Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Helping children with story massage after the tsunami in 2012 in Japan (interview of Mary Atkinson)

I taught story massage today in Family Room in San Marino so it is a great day to share the interview of some true story massage veterans who have taken story massage even to Japan to help children in the aftermath of the tsunami in 2012. I am honored to present you the interview of Mary Atkinson who with her partner Sandra Hooper teach story massage in England. Read the inspiring story of these incredible women and their valuable and inspiring work.

You and Sandra Hooper have been teaching story massage in the UK for many years. What is your story? How did it all start?

Sandra and I first met in 2005 when I was researching information for my book Healing Touch for Children. Sandra is an experienced Massage in Schools Instructor and I was a student on her course. We both shared a real passion for the power of Story Massage and felt an instant bond. We worked together on several other projects together. Then in 2012, I was invited to work with the children who had been affected by the devastating tsunami in Japan. Story Massage seemed the best way to introduce the healing power of touch to these traumatised children. I approached Sandra and other health professionals to write a story massage especially for the children. 
The story proved so popular and beneficial that Sandra and I wanted to share the benefits, and the joy, of Story Massage with as many children and adults as possible, all around the world. We now run accredited training courses, and we have written a book, eBook and produced a DVD. Our books and DVD are called Once Upon a Touch… Story Massage for Children.

How many people have you trained?

We have only been running our courses for a year but we have trained around 250 people already. Our diaries are filling up for next year too with courses around the UK including in-house training days in schools and hospices. We have invitations to teach in Denmark, USA and France. It seems to be gathering its own momentum as people realise the amazing benefits and possibilities of such a simple and positive activity. 

Where do the people you trained use story massage - at home, schools, other facilities?
We have been so humbled by the range of areas where Story Massage is making a real difference. People attend our courses and then use Story Massage in their place of work using their own expertise and experience. People use it at home with their own children and grandchildren, and it can be helpful for bonding when children are adopted and fostered. It is used in schools and in special schools, and with adults and children with learning difficulties or physical disabilities. It has also proved really beneficial in hospice settings with children facing the end of their life where Story Massage brings comfort not only to the children themselves but also their families. Disadvantaged teenagers find that sharing positive touch in a safe atmosphere can be helpful for raising self-esteem, and it has been part of Brownie activities, Harvest Festival in churches, baby massage classes and even within physiotherapy sessions. Every course we run seems to bring new possibilities and avenues to explore. At the end of November, I am travelling further afield and will take Story Massage to a children’s home in Nepal.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from your students after they have started using story massage in their work or homes?

The feedback has been so positive, sometimes it is hard to believe that something so very simple and enjoyable can bring such profound benefits. People are always so pleased that they have an activity that they can use immediately after the day course. We often get comments from parents and grandparents saying that their child loved the story massage and wanted more and more…! Health professionals are delighted to have an activity that does not require any preparation, funding or sterilization. Teachers find that Story Massage has a calming impact in the classroom, and can easily be used as a creative activity within the school curriculum.

Could you share one positive experience (I am sure you have many!) with story massage that has touched you?

Am I allowed to describe two!

Firstly, there is a charity called The Chernobyl Children’s Lifeline which offers children from the Chernobyl Disaster area some respite, good food and healthcare for four weeks every year. One of the problems is the language barrier, and also initial ‘bonding’ with their host families in the UK. For the past three years we have introduced a Welcome to the UK Story Massage on their first day to help break down the barriers through positive touch. It has always proved successful and provided a lot of fun and laughter. However, last year we were so pleased to discover that the children had been sharing massage not only within their host family homes, but also in a supermarket! (see photo). The children took the story massage back to their own families – and so the power of touch keeps spreading.
Secondly, we took story massage to a school assembly of 330 children aged 10 -11 years, and the outcome was really heartwarming. As background information, as I mentioned before, I was part of a project that took Story Massage to the tsunami area of Japan. This was instigated by a wonderful Japanese charity called Cocoro (which means mind in Japanese) and founded by Takiko Ando, a Japanese aromatherapist who wanted to bring comfort and healing to the victims through positive touch.

The mental health of the survivors is still a real cause for concern and the charity continues its vital work in the area. One of the most important ways of supporting the local people is by sending letters or photographs to show they are still remembered by people all around the world.

