When it comes to the health of your children, how many of you would say that you have a relaxed or disinterested attitude?
(I’m sincerely hoping that none of you have got your hands raised.)
The amazing thing is, even though we, as parents, know that the health of our children is the most important thing in the world to us, we habitually allow them to live unhealthy lifestyles.
That could relate to a wide variety of issues, from lack of exercise to poor sleeping schedules, but today I’m speaking specifically about food, and the attitudes we develop in our kids about it.
A few months back, I watched a documentary on the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and I was floored by the parents who, despite obviously caring deeply for their children, continued to buy them the most nutritionally hollow food imaginable. These kids weren’t just fans of sugary snacks. They were facing serious health issues, and still their parents were loading up on cookies and ice cream every time they went to the store!
It seemed so preposterous, but after thinking about it for a minute, I started to see where they might be coming from.
I feel that, as parents, we’re so genetically programmed to want to see our children happy that we tend to give in to the short-term payoff of allowing them to eat what they want, instead of focusing on the long-term benefits of eating healthy.
After all, your child’s eyes don’t light up when you tell them, “Surprise! We’re having a low-fat, high-protein, nutrient-packed supper tonight!” But break out the frosted cupcakes and the next thing you know, they’ll be writing songs about you.
Now I’m not suggesting that you’re going to be able to get your kids to actually prefer healthy food to sugary treats overnight, but here are a few suggestions to help them understand the role nutrition plays in their bodies, and hopefully develop some positive associations with a wholesome diet.
1. Treats should not be bribes.
You don’t want kids to think that healthy food is just the stuff they have to eat so they can get to the good stuff, like cake. Talk about “sometimes” foods. Those are the food we can have, but need to keep in mind that too much of them will make us feel bad.
2. Keep healthy foods front, center, and ready to eat.
When you get home from the grocery store, don’t just throw the fruit and vegetables into the crisper. Take the opportunity to peel, slice and prepare some healthy treats, and then place them somewhere around your child’s eye level in the fridge. A bowl full of ready to eat fruit looks delicious, and it’s hard to resist.
3. Explain the benefits of healthy food.
Don’t just fall back on telling your kids they should eat their vegetables because, “They’re good for you.” Do a little research on the nutrients in different foods and explain them, either while you’re preparing them or when you bring them to the table. You don’t need to prepare a lecture, but a quick comment like, “That celery is full of calcium. It’ll make your bones super-strong,” can stimulate enough curiosity to get at least a few bites in.
4. Praise your kids when they make good choices.
Just to be clear here, I’m not suggesting that you praise your kids when they eat a lot of food, but when they eat any amount of healthy food. Don’t heap it on unnecessarily either, but let them know that you approve of their choices when they reach for some fruit, or snack on a handful of nuts.
5. Follow suit.
The next time your child asks for a healthy snack, don’t just hand them the fruit bowl. Ask him what he’d like and then ask to share it with him. Remember, your kids look up to you, and if you get excited about the peaches you brought home, they’re going to want to join in on that enthusiasm. Comments like, “That apple looks delicious! Can I have a bite?” can work wonders in reinforcing your child’s views on healthy foods.
Remember this; if you really want your children to be happy, the best way to encourage it is by teaching them to make healthy choices regarding their diet and lifestyle. Children who eat well and get plenty of exercise are overwhelmingly happier, more socially adept, have less trouble focusing in school, and have more energy than those who don’t.
If you’re looking for more information on promoting healthy eating habits in your kids, check out my Food Sense Program. It’s got everything you need to solve an overactive sweet tooth, fix fussy eating habits and start looking forward to mealtimes again!