raising healthy eaters: part 2

Last week I told you about a lecture I attended by healthy food guru Cynthia Lair. It was informative. Daunting. Overwhelming. Interesting. At times, hilarious. And more than anything, made me question what I feed myself and my family. If you haven’t already, read part 1 from the link above and then come back and join me right here.

The quick and dirty recap of last week: listen to what your body really needs when it’s hungry and eat a diet that mostly consists of whole foods (whole grains, animal proteins, nuts and seeds, dairy, fruits, and vegetables). And a reminder/disclaimer: this is what I gleaned from Cynthia’s talk. It’s not verbatim, and I’m not attempting to put words in her mouth. I’m simply relaying what I learned from her, and I hope that it’s helpful for you as it was for me.

Before I get right down into it, I have to tell you a quick little aside. Husband and I snuck a date night this weekend and took in, ironically enough, Date Night with Tina Fey and Steve Carell.

I may or may not have peed my pants a teeny, tiny bit.

But hilarity, wet pants and car chases aside, one scene reminded me of what we’re about to discuss. Tina Fey’s character is complaining about how tired she is as a mom and how every night getting her kids to put on their pajamas turns into a huge argument, as if every single night it’s an utter surprise that they have to wear pajamas. How many of you can relate?

When it comes to the food issue, this is something that I absolutely, positively want to avoid. I don’t want squabbles every night (or at all) about what we’re eating, why it’s edible (or inedible), why I have to try it, why I can’t have pizza, why can’t the dog eat it, and why Timmy’s mom lets him have all the Flavor-Blasted BBQ Ranch Cheetos he wants.

Thankfully, our lovely expert had some words of wisdom about this tornado that is dinnertime, and how to emerge with (most of) your sanity in tact.

So here goes. After the ravishing Miss Lair discussed what our diets should (ideally) look like, she got into some of the more pesky issues that we as parents face around the dinner table. She began by laying out a set of general guidelines that she recommends families to follow.

Setting boundaries around food for kids:

  1. Honor mealtimes. Eat together at the table as much as is humanly possible. Studies have shown that families eat more healthfully when they eat together at home, and also that kids raised this way have higher self-esteem and are at lower risk for eating disorders and substance abuse.
  2. Provide excellent choices. You’re the adult. Not them—they won’t make healthy choices on their own, especially given the amount of junk foods that media and society is throwing in their faces every day. Provide healthy meals at home, and they’ll learn what is good for them and what is not.
  3. Make one meal. If Ms. Lair stressed anything, it’s this. If they don’t want to eat it, tough cookies. Expect some tantrums if this is a new rule for your family. There might be crying, tortured looks of hunger, stomping feet and lots of pouting. But don’t give in and open up that box of mac n cheese. Let them know that their dinner will be waiting for them whenever they’re ready to eat it.
  4. That being said, make sure to include a “winner” at every meal: something they recognize and like. Even if it’s bread and butter that’s the constant on the table every night, she explained, kids will eventually try new things as long as there is something that is not foreign served alongside of it. Sort of a security blanket, if you will.
  5. Keep your mouth shut, eat your dinner, and enjoy it. No, not the kids: YOU. Kids learn by example. If they see you eating and enjoying healthy foods, they’ll do the same.
  6. NO bribing, rewarding, or punishing with food. Yep, this means no “you’ll get your dessert once you clean your plate.” Not only can it lead to eating disorders, but it teaches them that eating is a game and that the parents are the players.
  7. Set clear rules about treats and “non-nutritious” meals. If you go order from Pizza Hut on fridays, set a clear boundary: this meal is only on fridays. This will prevent arguing and let your kids know what to expect when it comes to treats.
  8. 1 through 7 aside, listen and let them know that you are listening. When they say “I think broccoli is the devil,” acknowledge their statement and move on. No arguing, but let them know that they’ve been heard.
  9. My blogging software is automatically changing this list into roman numerals. And I apologize. I can’t help it.

Got all that? I sure don’t. Have you seen my daughter’s face? Let’s take a look:

Are you going to be the one to tell her that she can’t have that chocolate chip cookie until friday? Good. Cuz I don’t want to take the fall.

Even though you’ve got rules laid out and tricks up your sleeve, Miss Lair explains, you’ve still got to serve food that generally tastes good. After all, you’ll be eating it too. And when it comes to those pesky green things on the side of the plate that we like to call “vegetables,” as parents we can run into a bit of a dilemma. We’ve got to make them taste great. And here’s how.

Making vegetables attractive:

  • Butter and spices are totally allowed! They add to the flavor. No one says that you have to eat the green stuff only raw or steamed. If it’s a going in your mouth, for pete sakes, make it taste good. If the rest of your meal is relatively healthy, you can afford a little butter on your broccoli.
  • Invite your child to help you pick out and cook new vegetables. If they grab an eggplant from the produce aisle, roast it up. If they like the look of red Swiss chard, throw it in the frying pan. It will, if nothing else, keep vegetables interesting. And they might find one that they love!