Part of my role as Cocoro UK representative is to co-ordinate these awareness-raising activities. We were invited to run a school assembly and introduce The Smiling Flowers Story Massage to the children. It was just so amazing to watch 330 children, boys and girls, all massaging each other (see photo). The teachers commented that they rarely saw the children so well behaved, focused and gentle with each other! Then, totally unprompted, they wrote beautiful hand-written letters to the children in Japan. The letters were translated to Japanese and delivered by the charity to the schools and kindergartens. It was chain of compassion, connection and caring that was sparked by the power of touch through Story Massage.

Because of my own work with story massage, I am curious about your method! In your method you teach a set of strokes to use with stories. Do you find it is easier for people to have this tool pack of strokes than to improvise?
Definitely. We organized several ideas workshops with a range of professionals and parents to devise the most effective way of sharing Story Massage with people who have no massage background. We introduce ten basic strokes that can be used to cover a range of different actions and objects within a story massage. One stroke is called The Circle, for example, and this could depict the sun, a cake, the world or children dancing in a circle…. the list goes on. We teach and share these ten strokes and spend time discussing the various objects and actions before people begin to adapt stories or create their own.

For many people, the creative process can be quite daunting and these ten strokes offer a starting point to help build confidence. Each stroke has its own symbol, and this becomes an international language. You can see video clips of our ten basic strokes on our website.

Which is your favorite story? Could you share it with my readers?
Personally, my favourite story is The Smiling Flowers because this marked the start of our Story Massage project. We had no idea where it would lead when we first wrote it. The Smiling Flowers Story Massage is available to download from our website www.storymassage.co.uk when you subscribe to our free e-newsletter.

What are the most important benefits of story massage in your opinion?
Story massage offers a simple, fun and interactive way of sharing the benefits of positive touch with children of all ages and abilities. The benefits will vary depending on the situation, whether at home, in the classroom or other location, and also the responses and particular needs of the individual child, but may include:
  • The relaxation of mind and body, easing tension and the cumulative effects of stress. 
  • The promotion of ‘feel­good’ hormones including oxytocin, which helps to boost general well­being. 
  • The opportunity for children to have dedicated ‘calming time’. 
  • Learning the essential life skill of conscious relaxation through first­hand experience of recharging and refreshing mind and body. 
  • Improved alertness and concentration. 
  • Reduction of aggressive and hyperactive behaviour. 
  • An increased sensitivity by children of how their own actions and emotions can influence those of others. 
  • Increased self­confidence, self­awareness and self­esteem. 
  • An alternative and engaging way of encouraging children to develop a wider vocabulary. 
  • The opportunity for children to engage in experiences that provide a context for the use of emotional language. 
  • Individual attention that enhances a child’s awareness of being valued, and brings a sense of self­worth. 
  • The opportunity for families and friends to share time together – having fun, connecting and developing the imagination. 
Thank you for sharing your story. I enjoyed reading it and learning how much valuable work you have done so far and I am sure there is more to come!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Why story massage is great for kids

Photo: Hello Pinecone Photography

I can't believe I haven't written anything on my blog about the biggest thing in my life right now (apart from our food adventure of course)! Remember how last spring I went and got certified in pediatric massage by Tina Allen from Liddle Kidz Foundation? (I wrote a travel paleo/AIP food post about my trip, you can read it here.)

My budding pediatric massage therapist career evolved quickly and spontaneously into teaching story massage. What is story massage, you ask. Very simply, in story massage you tell a story and "draw" it with your hand on someone else's, often a child's back. It is a great way to combine storytelling and nurturing touch with being present with your child. The kids love it!

