This is how we do it: Why Food Matters

I want to start a bit of a series on why our family has made certain choices, and I felt food was the place to start. This is probably one of those posts that some (or many) of you may choose to skip.  I wanted to write a post about why we choose to eat the way we do because I felt like I needed to “get it down on paper”. I’m not writing this to educate or convert anyone to eat the way we do.  I understand people get sensitive when it comes to food.  No one likes it when someone rattles off a list of facts about the food or drink they are putting in their mouth.  Believe me, I do it to David often (not so much anymore), and he puts up with it.  He’s my husband, though.  I try not to say anything to others unless asked. That rarely happens, so I don’t say anything.  Like I said, this is for me/us.  I guess I feel by getting it all down, I can continue to hold myself and our family accountable for what we eat and drink.

Food has been an issue for me since junior year in high school.  I honestly cannot pinpoint when I started to be concerned with my body image.  I was always a little self-conscious (middle school teasing, anyone), but it kind of hit me hard in high school.  Anyway, I found myself being too concerned about calories and working out, but not necessarily ingredients or where my food came from. I cared about food, but not in a good way.  Even though I was working out a lot: running, strength training, climbing, Pilates, I still struggled. I didn’t like the occasional guilt I felt after eating certain foods.

When David and I decided we wanted to start trying for a baby 5 years ago, I started to care some more about the types of food I was eating.  I picked up a book called, The Fertility Diet, because I REALLY WANTED A BABY.  I was already eating well, but I found myself surprised by some of the suggestions, like eat whole fat, real foods (whole milk yogurt, real butter).  At that time, I thought to be healthy, you should drink skim milk and eat low-fat yogurt.  I was already eating lots of nuts, fish, and vegetables, and limiting red meat.  I just had to wrap my mind around the full-fat items, even though I knew they were healthy fats.

Once I was pregnant with Harrison, I also started to become more concerned with how my food was made (organic vs non-organic and real vs processed foods).  I already knew a lot about additives and food dyes from various research I read for work.  For me, there were/are some scary statistics out there, and it wasn’t worth the risk for me.  Being mindful of what I was eating was one way I felt I could give my baby the best start possible.

Once Harrison was born, I was very mindful of what I was eating and drinking because he nursed.  When he was ready to start solids, I tried hard to make a lot of his food, and if I did buy baby food, it was organic.  I made sure David and I ate well because Harrison was present at meals, even if he wasn’t eating them.  I didn’t want to eat something I couldn’t offer him (barring foods that weren’t age-appropriate; nuts, sushi, etc.), and I didn’t like the idea of telling him to eat one way, while I ate another. This was slightly harder on David who didn’t understand why we couldn’t just have chips or Little Debbies in a hidden drawer or shelf Harrison couldn’t see.  I’m not saying we didn’t have nice chocolate or “treats”, but it wasn’t that hard for me to not have junk food.

Harrison was, and still is, our little foodie.  I don’t buy into luck, so I credit his choices to the decisions we made early on.  Sure, there are times he doesn’t like things we make, and we have to remind him that we always try one bite.  We don’t force food. I could, and probably will, write an entire post on our approach to food with the boys.  The point here is that Harrison makes good food choices. When I asked him what he wanted for lunch the other day, he chose turkey roll-ups, pepper slices, dried cherries, and yogurt.  The boy loves sushi!

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I can already tell Beckett is going to be our more picky discerning eater.  The boy loves avocado, sweet potato, chickpeas, any kind of meat and fish, all fruit; but, put most vegetables in front of him, and he’s not having it.  I find that we have to expose him to vegetables numerous times, and in many forms before it becomes palatable.  He will eat eggplant parmesan, but not eggplant in pasta.  Presentation matters for him.  I see both boys judging Iron Chef one day.

Suffice it to say, I prefer my family eats whole, real foods.  Processed foods don’t really have a place in our house.  Most people who follow this type of “rule” in their house have likely read at least one Michael Pollan book.  My favorite is, In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  It’s pretty simple: “Eat food.  Not too much. Mostly Plants.”. I have found label reading to be imperative, and I like to know where my food comes from and how it’s treated.  Organic, as I am learning, isn’t enough.  Sometimes, it doesn’t have a lot of merit.  Plenty of the local farmers at our farmer’s market sell “organic” food, but they haven’t paid a lot of money to be certified.  I’ve learned to get over my shyness when it comes to asking questions.  It’s my money, and if someone wants it, they can answer some questions about the food they are selling.  If I don’t like the answer, or they can’t answer my questions, I move on.  There were some gorgeous raspberries (at a good price) that I passed up this past weekend because the woman told me they had sprayed some pesticides on them.  I didn’t need raspberries that badly.

I have also found I feel better eating the way we eat.  I feel satisfied after a meal, and not like I need to lay down because my stomach is too full.  I have more energy.  I may get sick once or twice a year, and when I do get sick, it usually doesn’t last more than a day.  Harrison has been sick maybe 4 times since he was born, and Beckett just once.  I don’t think all four of us were born with some super immune system. I think we take care of ourselves.

And, I do make treats. I love making food, and baking is one of my favorites.  I feel like a common misconception is that our family, or our boys, are being deprived.  It is not like we don’t do cookies, chocolate, ice cream, or whatever.  I do cookies with real butter, whole wheat flour, and maple sugar.  I make chocolate bites with steel-cut oats, flax-seed, and hazelnuts. I make our own popsicles.  Have you seen my Instagram feed? Full of food photos. I have made ice cream. It was with full-fat coconut milk and vanilla beans.  No, I don’t spend all day or even hours in the kitchen.  No, I don’t spend a lot of money to make these things for our family.  I don’t make them to try to be the best mom (I don’t think anyone outside my family even cares). I do it because I control what goes into the food, and I care what my family eats.  I involve the boys. Mostly Harrison at this point, but I talk to Beckett while I make things.  I want my boys to know what is in their food, and I want them to know you should know what’s in your food and to ask questions.  Harrison already talks about how food is too salty or sugary.  He picked up gum balls at Target the other day, and just when I was fearing he was going to ask for them, he told me, “We don’t eat these.  These have too much sugar, and these aren’t real colors.”. I was happy.

I work hard on this.  I do not think a cookie is a cookie.  I don’t think all ice cream is created equal.  I do not think bread labeled “whole wheat” is necessarily healthy.  Have you read the laundry list of ingredients in some of that stuff?!  I also don’t think you should be worried about food.  I am creating healthy habits in my boys.  They can access food whenever they like (and they like).  I don’t offer food for good behavior or use it to get the boys to do something.  I never tell them they can’t have something because they didn’t “earn” it. That’s not what food is for. Food is to nourish our bodies. It should taste good.  I just happen to think a lot of it tastes good without adding a bunch of other stuff to it.

*Update: I wanted to add links to a few blogs I follow. Both are filled with information on why to make a switch to real, whole foods and how to start. There are also plenty of recipes.

Also, here is a good post on the importance of “junk food”: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2011/03/21/the-importance-of-junk-food/