As I’ve written about many times before, I was raised in the 70’s and 80’s as a vegetarian by a mom, who deeply cared about what her family ate, and where that food came from.
Interestingly, I just listened to a fantastic Podcast with Alice Waters – the Grandmother of the Farm to Table movement. Listening to her reasons for what and why she did what she did reminded me so much of my dear old ma. My mother didn’t care that my sister and I were the weird ones not eating meat, going against the grain, and sticking to what she believed. She would always take the time to explain to me why she felt so strongly about things, being it was the food system, rallying against nuclear arms, or war in genaral, supporting Gay and Lesbian rights, supporting Indian (First Nations) communities, and on and on.
I’m a blend of my father’s righteousness and stubbornness, with a healthy dose of my mother’s kindness and compassion (I hope…?). I can feel her in me when it comes to nourishing my family and the passion that has grown for doing what I believe is right.
Once I was old enough to make my own choices, and my parents divorced, and my Mom went to work full time, I royally screwed up. I spent my teens and early 20’s fully off the rails. I ate whatever, and too much of it. I didn’t care, or was just ignorant to the facts of where my food comes from, and how it was made. I was lazy, fat, and going nowhere fast.
Fortunately I became tired of that life as I knew deep down that I was not healthy, and I decided to do something about it. Finding sport, specifically running, and learning about quality nutrition, gave me the fuel I needed to be better. Slowly I lost weight, became healthier and started to be proud of who I am.
I married the woman of my dreams, and within a few years we became a family of 4 . In our family, preparing meals is my chosen task, as I love to cook and my wife loves that I love to cook. I’m fortunate that I’ve immersed myself in food in my career and that I get to spend a huge amount of time talking about and researching the food system.
To be frank, my kid’s diets are an experiment. I was raised a vegetarian because my Mother was horrified by the American food system that she observed when she immigrated to North America in the late 60’s. She was appalled by the lack of quality and that it seemed that the food system was all about making money, and very little about nourishing people. I think she was on to something. This dilemma in our food system has only become worse and especially when raising kids, it becomes clear how poor our food culture is. There seems to be a tug-o-war between quality available food, lack of time, and for many, a limited budget. Every time that I take a trip to the Island, I’m reminded of this. The BC Ferries are a prime example of what has become normalized in society. I don’t mean to offend anyone, but a Pirate Pack (and White Spot in general) is not food for growing humans. However I realize how hard it is. Kids love the fun factor and you’re stuck on a Ferry without any other good options. Feeding my family in the cafe is difficult and our best option is to go to the Buffet for $75 for a family of 4 to eat salad. Trying to make healthy choices can be very tough in our volume for cheap (for maximum profit) food culture.
When our kids were born, we decided that we would do everything we could to give them the most nourishing food at every opportunity. This is what I mean by an experiment. I know first hand what crap food can do and how it can make you feel. I know first hand what it feels like to be hungry at school because your breakfast was hardly anything (by choice) and a Coke at 10 am seems like a good idea. I know first hand what deep fried food, for 50% of my meals makes me feel like. For better or worse, I decided that I would be fine if my kids didn’t know what it was like to feel like garbage, most of the time.
What this means is that almost all of the time I am relentless. I make food for them to thrive, and they will eat it, or they will not eat. This approach has been simple with my youngest but my first born…Battle Royal. Seriously, sometimes it’s like I’m trying to severely poison her. She is complex as she loves the food, and most anything that we do for health, like run, hike, bike and play, but only after, and not before. If it’s work, or might not taste like the food she loves, she dreads it.
Even with her initial attitude towards green food, not all good food that is, she gets on board and we all eat solidly throughout most of the meals. We do eat out once in a while, and they both eat birthday party food occasionally, which is my worst nightmare. I’m also incredibly fortunate to have a unified front with my wife. It takes a solid commitment of both of us to ensure that we do not have leaks in our dyke.
With that balance of trying to get the best in them, I use the opportunity to make a smoothie as the time to absolutely smash goodness into their gut.
Green Smoothies are not complex however I’m quite sure that everyone wants them to taste good. I’ve learnt that kids tastes are more sensitive than adults and that’s what I need to keep in mind while I make our morning breakfast. Also, not all greens are created equal. Cruciferous vegetables are the most nutrient packed foods on the planet, which includes collard greens, kale and broccoli but unfortunately not spinach – but spinach is still packed full of nutrients and super dense with chlorophyll.