But for every toddler who will eat spinach by the truckload, there are some who won’t touch a green food (or many foods, for that matter) with a ten-foot Lego. But Cynthia believes that picky eaters are preventable, and here’s how:

  • Picky eaters are created, and it starts from their first taste of “solids.” When you feed babies pre-packaged foods out of a jar, it teaches them that they get separate foods and that they taste bland.
  • “Kid food” in general (in restaurants, grocery stores, cafeterias) is poorer quality and and less healthy. When you go out to restaurants, don’t give them the kid’s menu—let them choose whatever they want from the regular one.
  • Don’t ask “what do you want to eat?” unless you have a short-order cook on staff. Give them two choices: this or that. It will prevent arguing, only allow for healthy choices, and make you less crazed around mealtimes. Plus, too many decisions is not great for kids; it can be overwhelming and stressful.

Whew. I know that’s a lot of info. And a whole heck of a lot to take into consideration when you’re more worried about running out of diapers than what to put on the dinner table. But I hope that Cynthia and I gave you something, for lack of a better phrase, to chew on.

And here are the take home messages that she’d like you to remember:

  1. Be a good role model.
  2. Read labels.
  3. Eat foods that could be prepared at home in your own kitchen. If you have an in-house chemical lab, that means that you can make all of the Flavor-Blasted BBQ Ranch Cheetos you want.

And here are the take home messages that I’d like you to remember:

  1. I had too much sushi for dinner. Or not enough. I can never tell.
  2. I’m not an expert on this subject. If you’d like to get your info directly from Cynthia Lair, who actually is an expert, you can read her blog and watch her cooking videos right here.
  3. Butter is necessary in life.
  4. Make one meal. For pete sakes.
  5. I love Steve Carell. But I love Mark Wahlberg much, much more.
  6. Roman numerals are a stupid, stupid way to make a list.

Oh, and here are some related links that are cool and awesome:

I love ya’ll. And I’m sorry for spewing you with hippie propaganda for the umpteenth time. I promise that my next post will be filled with mayonnaise of Paula Deen-esque proportions.



  1. Thanks for this post! I’m not a mother, yet, but I plan to have a house full of kids someday, and this (‘this’ as in how to feed my family) is something I am ALREADY worrying about, especially since I have struggled w/ food and my weight my entire life and that is definitely not a legacy I want to pass on to my kids. I grew up in a house w/ whole food, home cooked, sit down dinners every night, and I intend to have the same thing in my own house someday, but not using food as an incentive, etc will be something to remember!

  2. Sister-in-law says:

    i think you bring up an interesting point that a lot of people struggle with…how cute their kids are and how they don’t want to deny them stuff that will make them happy. of course, what makes someone happy in the short term can make them very UNhappy in the long term. it’s our responsibility as parents to recognize this and set our kids on the right path early. but damn, it’s hard, especially when your kid is as cute as lucy!

    • Evolet0680 says:

      I love it! You are so right! It is SO HARD!

      My father used to sing us a song that said had one of those lines: “no discipline is pleasant at the time.”

      It’s so true– I never want to discipline the baby, but I want him to be a respectful, gracious, strong man–and so I enforce with as much love as possible, the rules.

      Great comment!

  3. Thank you so much for this!! My daughter is almost two and has recently been introduced to the world of junk food. Your/your lecturer’s tips about creating rules about when you can have them is a great idea! She’s gone on a lot of food strikes recently, instead requesting “Oreos, animal crackers, and goldfish”. Totally my nephew’s influence, argghh. However, I’m at a loss for coming up with a good food rule about treats myself… have you or anyone you know come up with any toddler friendly rules that you care to share r.e. sweets specifically? If it’s not “dessert after you finish your dinner”, what is it?

    • rainyd01 says:

      I wish I could say that I’m strict about sweets but I’m not. My daughter has a major sweet tooth, especially for chocolate. I just try to balance days where she gets “real” dessert (ice cream, cookies) with ones where she gets none or something healthier like fruit or yogurt. There’s often a lot of crying when she doesn’t get what she wants, but she’s 2 🙂

  4. Evolet0680 says:

    I love your article. I was turned on to it by a friend who cooked me an amazing rosemary gorgonzola chicken last night a la rainy day gal!
    My issue has always been watching my older sister feed her son off the kids menu’s and make separate food for him. I never understood why he couldn’t eat what we were eating, to some extent. He is almost 3! Now I feel more like I am not off the wall in my thinking–and that he really doesn’t need another glass of milk, thank you very much! So when I watch him, we’ll stick to Auntie’s meal plans–fresh fruit, granola (he loves that), black beans, green beans, perhaps a piece of cheese, chicken or mahi if he wants the meat, and lots of conversation about how his toy story cup has ice cold water in it (not really-cool to room temp) and is a better cup than his cars cup which is dirty and in the sink. Love your posts.

    • rainyd01 says:

      You’re such a good auntie! Ah, the conversations about cups. Mine prefers the pink cup without the lid when there’s milk in it and with the lid when there’s water in it…go figure. Thanks for the comments! Much appreciated!

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