g Fiber: 10 g Protein: 6.5