There are many benefits of story massage but here are few:

  • Massage releases the so called "feel good hormones" and lowers stress hormones and helps relax, sleep, focus, grow, learn and stay healthy and happy. (This is all research based by the way, so you don't have to take my word for it!)
  • Oxytocin, the love hormone, is released, and it enhances bonding between the parent and the child. 
  • The mindful presence and positive touch give the child a message of being valuable and important and can increase their self esteem.
  • The mindful presence of the parent will fill the child's tank with love and security and can thus even prevent conflicts.
  • In the event of a conflict, story massage can provide a way to reconnect.
  • Stories can help to prepare the child for life changes, transitions or new situations.
  • Story massage can be a tool to process feelings. The story and your mindful presence and safe space can also inspire the child to share their thoughts or worries with you.
  • In Europe where story massage is used in schools and day cares, caretakers report story massage being a great tool to prevent conflicts and even bullying. Peer massage is used there too.
  • Asking permission to massage will teach the child that they have the right to say "no" if someone wants to touch them. It also models them about boundaries with their interactions with others - they should ask others before touching their bodies.
  • Pediatric massage teaches about healthy touch and also to ask for healthy touch.
  • Storytelling enhances imagination, listening skills, vocabulary and helps with reading. Massage helps to stay still to listen to the story (and vice versa!) and can be used to learn specific knowledge too - like drawing the numbers or letters on the back or just using descriptive strokes for an educational story made up from the topic the child wants to learn about will help them remember.

For more information about story massage and pediatric massage, check out my website.

Read my story how I ended up in story massage also from the website of this UK based wonderful story massage company.

More about story massage soon!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Brussel Sprout Lover's Pan of Happiness

Did you know that in my native language, Finnish, brussel sprouts are called "rose cabbages"? I love that name! They do look like little cute baby cabbage heads. Anyway, this recipe is so good. You will love it, I promise! You will want to have this for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I do at least. If you ever meet someone who says they don't like brussel sprouts, offer them a taste of this dish! You might just convert them. Have I sold this recipe to you yet?

I loooove brussel sprouts in all forms so who am I to say though, but I have heard a lot of sighs of happiness from people eating this food. This is the best brussel sprouts recipe I know of.  What is your favorite way of preparing brussel sprouts? Please share in comments!

I usually buy sugar free and additive free delicious bacon from US Wellness Meats, for this day's version I had to use alternate bacon as they have been out, the bacon is so good. I am a part of their affiliate program so if you buy yours through my link above you support my blog! Thank you!

Delicious Sauteed Brussel Sprouts 

1/2 lb bacon 
a couple of pounds of brussels sprouts
1/2 lbs of mushrooms (optional)
1 big clove of garlic
1/3 cup of broth (I make my own delicious and healthy broth, learn how you can, too!)
1/3 cup coconut milk
2 tbsp creamed coconut
salt to taste

1. Prepare the brussels sprouts. Wash them, cut the hard bottom part off, remove any too wilted outer leaves and cut the sprouts in half.
2. Wash mushrooms and cut them in half. Very small ones you can keep whole.
3. Cut bacon in small pieces.
4. Brown the bacon pieces in a large skillet on medium heat. Add garlic and stir.
5. Add brussels sprouts and mushrooms and toss them in the bacon fat for a couple of minutes.
6. Add broth, coconut milk and creamed coconut and simmer on low until the brussels sprouts are as soft as you like them. Mix every now and then to prevent anything from burning. Add more liquid if it all evaporates to prevent the dish from burning.
7. Enjoy alone or with friends!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Passion fruit coconut milk ice cream (dairy free)

I love living in Southern California. Here it happens every so often (or is it just me?!) that a friend or a neighbor give you veggies or fruit from their garden or tree because they just have too much for their own use. Yesterday I got eight pieces of passion fruit. From a friend's tree! I made an ice cream of it to serve them and another family tonight. It tuned out very very yummy. Here is the recipe.

3 cups coconut milk
6 passion fruit pulp, peels and seeds removed
1 peach (optional)
1 tsp vanilla 
1/4-1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp raw honey

Mix in a blender and use your ice cream maker to magically turn it into some yummy ice cream!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Packing a healthy real food school lunch is super simple.

Grilled chicken, olives, pomegranate and rutabaga sticks.

No-one brings lunch to school in Finland. The lunch is provided by the public school (most children attend public school) for free - well, not free, but paid by everyone's taxes. I grew up eating warm home cooked meal type school lunches in Finnish school cafeteria: Fish soup, ground beef soup, cabbage casserole, meat sauce and potatoes, meat balls and mashed potatoes, liver casserole, spinach pancakes and blood pancakes with lingonberry preserves (yes, you read that right). You can find a lot of those recipes from my other blog Rootlicious.

