When I became a mom, I resolved to never do three things.
1. I would never hit my children.
2. I would never get a job and put them in day care, just to make more money.
3. I would never, ever take them to McDonald’s.
I was morally against it in every way — from the playplaces that didn’t seem particularly clean to the fatty, unhealthy food choices and toys that I believed encourage overeating and greediness.
Sound ridiculous? I didn’t think so.
Sure, I ate at plenty of McDonald’s in my growing-up years. In fact, an early family photograph shows my sister and I happily smashing our faces in vanilla ice-cream cones with a life-size plastic Ronald McDonald happily waving to us in the background. I even played in those indoor playgrounds. (The balls were my favorite. I’d always find neat things in there.)
As we grew and my mom did more and more research on the importance of whole, raw, organic foods, our diet drastically changed. We never bought candy or soda pop. (That is, unless we were going on an eight-hour-plus road trip — which when you think about it, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Four kids cooped up in a car for hours on end plus pounds of sugar equals total chaos.)
Instead of quick, easy meals made with canned soup, my mom would make equally delicious dinners from scratch with real ingredients. “White” food (flour and sugar) is basically banned from our house, as well as anything fried, canned or that includes the word “instant.” I can’t tell you how many books my ironman (and woman!) mom and dad have on eating healthy.
So isn’t it incredibly mind-boggling that these two health-food freaks would be the ones to introduce my children to — gasp! — McDonald’s? Processed chicken nuggets! French fries! Sugary chocolate milk! (And never mind those darn apple slices. Every kid knows to chuck them out the window as soon as they open the meal’s box.) While my husband and I were on vacation, basking in the Puerto Rican sun, my kids were gorging themselves on McNuggets.
I couldn’t believe it. This opened a dangerous door. When I asked my parents, who purchased my children’s meals, why in the world they thought it would be OK to get them fast food, they replied, “They loved it! And they ate the whole thing!” Oh, OK. Well as long as they ate all the processed junk food, then I guess I feel better about them eating it, period.
Now every time we drive by a Mickey-D’s, both my kids scream. My 22-month-old frantically shouts, “DONALD’S! DONALD’S!” as he cranes his head around his car seat and kicks his feet, trying to get a better look. (I guess he’s proof of the statistic that most U.S. children can recognize McDonald’s before they can speak.)
And I admit, I’ve caved in. I have actually found myself in the drive-thru in moments of pure insanity, talking myself out of the fact that I’m doing something wrong. One time I even rolled down my 3-year-old’s window so the McDonald’s worker could hand him the Happy Meal — and you’d think it was Christmas morning by how excited he reacted.
“MOMMY! HE’S HANDING IT TO ME?! GIVE IT TO MEEEEE!”
So what’s so bad about fast food, anyway? Maybe I’m borderline paranoid when it comes to what my kids eat, but because I had such a hard time getting my first child to eat any food at all when he was little, I became ultra-aware of everything that went into his mouth.
Once in a while, fast food isn’t necessarily the problem — it’s making it a regular part of your diet, your lifestyle for many years at a time. Obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease and depression are just some of the problems that go hand-in-hand with unhealthy eating. I notice a change in my kids’ bowel movements when we’ve had a particularly unhealthy week on vacation, for example. They are hard and painful, and my boys are noticeably more irritable and uncomfortable after a bad night’s meal.
Fortunately, toys and fun cartons aren’t the only way to get kids to enjoy food. (But on that note, I’ve actually made my own “happy meals” with paper sacks and yummy, healthy treats buried inside that they like holding just as well.)
Following is a list of some of my kids’ very favorite, healthy snacks that are a sure bet for even the pickiest of eaters, as well as a recipe for my Very Berry Green Smoothie, the ONLY solid food my son ate for practically a year.
Almond butter: Almond butter is a fantastic substitute for peanut butter, which many kids (including my son) are allergic to these days. Almonds are packed with nutrients such as protein, calcium, vitamin E and minerals such as calcium, magnesium and folic acid. You can grind your own tub of almond butter at many Smith’s Marketplaces, as well as Whole Foods and Good Earth. Great on sandwiches or with carrots, apples and crackers. My kids eat almond butter daily.
Protein bars: The kind I buy, Good2Go bars, pack a punch: 18 grams of protein, 4 grams of fiber and made with all natural, organic ingredients and NO refined sugar or preservatives. My kids love munching on these for a midmorning or afternoon snack, and I love that they have essential fatty acids, such as flax seed and coconut oil, crucial for kids’ growing brains.
Very Berry Green Smoothie: After learning my son was allergic to everything under the sun and diagnosed with mild oral aversion, I decided if he wasn’t going to EAT his food, then he would DRINK it. My kids love these smoothies, and once I discovered the Green Smoothie Diet (greensmoothiegirl.com), I went wild with experimenting (some smoothies were better than others). Here’s sure-fire one that will have your kids smacking their lips and begging for more:
2 cups mixed frozen berries (I like Costco’s Organic Antioxidant Blend)
1 banana, peeled
1-2 cups organic orange or apple juice (more if the smoothie is too thick)
2 tablespoons organic extra-virgin coconut oil
Handful of organic spinach (you can freeze it and use it for months).
Several leaves, torn, of organic kale or red Swiss chard
½ cup Greek plain (or vanilla) yogurt (I use Fage 0 percent)
Put all in blender and enjoy! I STRONGLY encourage using a Vitamix (which I own) or Blendtec blender to get the smoothest, best taste. A regular blender could leave chunks of greens behind.
Here’s to happy(er) eating!
Carmen Rasmusen Herbert is a former "American Idol" contestant who writes about entertainment and family for the Deseret News.
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