Can a time-poor mum embrace better health with whole foods and mung beans?

Kinderling News & Features

Shevonne Hunt, our Kinderling Conversation host, loved the idea of embracing whole foods and eating like an Earth Goddess. But then there was the reality of managing life with two small children and work. Is it possible to eat well and remain sane in such a busy world?

Recently I went to see a naturopath. She looked like Elle McPherson, so I figured that was a good start. She was obviously doing something right.

For years I’d listened to yoga teachers talk to me about whole foods, organic vegetables and the benefits of whole grains and seeds.

I’d listened with empathy, and interest. But never enough interest to embrace it totally. It sounded like a lovely place to be, if you had your own chef at home.

I understood the benefits of eating well, but I just never had the energy to make the big switch.

It takes real effort to subscribe to this kind of diet. For starters, it’s more expensive… and you have to think more. Organic food is more expensive, only eating fresh food involves meticulous meal and shopping plans, and then there’s the soaking of beans and legumes.

Having said that, since having kids I’ve upped my healthy eating credentials. This visit to the naturopath was part of a very slow journey I’ve been taking towards better eating at home.

It started in pregnancy. Like many other mothers-to-be I became incredibly conscious about what I ate, I even started drinking decaffeinated coffee.

After I had my daughter I started cooking. I know. What a revelation right? It may give some insight into my attitude to food, but I have never been that interested in cooking. I ate well because my husband is a great cook. Now I was responsible for another life, it felt more… urgent and necessary that I be involved in the preparation of her food.

But still… I wasn’t a glowing earth-goddess feeding my child kale smoothies and organic food every day.

The initial excitement of seeing her eat food wore off at about the same time I returned to work. I discovered the squeeze packs of food, and they were easier to throw into the bag than whipping up my own fruit concoction.

After the birth of my second child I landed an amazing job as the host of daily parenting program Kinderling Conversation on Kinderling Kids Radio.

Every day I speak to experts about the latest research on parenting techniques, child behaviour, parent and child wellbeing and health. I’ve done several interviews with Choice Australia about the amount of sugar in foods marketed at toddlers (and the problems with “squeezies”). I’ve spoken with nutritionists about healthy cooking for your family.

Each interview inspired me to try new things, or to stop doing others. So, I started trying to cook better meals for everyone. Though I still couldn’t quite embrace some ingredients that felt a bit too hipster and hippy like chia seeds and legumes.

The catalyst that took me to actually see the naturopath in question was one of our regular experts Sarah Hunstead. Sarah used to be a paediatric nurse and now runs CPR Kids, empowering parents to learn first aid at home. Sarah was talking about how to prevent colds, and she mentioned she’d seen a naturopath, and that for her the combination of what she learned in hospitals (ie the simple benefits of good hand washing) and the advice from the naturopath was the best for optimum family health.

Nothing hipster about that. Nothing hippy about Sarah’s credentials as a former paediatric nurse. 'Optimum health' for me as a parent is a necessity. There really aren’t many opportunities for a day off. I want to make sure that I am in peak condition so that at the very least I can bounce back quicker when I did get sick.

Plus my daughter is in her second year of not eating any meat and rarely touching vegetables.

So I got Sarah’s recommendation and booked in to see the naturopath.

But here we come to my main conflict.

What I really want out of life right now, is to be a relaxed parent. Not a lazy parent, I’m not saying I want to let my kids play in the busy street out the front of our house, or eat marshmallows for dinner (though they would love me for that), but I want to be intuitive. I want to be able to trust my parenting instinct and enjoy parenting.

There are so many things I could change to be a “better parent”. For starters I could make my kids brush their teeth in the bathroom so we don’t lose so many around the house and end up with a veritable forest of toothbrushes as we replace the ones we lose (and then find again). I could feed them quinoa porridge for breakfast and only give them toys on their birthday.

All of these changes would be good for my kids, good for my family. But sometimes I just don’t have the energy.

I feel guilty that I don’t have the energy, but what I really want is to ditch the guilt, and to be a more relaxed parent.

So being strict about food is not something I want to start. I want to let them eat ice cream on a sunny day, and have the odd biscuit at afternoon tea.

When I interview someone on my show it’s because I trust and respect their advice. I went to see the naturopath because I wanted to try and change.

But then there’s real life…. The Friday afternoon after a long week when both kids are having a melt down, there’s nothing in the fridge but a few left over fruit squeezes, the house is a mess and all I want is a brief moment of peace and quiet.

The naturopath gave me a list of potential foods for my family. She spoke to me about the value of eating whole foods. She advised I throw out all the sugar-filled foods in my cupboard. I glanced down the list… and I felt it was time to be honest.

I told her I wanted to make the change but it all felt a bit hard. Just like fast food can be cheaper and easier, even though it’s not the healthiest choice. We weren’t eating junk food- so I felt the current way we were living was ok…. and maybe not so bad in the long run?

Her advice was to take baby steps and make eating fun. Her tips included mixing up the way we ate (have picnics out the back, eat in the bath tub). Only offering a mouthful of new foods at a time.

And I think baby steps is the way I will go. If I take it slow (and it’s been a long road just to get here) then along the way I will hopefully work out the right balance for my family, without losing my ability to be a more relaxed parent.

Also see

:: Trick or treat? The 'healthy snack' traps to watch out for
:: Food refusal: how to feed a fussy eater
:: Cold comfort: the best immune boosting foods for your family
:: Essential food tips for sleep-deprived parents