Here in the US I pack my children's school lunches and snacks (I still don't get it why they would need a snack in between breakfast they've had right before school at home and school lunch, it is just a few hours and the snack just spoils the appetite for lunch in my humble opinion). I pack them mostly paleo foods and the lunch consists of a protein (meat, mushrooms or nuts or seeds), a serving of vegetables and a serving of fruit or berries. Leftovers from last night's dinner are great. For snack I add one serving of veggies, fruit or nuts.

I use a bento box type lunch box with compartments to separate the different foods. My favorites are Planet Box and Lunch Bots. They are durable stainless steel lunch boxes with compartments and they are free from plastic (which I am afraid can contain chemicals that leach in to the food). I pack the stainless steel box in an insulated lunch bag.

Cucumber slices, spinach plantain pancakes,
water melon and blackberries in a Lunch Bots.
Packing a paleo school lunch is super simple. Even your children can do it themselves and save you a lot of work. They actually can find it fun to pack their own lunch starting from chopping vegetables or fruit. Even my three year old can chop most veggies and fruit with a knife. I like to give them sharp knives instead of dull ones (in fear of them hurting themselves) because the dull knives slip easier and can hurt them too. It feels good to use a proper knife and with supervision even very small children can totally do it. I also often leave vegetables or fruit whole, they don't always need to be chopped. An apple or banana are in perfect packages as they are!

Pick one from each category below and put them in a bento box. You can of course use two or more different kinds of fruit or berries or vegetables at once.

Spinach pancakes with apple sauce and
prosciutto wrapped grilled mushrooms

Category 1: Protein
I prefer to buy organic, grass fed and sustainable and without additives.

  • Ground beef patty in lettuce wrap (fried the same morning)
  • Mushrooms wrapped in prosciutto or bacon grilled in toaster oven that morning
  • Nut butter with veggies or fruit
  • Nuts or seeds
  • Cooked/canned fish
  • Larabar
  • Epic bar
  • Cooked chicken strips (alone or with a Paleo wrap and guacamole, ground beef is nice with the wrap and guacamole too)
  • A grilled chicken drumstick
  • Lunch meat, liverwurst or fried bacon (some healthy options can be found from US Wellness Meats)
  • Cooked shrimp
  • Paleo fish sticks (click for a recipe - the same recipe can be used to make paleo chicken nuggets)
  • A boiled egg would be perfect if we didn't avoid eggs due to allergies.
  • Paleo meat balls
  • Peas
  • Green beans

TIP: Use tooth picks to pin liverwurst, lunch meat or sausage pieces together with cucumber slices

Category 2: Vegetables
I like to use seasonal veggies.

  • Spinach pancakes with apple sauce
  • Baby carrots or carrot sticks
  • Persian cucumbers (whole), or cucumber sticks or slices (a quick ranch dip can be made with coconut kefir, garlic, Herbamare, lemon, parsley)
  • Raw rutabaga or turnip sticks
  • Radishes
  • Steamed broccoli
  • Raw cauliflower florets
  • Sea weed
  • Guacamole (or is avocado technically a fruit?)
  • Olives
  • Salad
  • Pickles
  • Sauerkraut
  • Other fermented veggies

Category 3: Fruit/treat/dessert (or snack)
I like to use seasonal fruit and berries.

  • Blueberries/raspberries/blackberries/strawberries
  • A whole apple/peach/plum
  • Orange slices
  • Pieces of melon
  • A plantain pancake with Sunbutter (we use this one) or nut butter or homemade paleo "nutella" (add raw cacao powder to a nutbutter or use a recipe like this)
  • Strawberries with paleo "Nutella"
  • Apple sauce
  • Fermented apple sauce
  • Fruit salad with seasonal fruit
  • Grapes
  • Paleo muffins (Google for tons of recipes!)
  • Coconut balls (kids love to make these themselves)
  • Chocolate pudding from avocados

Remember to add an ice pack if you have packed meat. Don't forget water. We use stainless steel water bottles (we use this kind except always with a regular cap, sports caps and sippy cup caps worry me for mouth development issues). We pack a cloth napkin too. The kids can help sew those from leftover fabrics, or choose their own fabrics from the store. My son made a few spider napkins and they are his favorite. It is a nice touch to add a little love note, a joke or a fun fact for the kids who are learning to read. I make mine in our secret language, Finnish.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

I am on Paleo Diet Magazine!

