Today was the third field trip I've been on with Alex's Kindergarten class this year and I'm starting to notice a pattern that scares me. A lot of parents pack their children CRAP for lunch. Four out five kids were eating Lunchables! (Have you SEEN the ingredients in that stuff? I briefly looked at the side of one the packages today and my spine started shuddering involuntarily.)
Of course, this is one of my hot-button parenting issues. I'm fat. Dave is fat. Our combined genetics include not only a propensity for obesity, but for diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and even asthma. By choosing to procreate with each other, we've basically served our children a big bucket of genetic shit soup.
So I feel like it's our job to do EVERYTHING we possibly can to prevent future health problems. This is one of the main reasons why my kids never drank formula and why I breastfed them until they were almost old enough to read.
It's also the reason why we insist on feeding our children an ALL NATURAL diet.
They are gonna get crap EVERYWHERE else they eat - and we let them eat McDonald's and birthday cake and never say no to them when we're out in public or with friends - but the food we buy and prepare in our home is ALWAYS 100% natural. It's the LEAST we can do for them. And it's a lot easier than you'd think.
So instead of complaining about what everyone else is feeding their kids, I figured I'd just show you what I do feed mine. And for the record, we're currently surviving on unemployment income so we're living proof that you CAN actually feed your children an all natural diet on a budget.
WAFFLES - But never Eggo brand. Eggo waffles are filled with preservatives and even food coloring. Store brand waffles, like Fred Meyer brand and even Wal-Mart brand home-style waffles are not only cheaper, but totally natural. You just have to read the labels to find them. My kids love Maple syrup, but we only buy the pure kind and apparently there was a bad harvest this year because it costs double what it used to and we can't afford it. My kids are happy to substitute Cinnamon and sugar, Grandma's homemade jelly or even a light dusting of brown sugar instead. Unfortunately, neither of my kids likes peanut butter, but that would be a good healthy alternative.
CEREAL - We always buy our cereal at Trader Joe's. They have all natural corn flakes and the Kashi Mighty Bites are usually a big hit. 2% milk. Half a banana. Nothing's easier.
OATMEAL - We either buy the big canister and prepare it with milk and brown sugar or I serve them the Quaker oatmeal packets (also made with milk instead of water), but only Cinnamon & Spice or Apples & Cinnamon because those are the only two all-natural flavors.
EGGS - My kids aren't big egg eaters for breakfast, but I try to sneak them in a couple times a week. Genoa loves egg burritos - an all-natural tortilla with melted Tillamook cheddar and a scrambled egg. Alex loves "sunny" eggs, which are just eggs over-easy. Both of them love egg sandwiches with cheese and sausage (Jimmy Dean now makes an all natural tube of breakfast sausage that you can find anywhere - even Wal-Mart). It's hard to find all-natural English muffins and tortillas, but we stock up every time we're at Trader Joe's and then freeze them. Of course, hot dogs & eggs are always a hit!
PANCAKES - From scratch. That's what The Joy of Cooking is for.
Alex always gets at least two things in his lunch - a main item and a snack. But that's ALL he gets because I've learned that the more I pack, the less he eats. And there's nothing like a kid coming home from school starving like a lunatic to make you start googling for straight-jackets.
For snacky stuff, he gets something from this list in every lunch:
- cut up strawberries
- mandarin oranges (packed in water, not syrup)
- canned pears or peaches (again, no added sugar)
- a chunk of cheese (I tend to avoid pre-packaged cheese and just slice a hunk off the block.)
- a yogurt (Yo-kids organic in a tube or those little trader joe's cups. I just noticed that Yoplait has a new line of all natural yogurt too. Go-gurt SOUNDS good and is expertly marketed, but it has food coloring and other crap my kids don't need to put into their bodies.)
- organic fruit snacks (FruitABu and Annie's organic are DELICIOUS, but expensive and something I give for special treats only. Florida's Natural makes all natural fruit snacks and I think Welch's sells a big box of mixed fruit snacks that are natural as well.)
- dried apricots
- peanuts (or other nuts if your kids will eat them, mine won't)
- whole grain goldfish crackers (surprisingly all natural!)
- unsweetened applesauce
- Stauffer's brand animal cookies (I think they taste like paste, but they're all natural and the kids actually like them.)
- a breakfast bar (Trader Joe's or Whole Paycheck has more kinds than you can count.)
