‘Chocolate milk and cereal’: Eating healthy isn’t just our family’s struggle

Bodkin nutrition

A perpetual battle rages in our kitchen.

The parties involved: me and my 3-year-old daughter.

The struggle: getting her to eat something decent for breakfast.

I entice her with protein-packed scrambled eggs. She ignores the request.

I slide a fiber-filled box of oatmeal across the table. She pushes it away.

There’s a stare down, which she has mastered. She won’t budge. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme song starts to play.

She states her demands. They’re always the same. It’s all Baylie the Breakfast Conquerer wants in the morning, and it drives me and my wife Honey Nut Cheerios.

“Chocolate milk and cereal,” she says. She’s not playing games.

And it’s never just cereal. It’s the kind with lots of sugar. And she never finishes it. I do, after she gulps down the chocolate milk.

My dilemma is clear, and she knows it. Do I force feed my child something healthier or watch her eat nothing?

I grab the milk and chocolate powder and start stirring.

Game over.   

Feeding our five kids has been a recurring reality check for me and my wife over the years. Like many aspects of parenting, we don’t always know if we’re doing it right.

Often we know we’re not.

Since the dawn of Frosted Flakes, infusing nutrition into kids’ diets has been a challenge for parents like us. Our kids would gulp down cold cereal, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese forever if we’d let them. Our 9-year-old only wants ice cream.

And the airplane spoon trick doesn’t work on our 12-year-old anymore.

Eating right can be a tough topic because it’s important, especially for developing brains, yet most American families dont do it.

There’s a resounding demand for unhealthy food, and the corporate food giants happily supply.

And it’s not just dads like me who have noticed. Look what the Boise School District is doing. Last week, the district of some 22,000 students announced free breakfast this upcoming school year. Boise is banking on “improved academic performance” and the “general health of students” as part of the move.

Still, so much of a kid’s health starts at home. The good, the bad and the ugly apply here.

The U.S. diet is worse than bad — it’s deadly, a 2022 NPR article explained.

“The data are stark: the typical American diet is shortening the lives of many Americans,” the article reads. “Diet related deaths outrank deaths from smoking, and about half of U.S. deaths from heart disease — nearly 900 deaths a day — are linked to poor diet.”

The article offers seven ideas for getting Americans to eat better. But these ideas, from establishing a federal food “czar” to expanding access to dietary and lifestyle counseling, are policy driven, not family directed. (One of the seven tips involves making school meals free for all students. Hat tip, Boise district.)

Volatile food prices since the pandemic have also made it harder for families to bring healthier food into their homes, according to this 2023 study.

No pressure, moms and dads.

Still, my question remains: How can families like mine improve our diets? The American Heart Association offers 30 tips. Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Make it fun for kids to try new fruits and veggies by having them pick new ones out at the store and helping prepare them.
  2. Buy whole grain bread, rice, pasta, cereal and crackers.
  3. Use nontropical vegetable oils, such as canola, corn olive, safflower, sesame or sunflower, in place of butter and other solid fats.
  4. Be an example of healthier eating for your kids (my affairs with popcorn and potato chips say I’m guilty as charged here).
  5. Read nutrition facts labels and look for more vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber, and less sodium, sugar, saturated fat and trans fat.
  6. Cook more at home and eat out less.
  7. Replace snack foods with more fruits and veggies.
  8. Eat more fish — try for twice a week.
  9. Go nuts: Snack on a handful of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, pistachios and walnuts.
  10. Buy more fresh, canned or frozen fruits and veggies (we buy a bazillion bananas a month, though I know we can branch out better to other fruits).

I’m not sure our 3-year-old will take the bait, but we’ll take that one-chocolate-milk-and-cereal request at a time.

How do you help your kids eat healthy foods? Send your tips to [email protected].

Devin Bodkin

Devin Bodkin

Devin was formerly a senior reporter and editor for Idaho Education News and now works for INL in communications.

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