My paleo camping food blog post was featured in the new Paleo Diet magazine!

You can check out the mag with me in it for free with coupon code PaleoMagVIP. The magazine is awesome!

Here is the link for iTunes.


Here is a video on how to use the code:

Or see the pic below for the three step process. If you need help with it, let me know!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Sweet potato, greens and chicken curry (AIP / Paleo / Grain free / Dairy free / Vegan version)

I love buying vegetables from the farmers' market and going home to cook them right away. Today we bought sweet potatoes and water spinach and came up with this creation. It was great and kids liked it too (well, at least one of them). I put only a little bit spices not to make it too strong for them as they are not used to very spicy food.

You can make this vegan by leaving out the chicken.

Coconut oil
Big bunch of greens (I used water spinach here)
Several sweet potatoes
Mushrooms of your choice
Fresh ginger
Salt to taste
Turmeric to taste
1-2 cups of broth (can be vegetable or meat broth)
Chicken, optional

Optional (seed based spices are not included in the beginning of AIP diet so these can be left out as well):
Ground black pepper, cumin, coriander and mustard seed to taste

(These are spices included in the curry spice, just like the other spices above like turmeric which gives it the yellow color - I have made nightshade free curry spice myself in the past by mixing these spices but leaving out chili.)

1. Peel sweet potatoes and cut them in cubes. Chop mushrooms and greens.
2. Grate a piece of fresh ginger and chop garlic.
3. Heat up the coconut oil in a big pan on medium heat.
4. Add garlic, ginger and other spices (not salt yet) and stir them in the oil. Be careful not to burn them.
5. Add sweet potatoes and broth and let cook (covered) for a few minutes.
6. Cut chicken in strips and add them in the pan.
7. When the chicken and sweet potatoes are nearly done, add mushrooms and greens.
8. Last add salt and taste it. Add spices as needed.

This recipe can be found as well from Phoenix Helix' AIP Roundtable

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Depression is not “just a bad day”. And hold your babies when they cry.

Photo: Hello Pinecone Photography

The death of Robin Williams touched deeply the world who knew him. Me, like many others have been thinking about him, his movies I have seen, depression and suicide. I have been thinking about the reasons that lead to someone to end their own life. And I have been holding by children a little more tightly.

Today I read a touching Facebook post from my friend, mentor, teacher (and at times even my student), Eloise. She talked about times she was “seized by a deep, wordless, horrible existential angst” that came in no pattern. She didn’t know why she felt like that but learnt how to get through it somehow.

“If I had been a little less stubborn, or a little less Aries, or - I might have gotten worse than better - I might have killed myself too”, she says. But she didn't. 

A few years ago the feeling got hold of her again. “Three years ago, I was in that place and a thought bubbled up from inside me that 'this is what it felt like when I was left alone to cry when I was a baby'. That was why it was wordless, it was a feeling before I had words. I was so alone and the universe was an uncaring place and the pain was all-encompassing."

She says after the realization, the blackness haven't come again. 

"I think it is gone because I understood it. I write this for anyone who it might speak to, and I write for parents. The 'let them cry it out' strategy is a mistake with infants.”

She says she is convinced now that being left to cry alone installed “some truely horrific times” in her psyche. She urges people to remember that this goes beyond just having a bad day. “Please don't trivialize it. And hold your babies when they cry.”

If you want to read the whole post, you'll find it unedited below, published with the writer’s permission. Thank you, Eloise. And I am so sorry you were left alone to cry as a baby.