For a BEVERAGE, he gets:
- or, uh, water
I buy it in those mini-bottles and refill them a few times before recycling them. My kids RARELY drink juice because I just don't think it's a good source of calories or nutrition. I would give Alex milk money, but two things happen when I do that - 1) he only EVER buys chocolate milk and 2) he doesn't finish his lunch because he's too full of chocolate milk. So he gets water. And I have yet to hear a complaint about it.
Alex also gets a MAIN item, something with protein and starch to stick to his bones. Here are the usual suspects:
MANRITO - A manrito? Is a manly burrito. (Dave has an advanced degree in Marketing To Children). It's also Alex's favorite thing to take for school lunch. It's very basic: an all-natural tortilla, a little mayo, a layer of sliced turkey and few strips of cheddar or jack. Roll it up, cut in half and throw it in a sandwich bag. We buy Tillamook cheese (natural AND local) and Hormel has an entire line of all natural lunch meats, which are are damn good and available at Wal-Mart to boot.
TURKEY SANDWICH - exactly the same as above, but I use all-natural whole wheat bread instead of a tortilla. Most stores will carry at least ONE all-natural wheat bread, but you have to read the packages because bread is usually full of preservatives and corn syrup. Sourdough bread is more likely to be all natural as well, but it's less nutritious.
HOMEMADE LUNCHABLES - This is what I use those tiny snack-sized bags for. A bag of Goldfish crackers, a bag of sliced cheese, a bag of sliced up ham or turkey or salami. If you're feeling extra creative, you can pull out a cookie cutter and make heart-shaped cutouts with the meat and cheese (and feed the scraps to the dog) (or yourself). Crackers are tough to find all-natural. You're pretty much stuck going to Whole Paycheck or Trader Joe's if you want something Ritz-like but without any corn syrup in it.
PB&J - Wheat bread, all natural peanut butter and grandma's homemade plum jelly. (It's easy to find all natural jam and jelly, just read the labels). I also recently found a CHOCOLATE peanut butter at Fred Meyer that's all natural. Of course, my kids hate it (MORE FOR ME, NOM NOM).
PASTA - Leftover mac 'n cheese (Annies organic) in a thermos FTW.
OTHER STUFF MY KIDS LOVE
CHICKEN NUGGETS - Tyson chicken is mostly all natural. Just check the packages.
CHICKEN BURRITOS - I take a Tyson chicken patty, nuke it, cut it up and roll it up in a burrito with cheese and a little mayo and my kids think I'm a rockstar.
MAC 'N CHEESE - Annie's white cheddar shells in the purple box. I also love to make it from scratch myself.
HOT DOGS - Trader Joe's has EXCELLENT all-natural all-beef hot dogs, but I'm starting to see other brands popping up with nitrate-free labels. We serve these to our kids in rolled up tortillas because hot dog buns are full of preservatives.
HAMBURGERS - we buy lean frozen hamburger patties and doctor them up with sliced cheddar and serve them on whole wheat bread with the crust cut off. Alex eats two.
PIZZA MUFFINS - all natural sourdough English muffins, pasta sauce, mozzarella, happy children.
I think I've posted more than few dinner menus here, but I tend to cook pretty traditionally - meat/fish/chicken, plus a veggie, plus a starch (rice/potatoes/pasta). I go out of my way to cook with all natural ingredients. But this isn't a restaurant. If I make a nice dinner, that's ALL the kids get.
One thing we never do with our kids is restrict the quantity of food they consume. Since we're serving healthy food to begin with, I don't worry about portion control and if the words, "Are you sure you need that?" ever fall from my lips, my children have permission to shoot me on the spot. Of course when it comes to snacking, they have to eat a piece of fruit before they can get something like crackers or a breakfast bar. ("But I don't WANT a banana!" "Then you're not hungry, are you?")
My kids only get dessert if they eat all their vegetables. Then we give them a tiny (like 1/4 cup) of Breyer's vanilla ice cream with cut up fruit (bananas/strawberries/peaches). If we're feeling extra nice, we top the ice cream with Magic Shell, which, unlike Hershey's syrup, is actually all natural and twice as cool.
Am I missing anything? My kids mostly eat KID FOOD so that's what you're seeing here. I'm sure a lot of you have children with more adventurous appetites and I'd love to hear what your kids eat. I'm always looking for new things to try.
PS - Alex got home from school right before I could click publish. The neighbors gave him a Hostess Ding-Dong for the drive home from school!