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How a Testy Toddler and the Menopause Helped Improve Our Diet

They call them the ‘terrible twos’: that horrible phase small children go through when they decide everything they have eaten with aplomb up to now is something evil and to be avoided.

Every forkful is seen as the enemy. Mealtimes become a battleground, with increasingly desperate parents and a plateful of good, nutritious food on one side, and a cranky, obstinate toddler on the other. This scenario will be familiar to moms and dads up and down the land. While it can be a frustrating situation, it’s also possibly one of the best times to take a good, long look at your diet and see what can be changed.

Sounds crazy? Well, me and my family did – and we have hardly looked back since.

Timing Is Everything

My son turned three at around the same time I started experiencing menopausal symptoms, including an inability to sleep, really terrible mood swings and piling on a few extra (and definitely unwanted) pounds. I was unhappy with the bloating in particular, and shrugged it off as part of being menopausal. To my horror, I found out this could have been a big mistake. A sudden retention of fluid in the body can sometimes be masking something more serious, and anyone experiencing similar symptoms may be advised to consider electrolyte imbalance testing, or even a visit to a physician to ensure all is well with their health, especially before embarking on any diet or fitness changes. Luckily for me, I was good physically. However, my little boy’s decision to become incredibly picky about what he ate could not have come at a worse time mentally, as I felt I only had limited stores of patience when it came to mealtimes.

Pasta wasn’t a problem. Rice was okay too, so he was getting lots of carbs but vegetables and meat? Forget it. He could spot a carrot at 50 yards, and peas were merely small missiles to ping across the kitchen table. I could sneak a zucchini in his spaghetti sauce as long as it was very finely grated, and don’t get me started on potato. He detested every form presented to him!

Even when we treated the family to the very occasional burger and fries, he would nibble a bit of bread and then just play with the rest. It drove me mad, and only added to my feeling of general anxiety. But then I had an epiphany – my menopause symptoms and his stubbornness were more than just reasons to grind my teeth – they were a wake-up call.

Changing Bad Habits

Looking back now, it all seems so simple, but making just a few changes made all the difference. It all began with the decision to walk to school. We live just 15 minutes from the building, and it seemed a nonsense to get in the car or take the bus – especially on days when the sun was beaming down.

What made the journey even nicer was the fact we did it as a family – all four of us – every morning. The kids came home for lunch, giving us the chance to stretch our legs again – twice – before everyone was picked up at home time. I felt better almost immediately, having previously been practically sedentary, and because the exercise was gentle, there was no risk to my health by overdoing it. In fact, all it could do was improve the state of my heart and help strengthen my bones, which are both targeted during menopause.

Taking up walking was a start, and my new-found interest in getting fit properly prompted me to join a gym and embark on a regime designed specifically for me by a professional instructor. Not only was it an ideal way to burn calories, but it also allowed me to focus on the bits of my body I’d grown used to hiding or avoided when it came to looking in the mirror. While the brisk strolls were doing me the world of good, targeted exercises also gave me a chance to build up my resistance and give me back some muscle tone – something I hadn’t had for years!

Being Inventive – and a Bit Sneaky

All that extra exercise soon lifted my gloomy mood, helped me stay more alert during the daytime, and so had a positive impact on my sleep at night. And all from a few brisk strolls! It gave the entire family a boost, and made us roll up our sleeves and tackle the problem of The Boy Who Would Not Eat His Greens.

After all the battles, we changed tack and started playing with his food. Salads were presented as faces, making him smile when he saw his plate, instead of the usual frown, swiftly followed by the word “no”. Pasta, his favorite, gave us the chance to be sneaky and became meat-free, yet packed with vegetables – grated at first, but then cut into increasingly chunky chunks, giving Mr Grumpy Jr a chance to see what he was eating.

Then we hit upon the idea of asking him to help prepare and cook family meals – showing him how to peel a carrot or a potato, telling him where they came from, watching in delight as peas bobbed up and down in water, everything we could think of to engage him in the processes that let to whatever he ate – while at the same time keeping him away from any sharp knives and naked flames!

Happy Meals – Just About

All this focus on eating more fresh vegetables, food preparation and literally watching what we ate as a family did wonders for our larder. Out went the pre-packaged, processed foods and in came armfuls of recipe books. My menopausal brain was firing on almost all cylinders, while my little boy, while not eating everything in sight, was certainly more receptive to what was hitting his plate.

He still hates mashed potato, but we’re hoping by the time Thanksgiving or Christmas comes, we will have broken down that particular barrier, too…

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