I use Green Smoothies as a vehicle to get a lot of what my family may not be getting enough of throughout the rest of the day. This is Ground Flax Seed (fiber), banana, lots of berries but specifically blueberries (ours come from Ruby Red Farm and we freeze them), Omega 3-6-9 Oil with DHA, and dates. These items are the base of every smoothie I make and from here I will add Almond Meal, which is left over from making Almond Mylk, and/or protein powder, nut butters or whole cashews and greens, and maybe an orange. I don’t put a little amount of greens in each smoothie – it’s more like ¾ of a bunch. Typically we go through 4 to 6 heads of kale a week, plus 2 or 3 bunches of broccoli and a box of spinach – all blended. We also eat these greens cooked but the bio-available properties are superior in uncooked cruciferous vegetables compared to cooked (kinda).
I realize at this stage most kids that have not grown up with a daily green drink are absolutely, without a doubt, going to pull the fire alarm and call in the National Guard, if you present them a smoothie like the one I described. I talk with parents all the time that tell me that their kids will not, in no way, eat a dense green smoothie, and in general only like brown food. I understand this, and through my own experimenting, and battles with my girl, I’ve found a really simple way to make it more palatable; thinner. I’ve noticed that kids love juice (duh), but it doesn’t always have to be sweet. What works for me, if I make it dense as above but then add more water or nut mylk. I also hardly ever add Avocado, which I think is excellent in smoothies but really thickens it up. Too much Flax Meal will do the same thing.
Ok, but you are still not making headway. Then I have a secret cruciferous vegetable for you, which has been under your nose all your life – Cauliflower. This white, quite tasteless cruciferous vegetable is an action hero of nutrition. It serves up all the nutritional benefits of many of the others but can be easily masked and presented as a simple ‘un-green’ Smoothie. Buy a head, break it into small chunks and freeze them. Easy to add to any simple smoothie.
For the most part kids don’t like green smoothies – my daughter will say “I don’t like it!”, and I say, “Yeah, well, it likes you. Drink up.” This may be sound old school, ‘do what I say, because I’m the parent’, but I include them in the research I read about and we listen to health based podcasts when we’re driving in the car. They enjoy hearing the value of nutrition from other people, and not me banging on about eating their greens.
‘I’ve tried, and it doesn’t work.’ Gotcha, but this is where we have to look at ourselves in the mirror. I’ve been extremely unfit, I’ve been made fun of for being fat, and felt like shit for being fat, and unhealthy, I’ve been the last one chosen for a team in gym, I showed up for school not ready to learn almost everyday. Maybe it’s fortunate that kids in general are less fit than they were 20 years ago, but because of the average, it should not give us an excuse to be complacent. I transformed myself because I was not proud of what I represented. I was fat and lazy on the outside and that’s what people saw me as. I knew I could do better but being I had become an adult, no one was going to do it for me.
I am now very fit, and thinner, and feel lucky for my health, but I do not want my kids to have to learn the same way I did – it’s not fair or right. I do not hold my parents accountable as they were too occupied with themselves to see that as a kid, I was in a really, really bad space and was on a very dangerous health trajectory, but kids health is the responsibility of parents – simple.
What I mean by this, is that eating a clean and healthy diet is made out to be simple in today’s Instagramable world. I have people tell me all the time, ‘You’re so lucky that your kids eat that way.’. Really? Lucky? I work my ass off to make sure that my kids eat the way they do, exercise intensively all the time, get to sleep on time, and are active participants in their schools, that work hard to support their classmates while meeting a very high academic standard for themselves.
My wife and I are always super excited about the possibility to do things better than we did before, being it eating better, using less, contributing more, or taking more time to look at each other (hopefully while we’re in the forest) so focusing on a daily Green Smoothie is my daily commitment to this goal. Keeping consistent to our mission of being the parents that our amazing kids deserve is what fuels us, and adds loads of love and respect to our marriage. It may seem a tad simple that a Green Smoothie can represent all that, but the Green Smoothie shows my kids, that every day, I care about what goes into their bodies, and that I love them to the Moon and back.
This experiment is still in the trial stage but I figure we’re on the right track to setting them up for a lifetime of success, powered by Green Smoothies. I know that if I can help my kids make certain food choices to help them live a better life, than anyone can, if they want to.