use the 80/20 rule when feeding your kids

Everyone thinks because I founded an organic baby food company, I expect parents to be perfect with their nutritional choices all of the time. It’s simply not true. Like most things, balance is key. I know firsthand how challenging it can be to always make the best choices, and that’s why in my family we follow the 80/20 rule when it comes to eating.

What is the 80/20 rule?

The breakdown is simple: 80% of the time you focus on eating healthy and clean foods, and 20% of the time you can look the other way and enjoy life’s indulgences. I love food and have always felt when you deny cravings, you can set yourself up for a lifelong struggle with food.

I have never been a dieter. As soon as someone tells you NOT to eat something, it’s all you want to have. If I can’t enjoy a glass of wine with some cheese, what makes life worth living? Food can be wonderfully curing for the body, but also simply delicious without the health benefits. Either way, food needs to be appreciated in all facets and in moderation.

How does this apply to feeding your kids?

Since I practice this rule in my daily life, I found it worked the same when it came to feeding my kids. I offer them healthy choices 80% of the time, but 20% of the time they can make their own decisions.

For example, I always serve a healthy, well-rounded breakfast and a balanced lunch with protein, fruits, veggies and grains. At the end of their meal they may want a treat of their choice, and I support this. The secret is to have quality homemade treats in the house, like cookies, popsicles or ice cream. (When homemade isn’t possible, we try to choose from the healthiest of options available.)

Some people ask if I have a “cheat day.” My answer is no. There is no cheat day, because the 80/20 rule applies every day! 80% of the day we eat great, the other 20% is variable. So technically we don’t call it cheat day, we call it “treat day” every day.

And on days when I can’t make it home in time to cook dinner, my kids may end up making themselves a boxed mac and cheese (which I consider a treat). And that’s OK. Kids are going to be exposed to junk food and treats whether it’s through their friends, school or the media, and denying them complete access can create a monster down the road.

Why sometimes bending the rules = healthy relationship with food

I spend my days creating and sourcing the very best foods for kids. I used to think if I only bought fresh, healthy foods, my kids would only want those. I was mistaken. Kids are influenced by their surroundings and can develop a taste and attraction for less-than-healthy foods.

One year I asked my son, Eamon, what he wanted for his birthday dinner. He wanted a Tubby Dog hot dog, and I was shocked. I had never bought or served hot dogs to the kids, and now hot dogs were his birthday request. That night, we all went out and dined on hot dogs with crazy toppings (his with Captain Crunch and peanut butter!).

Eamon is educated on the benefits of good food and knows that hot dogs are not on top of the list. But he still loves them, which is OK with me. I want my kids to be knowledgeable and make their own choices, even when they aren’t the healthiest ones.

My daughter, Finley, loves marshmallows (s’mores in particular) and that’s fine too. As long as we continue to teach our kids about good and bad choices, we can let them spread their wings in moderation. Practicing the 80/20 rule not only takes the pressure off us parents, but it teaches our kids that it is OK to be human. It’s not just about healthy eating – it’s about helping our kids develop a healthy relationship with food.

Jennifer Carlson

Founder, Baby Gourmet Foods

Jen is the mother of two well-fed children and has a passion for all things culinary. She is also an inspirational speaker to women, busy moms and entrepreneurs.

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