A few years ago, Leslie Marinelli went through a phase where she ground her own wheat and baked homemade bread...That didn't last long. A busy mom of three, The Bearded Iris blogger doesn't have time to prepare perfectly all-natural nutritious meals-after all, she's no short-order cook! But she still cares about health and refuses to indulge her kids' demand for Fruit by the Foot -they'll thank her one day when they don't have to grocery shop in a motorized scooter. See why the confessed ice cream lover prefers a middle-of-the road approach to health.
Tell us about your family.
My husband and I live in the suburbs of Atlanta with our three kids: two boys and a girl, ranging in age from 12 to 5. We also have a dog, a cat, and a leopard spotted gecko!
How health-conscious are you and/or your family?
We're pretty middle-of-the-road these days...somewhere between Sprouted 9 Grain Salad and Frosted Chocolate Pop Tarts. I do try to buy mostly whole grains and avoid things like artificial sweeteners, but I've got a freezer full of ice cream (I can't live without my Mint Chocolate Chip). I definitely prefer real food to overly processed stuff, but being in the kitchen all day is not my idea of a good time. I admit, there was a phase a few years ago where I was grinding my own wheat and baking my own breads, but like most of my hobbies, it didn't last.
How do you teach kids about nutrition/exercise/encourage healthy habits without being too pushy? Explain this balance.
My husband grew up in a very traditional household where the rule was you ate what was given to you and you didn't leave the table until it was gone. As a result, he's totally the opposite as a father. If our kids don't like what I made for dinner, my husband lets them make themselves a PB&J instead. If it were up to me, I'd be more like my in-laws and tell my kids to shove it. I'm not a short order cook, dammit.
What are some creative ways you get your kids moving? How do you make being healthy fun for them and you? Share your ideas!
We are a pretty active family...we do a lot of hiking, bike riding, and swimming together. We also have a high-energy dog who needs to be walked every day and we usually do that as a family after dinner. I think the fact that we do so many of these things together makes it more appealing to the kids. Of course, that will change when they're teenagers and want nothing to do with us, but for now, I'll take what I can get.
Last year my 9-year-old daughter ran her first 5K race with a program called Girls on the Run. I trained with her and we ran the race together (even though running isn't really my thing), and it was an amazing bonding moment for us.
How do you protect your kids against body image concerns?
This is a very real concern for me, so I work hard to let my kids know how much I love them just the way they are and that true beauty comes from within. I also never take my daughter shopping with me so she won't have to watch me cry in department store dressing rooms and wail things like "Oh my God, is THAT really what I look like from behind?!" Seriously though, I'm very excited to be a contributing writer for a new website called Girl Body Pride, which focuses on positive sense of self and social expectation regarding beauty. It's a wonderful resource for women on healing ourselves and shielding our daughters from negative body image issues. Check it out!
Has/Have any of your kids needed to lose weight/get healthy? How have you handled that? Are there any bad examples you've seen?
Yes, my oldest son went through a phase in elementary school where he was a little "husky" (according to his jean size at the time...WTH?! Can't they come up with a better name for those sizes like Chubster or Mr. McFatty Pants?) I knew he would eventually hit a growth spurt and his weight would redistribute, so I never sweated it. I am very conscious to never criticize my kids for their physical appearance because hurtful words, especially from a parent, stay with us forever.
How can you compete with the super cool Cheetos Cheetah or the all-about-the-fun Kool Aid guy? Is it a struggle to make your kids eat healthy foods?
The biggest struggle for my family isn't the commercialism or the cool branding, it's our friends and extended family. We have so many friends who let their kids eat whatever they want. I never want my children to be the kind of kids who go to a friend's house and say "Oh, no thank you. My mother says Aspartame is a neurotoxin," because come on, they'd never be invited back. So my approach is the "When in Rome" philosophy. And then I spend the next month having to say things like "I don't care if Timmy's Mom buys Fruit by the Foot. I don't. Have a banana." I just wish more moms would serve healthier snacks so my kids didn't feel so deprived. Oh well, they'll thank my bones someday when they still have all their teeth and don't need to grocery shop in a motorized scooter.
Do you believe in sneaking healthy foods into your kids' meals? If so, what have been your trickiest or most successful attempts?
I am much too lazy to attempt any kind of food subterfuge. My oldest decided at the age of 4 that the only fruit he would eat was Granny Smith apples. We've attempted bribery to get him to try a blueberry or a grape, but he never relents. So I just make sure I always have Granny Smith apples around. Now he has braces and he's not supposed to eat apples anymore. I'm pretty sure he hasn't pooped in 3 weeks.
Healthy meals are pricey and can take longer to prepare. How do you manage to eat healthy on a budget and in a time crunch? Can you share any tips, tricks or recipes?
Actually, I find that processed foods are much more expensive than real foods, and less satisfying too because the portions are usually so small. The best thing that ever happened to us in this area was that our microwave died about 6 months ago. We haven't replaced it yet and as a result it has forced us to be much more mindful about the kinds of foods we buy and prepare. No more Pizza Pockets! (Which has probably helped my once "husky" son slim down a little!)
What's the best tip you could give another parent about how to raise a healthy family?
I guess the best advice I could share is to get active WITH your kids. It's a great way to spend time together and stay healthy.
Leslie Marinelli resides in the 'burbs of Atlanta with her husband, three kids, one cat, one dog, and one minivan. She writes her blog The Bearded Iris to stay semi-sane and to make others laugh, cry, and think. You can find this recovering wine-aholic and borderline hoarder on Twitter and Facebook.
See how other families stay healthy in our Care.com Interview Series: Raising Healthy Kids Without the Backlash »
Photo used with permission from Leslie Marinelli.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.