Keeping our family low-carb
"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" is the perfect maxim for this post. Imitation, a genuine compliment that is usually made unintentionally and is extremely true for developing food behaviors! Natalie and I are first generation Armenian-American. Our home was filled with fruits, vegetables and proteins. We would cook with grains, but they were actual, real, whole grains that my parents would use to make some of our favorite cultural dishes. We had few, if any, refined grains. Only on occasion did we have cereal, Cheerios or Frosted Flakes, or the occasional sweet from the local Italian bakery. Our exposure to processed carbohydrates, refined sugars was minimal. We grew up with lots of home-made cooking and baking and eating-out was rare and a special treat for us. Looking back, this was incredibly time-consuming for our parents, and I now realize they were just sticking to the ancestral and cultural foods and cooking practices that they were taught from their parents. It was these cultural culinary practices that had largely shielded us from the modern obesogenic food environment.
Fast forward to becoming a mother and the learning curve that comes with it, I completely understand why it is not always easy to make smart food decisions for our littles or ourselves. It is easier to accept the commercial messaging of "sugar is okay", and "you are busy, buy these convenient snack packs..." In fact, they start the process as a new mother, telling you to "buy baby food" or "pick up happy meals with a toy." As a mother, you are already tired and pulled in so many directions, it's easy to succumb to whatever is close by and whatever is convenient.
Given that our environment of junk food, birthday parties and processed commercials is constant, it's important to encourage our kids to eat right, which ultimately begins in the home and with our own food behaviors. The foods adults consume have a huge impact on us emotionally, mentally and physically, and our bodies are much larger than that of our children. We have all seen what happens to young kids when in the supermarket down the chips, cookies, or cereal aisle, their behavior takes a downturn! Do kids display this same behavior when visiting the butcher?! Most mothers intuitively know that processed carbs and sugars are not what the brains of our little ones need.
I began to transition my children to a healthier lifestyle in 2016 about a year after my husband began his weight-loss journey through a ketogenic lifestyle. The keyword here is transition. At this time I had a 4 year old, 2 year old and a baby on the way. We had already begun to incorporate more meat and veggies into our meals but our home was still stocked with goldfish crackers and orange juice. The first things to go were these. We bought more water and milk for the kids, and made sure to have low-carb, almond-based crackers at home. We also stocked the home with all sorts of nuts, including macadamia, peanut, pecan, brazil nuts and more. Our kids, and I, used to eat chips, so we swapped out conventional chips for low-carb, high-protein chips like that from Quest. We also stocked the refrigerator with cheese sticks for when our kids were looking to snack. What we saw actually was quite interesting. As we focused on bringing them quality meals with meat, fish, chicken, eggs, and veggies their need to snack was drastically reduced. When the kids did snack, these new replacement snacks actually filled them up instead of leaving them hungry for more. It appears that with Quest Chips at least, once you pop, you CAN stop.
My biggest takeaway from how to best create a healthy lifestyle for not only the kids but your home is to simply not bring anything in. Most modern-processed foods contain seed oils, artificial coloring, sugar and grains that are needlessly thrown into every product! Our kids are exposed to this constantly, outside of the home, at school lunches, birthday parties and celebrations. When was the last time you went to a kids birthday party that didn't serve pizza and cake? So, instead of focusing on their behavior and choices outside of the home, we focused on what we had control over: our home. Our approach was to limit what we can in the home and have more grace and leniency when out at these social events. If our kids want pizza at school or at a social event, we don't restrict them. But what we found was interesting, at first the kids would eat the pizza, but as they aged they no longer want those foods as much. Needless to say, they still consume the occasional donut, fruit juice or pizza, but much less of it, so that is a win for our family. We have found that by educating and molding our kids' palates in the home, they make smarter decisions when outside of the home.
As parents, doing the food shopping, we chose to limit our intake of high-processed foods; we consume vegetables (our go-to are cucumbers, peppers, carrots, celery, broccoli and green beans), low-glycemic fruits (berries), and do not consume much, if any, refined sugar. The hardest part of our transition was finding foods the kids would want to eat for breakfast before school. Thankfully our kids always enjoyed eggs, but they often looked for something to eat with it. Instead of bread and bagels we slowly added options like bacon, olives and cheese. I even created a bagel mix which gives my oldest the option to enjoy a bagel and cream cheese (after all we are New Yorkers), and pancake and waffle batter so that they would not feel deprived. If they are looking for something sweet, we have sugar-free ice cream, or keto-friendly and kid-approved cookies and cakes. These snacks have also proven successful.for us, especially in the summers as we enjoy many pool days.
Bedtime snacking is still an issue. We are still working on why they seem to always be hungry as I announce it's time for bed! A great snack option that is their go-to for this exact moment are nuts and cheese.
Transitioning my kids to a low carb and sugar free way of eating was not simple or quick. There was a lot of education into why they could no longer find their old favorites in the fridge or pantry. The youngest had the easiest transition as he had the least exposure to the high carb, ultra processed foods. Also, my daughter who had eczema was able to appreciate her new way of eating when she observed her flare ups decreasing and ultimately disappeared. They eventually just got used to our new menu without feelings of deprivation. Natalie's son, who is 3, even asks "is this sugar-free?" or "is there sugar in this?" before he consumes a snack or beverage because mom has decided to say no to sugar. Whether he realizes what it truly means, he is learning about ingredients instead of blindly consuming popular foods. It is our job to take care of our kids the best that we can; to keep them safe and healthy. Kids will get a taste of what their friends are eating when outside of the home but within our home they get nutrient-dense foods to help promote their growth. It's a balance that is working for our family.
We hope this provides you the guidance and confidence you need to transition your home in a way that supports your lifestyle.