"I am generally a pretty happy person. However, there were times when I have been seized by a deep, wordless, horrible existential angst. Why even try to move -because the hole was deep and formless and lightless - what could fight that? It would come on in no pattern I ever figured out, and blessedly, would leave in less than a day - or at least after a sleep. It started in high school - I remember the in-the-middle-of-it decision to kill myself, and then the next day realizing it might get better after high school, so I bargained myself into hanging on til I was 25. And I thought about it at 25 - I had made a contract with myself - but although the blackness would still sometimes come, I had practiced going through it, I knew it, I had made my way through - and life was interesting enough. 3 years ago, I was in that place - and a thought bubbled up from inside me that 'This is what it felt like when I was left alone to cry when I was a baby'. That was why it was wordless, it was a feeling before I had words. I was so alone and the universe was an uncaring place and the pain was all-encompassing. I haven't had the blackness come again since that realization, and I think it is gone because I understood it. I write this for anyone who it might speak to, and I write for parents. The 'let them cry it out' strategy is a mistake with infants - maybe not with 3 year olds, but with people who don't have words or understanding yet - I am as convinced as I am that there will be another dawn that being left to cry was what installed some truely horrific times in my psyche. If I had been a little less stubborn, or a little less Aries, or - I might have gotten worse than better, I might have killed myself too. If you haven't felt the transporting/transformation of your personality to something bleak and 'not you' - Yay for you. Give great gratitude to the powers that be. But please, understand that this goes beyond 'normal' life, and it is not 'just a bad day', and it is not someone else's fault for not doing the right thing on that day. Please don't trivialize it. And hold your babies when they cry."

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Super easy creamy chicken in the oven (AIP, paleo, dairy free, grainfree, gluten free)

This dish has almost a blue cheesy taste although it is dairy free! This food was so good that we were nearly fighting for the last bits. You have to try it, I am telling you! I created the dish kind of accidentally while we were staying in a cabin in the national forest in Finland. We were jetlaggy, tired, needed a dinner quickly and these were the only ingredients I had at hand. I had packed the creamed coconut in my suit case to use in place of milk in cooking. It keeps well, doesn't need refrigeration and I often bring some camping too. Now that I think of it, this would be perfect camp food. It could be prepared ahead of time in bags of foil and just be put on the campfire at dinner time. We are going camping for my birthday this week on the beach, guess what my birthday dinner will be?!

Easypeasy creamy chicken in the oven

2 lbs chicken thighs or breast, cut in strips
small bunch of spinach, chopped roughly (other greens would work too)
1 package of mushrooms, cut in half or quarters
1 package of creamed coconut (I use this one) (half a package might be enough but I used the whole thing)
1/2 lb of bacon (AIP friendly bacon available at US Wellness meats), cut in small pieces
a clove of garlic
salt to taste
coconut oil to grease the pan
A splash or two of water, white wine or broth in addition if the dish feels very dry as you are mixing it, I added some just in case

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Grease an oven pan with coconut oil.
3. Mix all ingredients in the pan. If the creamed coconut is solid, you can crumble it. The crumbles give the dish actually a cheesy feel. Use a garlic press to mince the garlic.
4. Bake in the oven until the chicken is cooked. Keep an eye so it doesn't burn from the top and add water or broth or wine and mix if needed.
5. Serve with salad. (Would be very nice with some gluten free noodles or boiled potatoes too if the dish doesn't have to be AIP friendly!)

TIP: If you don't want to use oven in the heat of the summer, you can just as well sautee the dish in a pan or a pot.

More AIP friendly recipes

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

How to get kids to eat healthy food?

Healthy food can be good. This little boy is
eating grain free and sugar free plantain pancakes.
People often ask me how they could get their kids to eat. Or even better, how could they get them to eat healthy foods instead of only the bread, cheese, crackers and treats they crave. I have been asked to write a blog post about this multiple times but it feels hard. I am no expert in this. How could I tell you what the right answer is? See, I have a selective (or so called "picky", don't like the word) eater in the household too. Sometimes two. But it is getting better. The pickiest eater's favorites now are liver sausage, sushi, mushrooms and fish. He eats vegetables. The other day he said, surprised, as he tasted some fried zucchini: "Mom, this is good!" How did we get here?

I have come to learn that one of my selective eater's reasons for being so selective was due to food sensitivities (yes, food sensitivities can cause kids to be so called picky eaters but that is another post). The other aspect was his parents (my husband and I). We gave him what he wanted to eat. When my selective eater was very young he used to eat only cheese, bread, Annie's bunny crackers and pasta with tomato sauce (and mommy's milk). We gave him those foods as we thought he would otherwise starve and we were scared to say no to him.

