Last week someone asked me, “How perfectly do I have to eat to be healthy?” Little did that person know perfection is a hot button of mine … something that I have a long, troubled history with. But it’s no wonder people are concerned—there’s a lot of scary junk in our food that’s doing who knows what to our bodies. But do you have to eat perfectly to live a healthier life?
To make things more complicated there’s lots of conflicting advice out there. I recently read an article by a registered dietician who said we were all missing the mark. He went on to proclaim dietary guidelines that suggest at least half our plates be filled with fruits and veggies fall short. Rather, since fruits are nature’s candy, we need to focus on eating more veggies. While I totally agree that eating more vegetables is vitally important, I’m not sure how constructive it is to blow up the bridge that fruits can provide to healthier eating. But alas, the author of this blog post is young, has no kids, and may not realize how life doesn’t always go as you plan.
As much as I’d like to think I have complete control over my life, that’s an illusion (and you can’t even imagine how true this statement is in this very moment). Regrettably too often I’ve made perfection the goal, and it never ends well. So especially when it comes to food, I’ve decided I need to let go of my perfectionism and embrace being “deliciously imperfect.”
Although all of our situations are different the one thing I’m sure of is nobody lives in a perfect world. Here are just a few of the challenges I face in feeding my family perfect, healthy food all the time:
- I’m the father of a teenage son. For some of you, that’s all I need to say—you immediately get it. For those of you who don’t understand, let me explain. We live in a food culture that’s warped in so many ways. For teenage boys most of the food marketing messages take the form of eating lots of extreme, junked up food. Unfortunately unhealthy food and beverages have become yet another way teen boys express themselves and rebel.
- I’m a divorced dad, and while my son spends half his time with me, the rest of the time he’s with his mom and our two houses don’t share the same food values.
- My definition of healthy eating has changed over the years. For a long time it included plenty of “healthy” processed foods. Unfortunately we developed a whole host of bad habits that are really hard to change.
- Finally, if you have a teenager, you quickly learn that as important as food is to raising healthy kids, there are some bigger, more important battles to fight.
What does this mean for me and my family? Do I simply give up and throw in the towel with my son? No, but I’ve realized that gone are the days when I could literally control what’s on his plate for every meal. I’m no longer feeding a toddler, and my son’s out there in that big, wild world more and more. So while I don’t have the same control I once had, here are some approaches I think can work:
- Inspire through actions. I was always taught actions speak louder than words. I think that’s especially true when teaching your kids how to eat. While they may ignore or dismiss you in the moment, the example you set will take root and inspire them over time.
- Play to your strengths. I’m lucky my son has always liked fruit, salad, and some of the basic veggies like green beans, peas, and broccoli. To make sure he’s eating healthy I intentionally serve some options I know he won’t fuss about.
- Encourage healthy exploration, but don’t mandate it. When I started transitioning to eating real food I went too far at first. How many twelve year-olds do you know who are going to get excited about eating kale and greens? Not many! But if you start slow and encourage your kids to try a bite, you can definitely make progress and score some wins! Remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Stock up your fridge and pantry with real foods but realize a little junk here and there is okay. This summer my son pleaded, “Can’t we occasionally have some store-bought cookies and chips?” When I took a step back I realized he was totally right.
- Finally, don’t be afraid to discuss and share your food values with your kids. They listen a whole lot more than you might think.
To help bring these ideas to life in the coming months I’ll be sharing recipes, tips, and other information I’ve used in my home to make the transition to healthier eating. While I can promise you we’re not perfect, slowly we’ve made progress figuring out our home’s food values which include:
- Ditching the boxes, bags, and cans of processed food and eating REAL food
- Making veggies and fruit over 50% of our diet
- Choosing local, organic, and sustainable foods when possible, and
- Supporting the humane treatment of all farm animals
The bottom line is with time you too can discover your own food values, share them with your family, and embrace your own “deliciously imperfect” life! So please join me on this journey to learn more about what’s in your food and take some simple steps to living a happier, healthier life.
What are some of the challenges you face in feeding your family real food? How do you deal with them? Is food perfection your goal, or are you okay with being “deliciously imperfect”? Share your story in the comments … it helps us all feel better when we know we’re in this together! And if you have a question for me, please ask away! Together we can accomplish amazing things so let’s get out there and spread the spread the word about REAL food.