My kids are now ages 2 and 4-1/2 and I feel like things are getting easier. By easier, I mean that I now have the time to do things like…oh, take a shower on a regular basis.

I often hear parents of older kids talk about how it’s much more difficult when kids are in their teens. I have no way of knowing, but I’m convinced that it’s not necessarily harder, it’s just different.

I don’t doubt that parents of older kids have REALLY tough problems. Nor do I doubt that they are sleep-deprived, like virtually every parent in the world. But there is a difference between getting just 6 hours of sleep — and getting 6 hours of sleep in two-hour increments…broken up by a crying baby…for 8 months straight. They call this torture.

So what does all of this have to do with smart eating?

Well, it’s darn hard to make smart choices, not to mention prepare a meal, when you’re simultaneously exhausted and responsible for the safety and well-being of your children who have an affinity for electrical outlets, hot stoves and about a million other home hazards, despite your best abilities to bubble-wrap your entire house.

I remember when my kids were ages 1 and 3, another mom criticized me for including a picture of baby carrots on this site. I believe the comment was along the lines of “Baby carrots? Don’t get me started. It takes just five minutes to peel your own.” 

Vegetables & Cheese

This is the picture that motivated the “baby carrot” comment.

I’ve been meaning to provide perspective on that comment for the past year, but well…I haven’t had the time. So before I forget what those early years are like and start to tell you all about “how much more difficult it is now” or about how “you can make a healthy meal in just a few minutes” I thought I’d capture the reality of what meal prep is like with little ones in the house.

What “five minutes” is really like

Yes, it takes just five minutes to peel carrots…if you don’t have a screaming baby who insists on clinging to your legs, or more accurately, being carried all day long, thereby forcing you to do everything with just one free hand.

Yes, it takes just five minutes to peel carrots…if you don’t have to stop twice to clean your kids’ bottoms, both of whom always decide to make elephant-sized poops at the exact same time…and right when you’re in the middle of handling raw produce or raw meat.

Yes, it takes just five minutes to peel carrots…if you can find that darn carrot peeler. (Turns out you mistakenly put the corkscrew in its place.)

Yes, it takes five minutes to peel carrots…if one kid isn’t emptying the trash all over your house while your other is smearing blue finger paint on your white couch (clearly a furniture purchase you made pre-kids).

Yes, it takes just five minutes to peel carrots…if your kids can (and will) play independently for five minutes, rather than interrupting you every 30 seconds for “help” with a project.

So what I’m getting at is, when you have small kids, what should take five minutes, actually takes more like fifteen minutes. Which brings me to my next point.

Sometimes a real “five minutes” is all we have

Sure, taking the time to prepare fruits, veggies and homemade meals is undeniably important and it’s something I feel very strongly about. But, as parents, five minutes is often all the time we have to prepare an entire meal. Maybe that means that we should re-prioritize our day, but that isn’t always a reality.

Shortcuts, like baby carrots, pre-prepared items, or even (gasp!) packaged foods make it possible for us to feed our children (and ourselves) a relatively healthy meal in very little time. While I’m a fan of unprocessed “real foods,” I’m an even bigger fan of doing the best you can do at any given moment. For some that may mean buying a frozen dinner with a little more fiber or a little less sugar. For others that may mean adding a whole grain to your child’s snack. And yet for others, that may mean relying on baby carrots as a totally awesome way to give your family veggies.

Health is more than just one food 

I also feel strongly that the health and well-being of any given family goes well beyond one food. There are many other things you may choose to do with your five (or fifteen) minutes that are just as important as peeling carrots. Arguably even more important.

For example, you may decide to get some much-needed shut-eye. Or steam some broccoli. Or schedule a doctor’s appointment. Or play tag with your child. Or call your own mom. Or read to your child.

The bottom line is there are only so many fifteen-minute increments in a day. And who am I to tell you the best way to use that time? What may be best for me on a given day, simply may not work for you. We’re all just trying to do the best we can to raise healthy, happy kids and keep our sanity in the process. Even on the days when you’re on your A-game, you may need to shift priorities on any given second because baby.is.boss.

We support you

So, on behalf of all the writers at Smart Eating for Kids, I want to say that we support you. We support you on those days when you go through the drive-through. We support you on those days when your refrigerator is full of fresh produce, but you order pizza. And we support you when you give your kids baby carrots. Because we know that you’re trying to do your best and that sometimes it’s hard. Damn hard. Much harder than you make it look.

So if in ten years from now, or even in two years, I try to inspire you to do something healthy by saying “it just takes five minutes,” please show me this post and remind me of what real life is really like.

Until then, cheers to the baby carrot!

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  • Amen!

  • Three cheers! Hear hear! Well said!

  • Kim O’Brien

    Couldn’t agree more!

  • Mama I mean Amy

    Thank you! At our house, the intersection of what they will ingest, the food we have in our kitchen at the moment they will eat and the decision that they are HUNGRY is a fleeting pinpoint moment. The days when baby carrots are acceptable are very good days.

    • Laura Chalela Hoover, MPH, RDN

      Thanks, Mama (aka Amy!). You bring up another good point. Just because we might have the “ideal” food in our kitchens, doesn’t mean that little ones will always eat it. It’s about embracing and celebrating the mini victories!

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