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February 20, 2008

No More Goldfish in this House

GoldfishI want to give a big shout out to last week's Washington Post Health section when I read about the U.S. Department of Agriculture's M.O.M. Project starting this spring. I'm never sure what national campaigns really do except bring awareness to their target audience, but this one seems well worth the effort in my opinion since good nutrition is such a good investment.

This campaign is targeted at moms--the gatekeepers to the family food chain. But what struck me is it's more than just talking about what we're eating, but also how. The campaign--led by Brian Wansink, the new head of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the Agriculture Department--is aimed at transforming the way the American family eats. Well, the obesity issue of Americans aside, it's true that we do eat like crap. I say that in all honesty based merely on observating, personally, how other cultures practice the 'art' of mealtime. Something, we as Americans do not. We grab our coffee and run. We eat in the car or standing up. We eat at our desks while checking email. Perhaps we don't really ever eat a meal, it's just foraging all day. As a result, we eat the wrong things and probably too much.

Recently, our household has been on a food overhaul since this past August when I got tired of finding orange Goldfish in every nook and cranny conceivable to man. While it's only been six months, we've really started to change our family eating habits for the most part. For my husband and I it wasn't too difficult since we have always been good about making smart food choices, but this was a challenge feeding the kids.

My son has always been a picky eater and even though our house is full of organic food, it was not necessarily nutritious food. I was starting to feel bad that dinners were pizza, chicken nuggets, meatballs and mac and cheese. No matter how "healthy" they make it, a child probably shouldn't consume this stuff every day.

The first thing I did was throw out the snack food -- Goldfish, Wheat Thins, fruit chews, Pirate Booty all disappeared. I stocked up on fruit (strawberries, oranges, bananas, apples), cheese, peanut butter, yogurt (plain), raisins, etc. Once the snacky snacks were gone, my kids realized they had to make a decision. To eat the healthy stuff, which I try to make fun, or pass up snack all together.

At first, they passed up the snacks. Which left them a bit hungrier, but more willing to sit down and eat their mealtime food.  Almost simultaneously, I made a conscious effort to get make one dinner for everyone to eat. Not only is this healthier, but it makes mealtimes easier for me and more meaningful if we ALL sit down to eat it together. (Well, for the most part since my husband usually doesn't get home until after the kids are in bed.)

So what do I serve for dinner? I had to do some readjusting on that front as well. While I enjoy eating salads and spicy food, I figured it might be too much to ask my kids who NEVER eat this stuff to start eating that. Instead, I began gathering recipes filled with pasta or rice, meat and veggies. This way I was sure that everyone would eat someone from the menu. Or serving meat, which I know they will eat with other veggies. Slowly, I have seen a change in their eating habits. I will find them going into the frig for apples or carrot sticks. They will ask for yogurt with fruit or a some pretzels with peanut butter. It was a slow change, but an important one for us.

And even beyond the food is how we eat it. That has probably been the most difficult part of this. Making sure the books, toys and TV are off before we all sit down. We've been trying to make at least one meal a day an "event" more than just a way to consume food.

Even with all of this, I feel we can still do better. I want my kids to not just be good eaters, but make good eating decisions in the future. I wondered what other things moms do to try to improve eating habits in their households--perhaps making lunches for their kids instead of eating the school lunches, planning a weekly menu or skipping the drive through.

Linda writes about feeding her monkeys at Monkey Business.

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