Nowadays the selective eater, who is seven years old, eats a rather healthy variety of foods including all kinds of sea food (shrimp, fish, octopus), mushrooms, meats, fruits and berries, liver sausage (we buy the US Wellness Meats one), liver casserole, some selected vegetables like broccoli, carrots, cucumbers and zucchini, cabbage casserole, spinach pancakes, green smoothies, sushi etc. How did we get here?

You drive the bus - but be a gentle bus driver, never force anyone to eat

My advice is - and it sounds simple but don't be fooled - that YOU drive the bus. You (by "you" I mean the parents together, not just one parent, it is easier if there is consensus) decide what kind of foods you want your family to eat (think about it, write it even down and talk about it with the kids - why eating healthy is good and so on, you get the idea). Then serve those foods. Serve them at meal times, sit down together as a family.

Our brunchy breakfast today. I served everyone the same food.
Don't force

Don't force anyone to eat anything but serve only healthy foods, only the foods you have decided are the ones your family should eat. Don't offer a side of crackers or bread in case they won't like the main dish. You could have bowls of carrot sticks, fermented foods, salads and other healthy foods available at the table they can snack on too if you are very concerned that they don't have a choice. Or even better, serve those as appetizers. Then they can fill their stomachs with healthy foods if they don't like the main dish. Or you don't have to serve a casserole where all things are mixed together. You can have different kinds of veggies, meats etc. separately to choose from. But if you know that from a plate like this they will only eat the rice/pasta/other grain or starch filler side and leave all the rest, try leaving that out.

So what if they don't like the main dish? That is ok. Don't get mad, don't make them feel guilty, don't associate bad feelings to the meal time or food. You can in a friendly manner say it is ok, this is our dinner for today and if you are not hungry now, we can save this for later. Put the plate aside and if they ask later for food, you can bring it out again.

If they really really don't like that food, say, they gag when they try to eat it, I never force it. In this case I might offer another healthy choice (other vegetables or meats if I have something available). But if they won't even try the food, I won't offer anything else. I don't think they are necessarily then hungry enough. And this is a shady area because it can happen that you always then have to offer the other alternative food... So I save this strategy only for those occasions I can see clearly that the child clearly just does not like the flavor of the food (spicy or very strong) at all. I don't force myself to eat foods that make me gag or don't like them at all. It can be a sign that you shouldn't eat that food. Maybe you are allergic to it. Although it can happen that you crave the foods you are most allergic to.

Serve the whole family same foods and have the whole family participate in the cooking

Don't make the kids separate meals (or the husband, for heaven's sake, I have heard of this happening too!). This was our biggest mistake in the beginning of our parenting journey. We cooked him separate meals if we ate something we thought wouldn't be "kid's food", too spicy or just unusual ingredients. They need to be exposed to all those foods and see you eat the same food they are being served. You can make less spicy food for a while if you don't want to feed your little one chili. They can eat all veggies, meats, fruits etc. if they are not allergic to them.

With our second child, we offered him same food we ate from the start. I maybe modified our foods so that I felt they were foods I could offer a one year old (we didn't start solids until he was one, he nibbled on some carrots ticks etc. before but he was mostly just breastfed until then - and still is on top of the other foods he eats). He also was gluten and dairy free (and without a few other allergens) from the start as I feel he reacted to those through breast milk - assuming food sensitivities play a role. He eats almost anything. He eats sauerkraut for breakfast. He eats olives, smoked salmon, vegetable soups. He does not like pureed food as we have never given him any but why would he have to eat his foods pureed anyway? I don't even personally like pureed foods except my creamy cauliflower soup, that I have named Happiness.

We started the second child's food journey (in addition to breast milk) with finger foods - he just ate same things we ate but with his fingers - so he has always been able to feed himself too. He doesn't object using a fork and spoon like my firstborn who we fed with a spoon who knows how long. Live and learn.

Have only healthy foods available - have a certain day or two as treat days

Create healthy hunger by avoiding snacks and processed foods. If you need to have snacks, snack only on healthy real foods. And have a special dedicated day or two for treats. You can always refer to those days when they ask for a treat.

