Real Food Challenges: Your Questions Answered, Part Two {and a bonus for your school!}

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Real Food Challenges - Your Questions Answered

After 8 years on the real food road, I feel like I’ve picked up quite a few strategies and tools in my tool belt to help me along the journey. My favorite part of writing a blog is being able to share my experiences with a wider audience than just my friends and neighbors, and I’m always hopeful that I can help fill a need or give someone a magical new idea that makes their life easier.

A few months back on Facebook, I asked:

As you transitioned to real food, what did you find to be the biggest challenge?”

My second favorite part of writing a blog, by the way, is how humbling it is to realize how little I know about things when the vast audience starts sharing their advice as well! I always learn a lot and love that we can share ideas with each other, ’cause that’s way better than my own fumbling around. So I invite you to chime in via the comments and share your best strategies as well!

In part one of the Real Food Challenges series, we covered the all-oppressing TIME issue, when husbands aren’t on board, and breaking the habit of grabbing boxed food for sides or parts of recipes. In fact, you’ve got to read these heart-warming reader comments (two of them) about label-reading husbands – makes my heart flutter for those wives!

Other major issues on that Facebook thread included:

  • kids
  • eating on the go (especially with little ones)
  • old temptation, habits
  • sugar
  • learning to cook and prioritizing it, knowing what ingredient does what
  • healthy recipes that taste good – can’t afford to waste ingredients and time on flops!
  • sourcing real food
  • eating out
  • money/budget
  • too much information to sift through
  • meal planning
  • extended family and culture of treats everywhere, school and the same

I expected that I’d hit more of them later in January a week after that first post…and you see how well that worked out. I’m time-challenged in all areas of my life! There’s just so much to say, so little time to type… Winking smile

Today we’re going to tackle:

  • eating on the go (especially with little ones)
  • how to get kids to eat your healthy foods
  • getting kids excited about cooking and passing on your know-how

This post is generously sponsored by Mighty Nest, where you can find a plethora of lunch packing supplies and containers for snacks on the go, all made of safe materials.

Mighty Nest Gives Back to Schools!

When you work hard to make wholesome food to take on the go, it really makes sense to choose safe, reusable containers to pack it in. MightyNest offers an unparalleled selection of healthy on-the-go gear, and 15% of your purchase can support your school!

We had a conversation on Facebook not long ago about Box Tops for Education, and how it’s such a bummer that those of us who choose to eschew processed foods end up not able to contribute to our schools in that way. Our kids are often disappointed when they can’t participate in the collection challenges (which are usually rewarded with a pizza party, of course).

Yes, toilet paper, zippered bags and tissues have Box Tops on them now, but the quantity just isn’t much to sneeze at. (Oh! I didn’t even plan that pun! Heh heh…good one.)

I think MightyNest’s new schools program is the coolest thing since…homemade unsliced bread. Winking smile You can earn cash for your school in two ways:

  1. By ordering products from MightyNest – 15% goes directly to any school you choose.
  2. By completing pledges or little online tasks, you can earn points for your school too. Particularly if you attend a school that would sign up to officially participate via the PTA, you can get additional cash, including up to a $5000 prize, just for participating. (You can see some examples if you click on a school name in the right column at the Mighty Next For Schools page.

MN has a special challenge just for KS readers who are ready to pack healthier food on the go – pledge to consider using healthier containers, and sign up to support your school:

Let me know if you have any questions about the program and I’ll try to answer them – I’ve had my own school signed up for about a month. I would think if you have a school with either a ton of parent participation or a lot of naturally-minded people anyway, this would be really great to present to the parent group and get rolling as a whole-school fundraiser.

MightyNest sponsored this post because they’re really committed to spreading the word about how they’re spreading their profits. I love their philosophy!

