My kids don’t say, “What’s for dinner, Mom?” Instead, they ask, “What are we having?”
It’s a subtle distinction, but somehow the notion that we’re having a meal carries greater expectations. It’s not something we mindlessly scarf down; it’s something we have.
Lately, I’ve been having difficulty planning and preparing balanced, home-cooked meals. I try my best, but life is busy – which means I will sometimes turn to food options that are convenient rather than wholesome. Some nights, I’m having a 6 p.m. meltdown because the broccoli I was planning to serve has been in the fridge too long and turned yellow. On those nights, I’m sorry to say, we’re having chicken fingers.
Then, along came the totally redesigned version of Canada’s Food Guide, boldly decreeing that half our plates should be filled with fruits and vegetables, that we should read food labels more carefully, and that we should avoid sugary drinks and highly processed foods. The advice is undoubtedly sound, but for me, it came with a large side order of guilt.
It was gut-check time. I was slacking, and I knew I could do better. I decided to renew my efforts and take action by following the new Food Guide to a tee. Here’s how the first week went.
According to the Food Guide, the only grains worth talking about (or eating) are whole grains. Realizing that my usual muffin recipes weren’t packing enough of a nutritional punch, I swapped out the white flour in favour of oat bran, wheat bran, ground flax seed and hemp hearts. These muffins would be so full of fibre, I imagined nearby toilets would spontaneously flush as a sign of respect. But, somehow in my tinkering, I guess I miscalculated the ratio of wet-to-dry ingredients, because after the full bake time, the muffin centres remained goopy and inedible. Fittingly, I had to throw out the whole batch.
The Food Guide says to limit our consumption of highly processed foods, since they tend to contain excess sodium, sugar and saturated fat. I knew I could make an immediate change by purchasing fewer pre-packaged snacks for my kids’ lunches. My sister shared a recipe that her family loves, for homemade chocolate-avocado pudding. I followed the directions exactly and it looked delectably rich and creamy in the blender. I inwardly high-fived myself—no more of those peel-back cups for us! But, the proof was in the pudding. My older son had one spoonful and recoiled in horror, gasping that it “tastes like oatmeal.” Strangely, oatmeal isn’t one of the ingredients, although I suspect I may have misjudged the avocados’ size and put in too much. My younger son was more diplomatic, saying: “It’s okay, Mom—it just leaves a bad taste in my mouth at the end.” Steeee-rike two.
The new Food Guide suggests reserving a quarter of your plate for “protein foods” and encourages meat-and-potatoes families (like mine) to consider plant-based protein sources such as nuts, seeds and legumes. At my son’s basketball game, a fellow mom shared some almonds from her snack bag, and they were flat-out delicious. She explained that they were Tamari almonds—she had toasted them in the oven using a special variety of soy sauce. Intrigued, I asked for the instructions, which sounded simple enough. Unfortunately, when I tried it at home, I inadvertently used the wrong oven setting and scorched the entire contents of the pan. As the house filled with teriyaki-scented smoke, I started to wonder if the universe was trying to tell me something—like maybe, “The new Food Guide is stupid.” Or possibly, “Register for some cooking classes.”
To meet the new Food Guide standard of a plate half-filled with fruits and vegetables, we needed to venture beyond the classic carrot stick. I brainstormed with the kids to identify vegetables they would be willing to try as side dishes. Cauliflower? No. Asparagus? Hell no. Celery? Here I got a "maybe..." which is as good as you’re going to get in the world of kids vs. vegetables. I ran with it, despite the knowledge that eating raw celery can be a bit like gnawing on the bristles of a paintbrush (and about as satisfying). As expected, their reaction after a few bites was a hard pass. Well played, celery.
Instead of buying potato chips or cookies as a family treat, I found a bag of rectangular, bite-sized snacks made with cocoa, dates, coconut and seeds. My husband tried one first. Verdict? "It's like chewing on a piece of rope." After that glowing endorsement, the kids wouldn’t even go near them. More chocolate rope for me, I guess.
Cooking at home is a top priority in the new Food Guide, so instead of ordering pizza, I dutifully prepared a healthy stir-fry. And rather than my usual packaged rice mix, I opted for quinoa as the base. The kids and their dad ate the chicken and veggies on top, but they all left a pile of untouched quinoa at the bottom of their bowls. I'm not sure how can they so strongly dislike something that tastes like nothing, but here we are.
We eat a lot of beef burgers around here, which doesn’t exactly fit the Canada's Food Guide recommendation to choose lean cuts of meat. To expand our repertoire, I made turkey burgers, topping them with a healthy amount of shredded lettuce and also a bit of bacon to sweeten the deal. Mid-way through his burger, my older son announced: “I like the burger and the bacon, so I give this a 66.7 percent approval rating.” When I wasn’t looking, I'm pretty sure he shook the burger so most of the lettuce would fall out.
Admittedly, by trying to make so many changes in just seven days, I may have bitten off more than I can chew. But even though my early attempts were a buffet of bloopers and failures, I’m not giving up. I still believe the new Canada's Food Guide’s suggestions are sensible. Even if my family keeps scrunching up their noses at new things, I’ll forge ahead, because the promise of developing healthy eating habits in my kids is worth it.