I am originally from Finland and I have never been big on as many processed foods as I see kids eat here in the US. By processed foods I mean foods like crackers and cereal that are low in nutrition but have a lot of additives or sugar or empty carbs. I am just not used to them as I didn't have as many available growing up so I had to settle to rutabaga sticks for snacks. No factory made crackers anywhere in sight.  We ate cookies and crackers in parties and on Saturdays my mom made sweet buns we ate after sauna with a glass of milk.

We did eat sometimes crispy bread or bread for snack that was made of whole rye sour dough. With butter. And cheese if you were lucky. I remember that my favorite foods were fried fish or chantarelle mushrooms fried in butter (I picked them from the forest myself and threw them in my mom's hot frying pan with the dirt and pine needles and everything). Or sardines straight from a can (they have the bones in them still so they are full of calcium which I couldn't have cared less of course then!).

The system was that I had mostly healthy foods available. I ate when I was hungry. And on Fridays I had "candy day" when I could buy some candy to eat. I offered a lot of it to others. Like my dad who never refused my Friday candy offerings. On Saturdays I sometimes got a soda after sauna. It was huge deal, we have photos of those occasions when I am drinking my 12 oz soda with a straw from a glass bottle. I didn't have cavities by the way (until teenage when I started eating more sweets and processed foods).

In our family we have a treat day on Wednesdays when we go to farmers market. The treat for my kids is a musubi (seaweed, rice, broiled salmon and sesame seeds) and organic strawberries. They look forward to this all week. On Friday we have a treat day. The treat can be homemade ice cream, paleo ice cream sandwiches or the kids might even get an organic lollipop or small fruit snack bag from Wholefoods (I think they are not fruit snacks but candy!), a piece of chocolate or something like that. Occasionally we have treats on other days too out on a whim. Healthy desserts and treats if we have guests for dinner and so on. It is good not to be too strict, life is supposed to be fun. But I like to have dedicated treat days for one reason: When they beg for treats, I can say: It is not our treat day, just wait until Wednesday or Friday. Or we will make ice cream on Saturday since we will have guests.

Our job is to offer healthy meals. They will eat if they are hungry. 

They are not going to starve themselves and they will be ok if the skip a meal (or even two!) so just relax!

Kids are more likely to eat and try new foods when they are hungry. Don't offer too many snacks. They kill the appetite for the real food at dinner. If you offer snacks, offer healthy foods, vegetables, fruit and healthy proteins, not empty unhealthy calories like sugars and gold fish crackers. If they spoil their appetite with steamed broccoli, carrots, cucumbers or rutabaga... oh well. The other day my kids snacked on fried mushrooms (intended side for dinner) straight from the frying pan and some berries.

If my kids are so hungry they can't wait me to finish the dinner (like really can't wait), I might offer them foods I am cooking with  like cucumbers or carrots I am chopping to the salad, olives, or pieces of meat. Better yet, have them chop the vegetables for you and they can sneak pieces in their mouths! Make it fun. Tell them mock sternly they can chop the vegetables but not eat any of them and they will for sure try to sneak some to eat if you keep playing the game and pretend to get really mad if they "steal" from the salad. (Read the book Playful Parenting for great parenting ideas!)

My first born has had hard time trying new foods, with consistencies of foods, with strong tastes and he would have liked to eat just cheese and bread. It turned out, he was allergic, or became allergic, to all those foods he craved (we did some iGg testing in online labs by collecting stool samples or a finger prick blood test at home, check out the links on my website). He has started trying more foods the more I have been able to track down foods that trigger his body and have removed them from his diet. The biggest shift I saw after putting him on 80-90% paleo diet by removing the last processed foods (I count as processed foods all foods with long ingredient lists): the gluten free pink Trader Joe's bread, store bought coconut milk ice creams and most grains. After that he has tried many new foods. The change is amazing. (This is again another blog post but check out my website for good books and links where to test food sensitivities to get started if you are interested in this route (scroll down to the part "food sensitivities"). Sarah Ballantyne's Paleo Approach (affiliate link) is a good read too about how to do an elimination diet to figure out food sensitivities whether you have an autoimmune disease or not.

Other great posts about this on other blogs:
How do I get my kids to eat (Health Home Happy)