How to Take Real Food on the Go

Chicken Nuggets and French Fries lunch FB

I pack two lunches every day and often end up with a snack or even lunch on the road with the third child, a 2-and-a-half-year-old who could eat every 90 minutes and be happy as a clam. I even wrote a book about packing lunches (Find The Healthy Lunch Box here) and another one all about making healthy snacks for on the go (It’s called, appropriately, Healthy Snacks to Go), so I know a little about this issue – and the KS community is right, it’s not easy!

Hannah said:

“The biggest challenge is being on the road with toddlers. It takes so much planning when we are away from home for lunch 2-3 days a week.”

It’s very true that there’s more planning/effort involved in packing a lunch than going out to the nearest fast food restaurant with a kids’ meal, but I think you CAN make a real food lunch just about as quick as a packaged food packed lunch.

Particularly for toddlers, who love the concept of “nibble trays” where there are a number of small servings of finger foods in different compartments, the right container can make all the difference. I love our Lunchbots, which we got from Mighty Nest:

Fish salad, spicy chicken and rice, grilled potatoes (1) (317x475)

The squares serve 2 purposes:

  1. They give the parent a template to “fill in.” There’s something about being able to avoid the hassle of figuring out which baggies/containers/etc. you want to use for various items that makes lunch packing feel smoother in my head. It’s like if I have 4 empty squares in front of me it’s a roadmap to getting the task done and helps me through the mental block of, “I just don’t know what to pack today.”
  2. They’re fun and convenient for the kids. Kids like compartments, what can I say? Plus all their food is separated and in front of them at once, and they’re compact enough that even toddlers can balance one on their lap in the car and do fine with it.

What do we fill the squares with? Think finger foods, simple stuff, mostly – again, toddlers in particular aren’t looking for anything gourmet:

  • carrot sticks
  • cucumber wheels
  • raisins
  • Clementine orange (peeled and separated)
  • banana wheels
  • apple slices
  • cheese cubes
  • chunks of leftover roasted chicken
  • egg salad or chunks of hard-boiled egg (although messier for the car)
  • frozen peas
  • a mini muffin (or full sized will just fit)
  • berries, grapes
  • leftover pancakes, made into sandwiches with nut butter
  • leftovers in general that kid will eat cold
  • homemade crackers (or we like Blue Diamond Nut Thins (found on Amazon) as a compromise processed food)
  • any other veggies, fruits, nuts and seeds, or meats that your kids enjoy!

I’m telling you, the squares give you direction. It’s like creating your own homemade Lunchable!

And these don’t have to take forever to put together. The key is thinking ahead to be efficient.

It starts with the grocery store – shop with food on the go in mind and make sure you have enough cucumbers, carrots, pea pods, cherry tomatoes, easy-to-eat fruit, ETC. – whatever your kids like – to get through the week and make some of those squares simple.

Dinner prep and cleanup is the next time to think ahead. Cut more raw veggies than you need for dinner, and then as you’re cleaning up dinner, start filling your squares already (or lunch, or afternoon snack, or whenever you might have some of those foods out anyway).

Now before I give away all the tips in my lunch book, I’ll just leave you with some of the best lunch-packing and snack-wrangling tips from past posts at KS:

And I need to update you on the lunch box review I shared last fall.

We’ve now had the Ziploc brand divided containers for about 6 months, and even though we only use them once a week or less, one has already cracked (in the care of my uber-careful kindergarten girl).

So now we have one box and 2 lids – less than helpful to pack two lunches at once, and the breakage confirms my expected drawback from the original review: longevity is a problem. It’s true that all the stainless versions are quite a bit more expensive, but if you have the $20 or so to invest up front, I can tell you that we’ve had one going strong for 3 years of almost constant use, so it will come out to pennies per lunch, and I anticipate them lasting quite a few more years. When John hits kindergarten, I’ll be investing in one or two more quads (found on Amazon).

If you order Lunchbots, I highly recommend sticking with the stainless steel lid, no colors. I know colors are fun for kids, but if there’s no paint, it’s dishwasher safe, and nothing will flake off. The green one we’ve had the longest is now leaving green paint inside the lunchboxes each time we use it.

Not Just for Lunch Packing!

If you don’t have to pack lunches but your problem is other food on the go opps – baseball games, running to the store mid-morning, or toddlers needing food anytime they’re away from home for over 45 minutes, I think all this advice still applies:

  • Shop smart with packable ideas in mind (string cheese!!!)
  • Think ahead – make some muffins, bars, or pre-chopped veggies or washed fruit
  • Have containers that kids enjoy/can use easily available
  • Pack ahead – grabbing food when you have to leave in 60 seconds is really hard; putting a few things in baggies or containers the night before makes it a cinch (I’m going to write that on my own forehead in permanent marker!)

What other tips or struggles do you encounter with food on the go, especially with kids?

Getting Kids to Eat – and Cook! – Healthy Food

Healthy Picnic with Kids

We addressed husbands in the first “Real Food Challenges” answers, and this time we’ll talk a little about kids. Plenty of you have normal “picky eaters” or just stubborn or “strong-willed” children who won’t eat Healthy-Food-A – or just won’t eat it on your terms. I hear you, moms. It’s not easy!

Honestly though, eating is part of parenting discipline just like sibling fighting, being polite, doing homework, and going to bed on time with brushed teeth.

Not that any of those are simple, but it’s important to think of eating in the same category – this is not a separate battle you fight with your kids. It’s just another page in the, “I’m the parent, you’re the child, and I know what’s good for you,” book.

You decide on the rules and choose to be consistent.

Are you going to allow children who don’t care for dinner to have other options? Will you provide those options or allow the child to make a PB&J sandwich (only, every time) if they choose not to eat dinner? Or will you say, “I’m sorry you don’t care for the main course tonight. There are plenty of cut vegetables with dip, and breakfast will be served in the morning.”

I’m a big fan of the last one.

If you don’t like the food here, you eat what is on the table and have another opportunity to fill your belly at the next meal. We usually have a number of items to choose from at a given dinner, so no one will starve (even if they don’t choose any of them. No one will starve missing one meal!). I don’t allow 5 servings of biscuits if someone doesn’t like the soup though.

Here are the stock phrases we use at our house:

  • You may say, “This isn’t my favorite.” We don’t say, “I don’t like this food!” or complain about dinner in our house.
  • “We can talk about seconds after you finish your firsts.” (Hence, only one biscuit if you won’t touch your soup.)
  • You have to take one “no-thank-you-bite” before you may say, “No, thank you,” to the meal.
  • “Would you like X, Y or Z for snack?” (with all three being healthy options) [insert child complaint] “Those are the only options.”
  • The time for snack is over, kitchen closed. (at about 4:15 p.m.) And for my toddler: It’s only 8:45 a.m. You just had breakfast. I’m sorry you’re hungry, but you need to eat at meals. Snack will be in an hour – I’ll set a timer and you can listen for the beep.” (This cuts down on him asking every 5 minutes once he gets the hang of the timer.)
  • “Did you eat enough to be satisfied?” (I try not to say, “Are you full?” but rather, “Are you satisfied?” when a child asks to leave the table.)
  • In response to a whiny “I’m hungryyyyyyy!” Good! I’m making dinner/we’re heading home for lunch/etc. You’re supposed to be hungry now, so that works out great.

Those may not be your style and won’t work for everyone, but I do think it’s important to have a system and be consistent, whatever philosophy you choose. And if you don’t have much junk food available in the house, kids will eventually have to eat healthy food or they get too hungry!

Leah separates pumpkin seeds

Sometimes you have external forces working against you though.

Here’s Heather’s thorn-in-the-side:

“I still have trouble getting my oldest son to eat what I cook. He just refuses to eat and then eats junk next door at my in-laws’.”

I almost hate to say it, but this is really just a discipline issue. If the son was going to the in-laws’ and watching rated-R movies, the response would be clear. If the son was driving around recklessly in a car, the response would be clear. Heather can try to talk to her in-laws, but it’s probably not going to work.

My recommendation is no visits to Grandma’s unless you’ve eaten a full serving of the meal prior. Or no visits for three days every time he eats junk. I know food has this different emotional feeling, but it really is like any other parenting issue. Consistency and boundaries are key. (But it stinks that the grandparents are so close and feed him junk food! I’m really sorry you’re in that situation, Heather.) Sad smile

I talked a little more about kids-and-food strategies in this blended soup recipe post inspired by the book French Kids Eat Everything (found on Amazon) which I highly recommend! Also in 2 of my 3 real food Google Hangouts, the guests addressed picky eating or feeding kids. Check out the videos and the helpful links for Baby Steps to Real Food and The Unprocessed Day from just last week.

John helps make guacamole

A few readers were also curious about how to teach kids to cook healthy food, and I have two quick resources and one tip since I’m still learning that overall strategy myself (my oldest is just about nine):

  • Resource: Real Food Kids online course, taught by true masters of getting kids in the kitchen joyfully! I’m so inspired by the involvement in these families.
  • Tip: Just get them in the kitchen – when you’re not rushed or stressed or trying a new recipe, involve your kids. Period. Teach them age-appropriate skills and keep inviting them as often as you can.

kids in the kitchen - cutting pineapple to dehydrate

  • Another cool resource I almost forgot I wrote: A Real Food Pyramid for Kids – ways to explain healthy food to little ones that make sense. I need to re-read this post myself!
  • Idea: A kids’ recipe contest! Michelle Obama is sponsoring this Healthy Lunchtime Challenge for kids ages 8-12. My son is pretty jazzed about trying (although we need to sit down and strategize).If your child isn’t interested in entering, just sitting down with them and reading the cookbooks put together the past two years would be inspiring, for them to hear how other kids get excited about healthy eating. And maybe they’d want to try some of the recipes and would authentically want to be in the kitchen with you!

    I hope a ton of you enter (by April 5th), unless you’re from Michigan. Then you should just read the cookbooks. Winking smile

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10 Bites of Conversation So Far

  1. says

    I get frustrated by the “kids won’t starve if they miss a meal” argument. Maybe other people’s kids are fine if they miss a meal, but my almost-four-year-old isn’t. He’s always willing to miss one — he never asks for anything other than what I serve for dinner — but some days he simply won’t eat. He goes to bed hungry, then wakes up at four or five in the morning CRABBY. It’s a feature of his personality that the crabbier he is, the pickier he is, so it’s guaranteed that whatever it is I’ve planned for breakfast, he doesn’t want it and will throw a colossal fit for something that isn’t in the house at all. And then he rolls on from one meal to the next, rejecting food and having giant meltdowns over every.single.thing because he is hungry. The last time this happened, it lasted TWO DAYS. Constant meltdowns, barely eating, up way too early each morning. Ugh.

    So what do we do? Bribery. It’s pretty simple — we can’t afford to feed him only his favorite foods (he likes fruit and cheese best and would always choose them if he could, but those are expensive) and we can’t let him go to bed hungry. So he gets to watch a cartoon with Daddy if he eats all his dinner. Sometimes we have to physically spoon-feed him. It isn’t usually that he hates the food, just that for whatever reason he doesn’t feel like eating, and he usually does cooperate with spoon-feeding. I hate both bribery and spoon-feeding a kid his age, but they seem like the lesser of two evils! Sometimes, if I know the meal is iffy, I give him the world’s tiniest portion and offer him something he likes, like a muffin, for dessert if he eats it all. Anything to get him in bed with a full tummy!

    I’ve also learned that my kids are not adventurous at dinner. No way. They are tired and difficult at dinnertime. So if I’m going to serve something they haven’t had before, we have it for lunch. Or I have it for my lunch and give them something different — they always want bites of what I’ve got, and I can introduce them to a new food on a no-pressure basis. Lunch is also when I push the veggies; we don’t have meat at lunch often, so it’s usually a veggie-centered meal. That way I can let four peas or one bite of spinach go as the “vegetable” at dinner and know my kids are still getting veggies.

    And I often let them have bites of dinner as it’s cooking, starting usually with the vegetable I’m chopping up. Somehow if they’re not at the table, they’re more willing to try it!

    Hope that helps for anyone whose kids, like mine, really CAN’T miss a meal.

    • Karen says

      Wow. Thank you for sharing. This is my 3 year old to a T. I was thinking I was the only one out there with these problems. If I tell my son “you eat this or you don’t eat,” he calls my bluff every time. He can easily skip lunch and dinner and by bedtime I’m worried about him. Sending him to bed with nothing in his tummy doesn’t teach him anything, it just punishes me because he wakes up super early. Plus I don’t like him going without because he has always struggled with weight gain. We have just now hit the 50th percentile. Oh, and I spoonfed him a banana yesterday :) I give him special food all the time. Do I like it? No. I just try to really limit the junk in our house so his special food is still somewhat acceptable. Again, thanks for sharing. It can be hard to talk about when you feel everyone else has it together.

      • says

        I’m so glad you found camaraderie in Sheila’s story – her ideas are just great, aren’t they? You hit the nail on the head with this: “it just punishes me because he wakes up super early…”

        Yep, that’s when you have to be more creative! As long as all the food is healthy food, you’re still winning, he just doesn’t know it, so then you’re really winning. 😉 Stubborn kids are ROUGH to handle, I hear ya. It may sound like I have it all together with my stock phrases there, but believe me, reality dinner at the Kimball house is much less calm than that bulleted list makes it sound! I only have about 47% of it together. 😉

        Stay strong, remember that it won’t last forever (here’s hoping at least) and keep up with the good choices – :) Katie

      • says

        I think that kids under maybe four years old don’t actually know that eating will stop them from feeling so hungry and awful! The hungrier they get, the less they want to eat, because they don’t know the food will make them feel better. It might be different with older kids, but younger ones WILL in fact starve themselves sometimes. I even read a story of an 18-month-old who didn’t eat for several days, out of what her parents thought was willfulness, but what I imagine was probably a lack of understanding about her need to eat. We need to keep this in mind and not try to push our kids too far with food.

    • says

      I love how well you have your finger on the pulse of you own children and their personalities, and I know you’re feeding just the good stuff, so there are many right ways to the same end, right?

      If my child woke up crabby at 4 a.m., I would say this exact same thing: “I hate both bribery and spoon-feeding a kid his age, but they seem like the lesser of two evils!” I’ve spoon-fed kids who are way too old if they’ll eat their soup too! :) I think you’re doing wonderfully and I’m so glad you shared this; kind of puts me in my place that some kids might starve! It’s good to know this side of the story. Keep up the good work!!

      :) Katie

  2. Jennifer says

    Thank you so much for recommending the book French Kids Eat Everything in previous posts. I am almost finished with it and have found it so helpful and reassuring. Toddlerhood and the whole eating thing have been very difficult and stressful for me, but the book has helped me to approach the food thing with better strategies and a better attitude.

    Sheila, you’re not using food as bribery, so I don’t see any problem with allowing a cartoon if they eat. Also, stated in the book I mentioned above, what you do with the muffin or dessert is teaching a logical consequence, or natural order–we eat ____ then dessert. That’s the goal, so bravo to you. And, I can’t skip a meal myself–just ask my husband what an incredible hulky person I turn into–so if my son gets the refusal bug at dinner, I never let him have what he wants,usually snacks, but I’ll wait a while and offer him something I know he’ll like but is healthy, maybe a banana or homemade soaked granola, so he goes to bed with something in his tummy. Plus, I don’t want to nurse all night! Not after 2 years anyway. Hope I’ve helped you feel a little better and not so alone in your struggles.

    Oh, the grandparents…don’t get me started!

  3. Karen says

    Thank you for your encouraging reply to my previous comment. Got inspired and made real tomato soup for lunch and HE ATE IT!! Your blog makes a difference. Thanks again.

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