Nutrition is a way of life and a family endeavor. Over the last few years, Mary has challenged me to take my nutrition to a new level. Learning more about nutrition has influenced what foods I buy and how I prepare them. This transition has affected the whole family and I must admit, it has taken some time for the adjustments. I thought that my husband would be the biggest challenge but as it turns out, he’s motivated to stay healthy so he’s bought in. In the beginning, my son was the easy one as he ate whatever I prepared for him. Even as a toddler, he had the same meals we had. Lately, though, he’s found a zillion reasons to dislike anything I put in front of him. His objections are based on assumptions rather than taste. The other day he was eating some store bought cookies with a friend of his who was hanging out with us. His friend thought I had baked them but my son scrunched up his face and said to him, “No way, these aren’t hers. She puts all kinds of weird stuff in hers like carrots and cucumbers.”
As a pre-teen, he’s starting to assert his choices for food and that’s okay as long as the choices are healthy ones! For the most part, he’s a healthy eater but the chips and snack sized candy bars are really starting to bother me. I am determined to stop buying these so called ‘occasional’ treats as they are taking over as his main sustenance!
Mary reassures me that as I continue to assert my rights as a mother to decide what is healthy and edible in our household that he’ll get the message. He will learn about what is healthy and will come to decide on his own that eating healthy is a better path. Her oldest son made her quite proud the other day when upon returning from a weekend camping trip with his buddies he said to Mary, “I can’t wait to have some of your homemade, good food.” Now, you need to understand that is quite a testament to Mary as she is what I would call a straight arrow regarding holistic nutrition, making everything from scratch like the nut butters and almond milk she uses. She is right that our taste buds change as we transition to healthier foods and a new way of eating!
At school and outside our reach, kids are influenced by what their peers are eating, what is sold at the school cafeteria, or by the fast food restaurants near the school or advertised on TV. That’s not news to any of us. As adults, we ourselves live with these temptations and convenience food options every day! As the kids get older, they want to make their own choices. So, how do we help our kids make the right choices? Here are some ideas:
- Make your own baby food from fresh vegetables and fruit and freeze in ice cube trays for individual portions.
- As they grow, make the same meals for your kids. When you eat the same things as they do, they get the right message about food.
Be an example
- Everyone in the household has to be on board. Both mom and dad eat healthy at home and away.
- Eat home prepared foods as much as possible.
- Make home prepared lunches as much as possible.
- Apply the 80/20 rule or 90/10 rule (some of us need a little more wiggle room!) For example, you might want to have a special day once a week as your ‘order in pizza night.’ Or, you might want to let your kids have a snack sized candy bar in their lunch twice per week.
Stock good food
- Keep your cupboards and fridge stocked with foods that you want your kids to eat. If they are hungry, they will eat what’s in your cupboard and fridge even if they first complain about how there’s nothing good to eat in there!
Make it easy
- Most kids want something and want it now! As a parent you may have to go the extra mile and have healthy prepared foods at their disposal. If you don’t, they may just walk to the nearest corner store to buy chips!
- Keep cut up veggies and fruit available for snacking.
Get them involved
- Get kids involved preparing foods as they may feel better about trying healthier foods they have created.
- Have them pick one food they’d like you to prepare for them. For example, my son’s choice was hash browns that look like the ones they sell at McDonald’s. Sometimes it can be a challenge to make their choice healthy but well worth trying! The presentation of food is also important for kids so make it look appealing.
- Get kids involved in growing a garden. “Research shows that children who garden are more likely to make healthy food choices than kids who don’t…” (Delicious Living, April 2013, p. 15).
- Give kids two or three options from which to choose for dinner. When you prepare their choice, they are more likely to eat it and you control the nutrition factor.
Help them learn
- Teach kids about healthy foods in a fun way like having them pick out one or two fresh foods in the supermarket they’d like to try.
- Play games like ‘spot the healthiest cereal or cookie on the store shelf’. Let them pick something and then read the nutrition labels together. Help them understand what is good and what’s not good. You make the final decision about whether to buy or not!
- Explain about food advertising and how some foods might not be as healthy as they state in the advertising.
Remember, as they get older peer pressure influences kids in many ways, including food choices. Realize that they may sway a little, but if you have taught them the principles of good eating they will come back.
Food in Schools
Parental guidance is also important at school. Although our schools say they have tried to improve the food choices for kids, they continue to provide menus that are unacceptable for healthy eating! These are actual choices from my son’s school:
“Jumbo hot dogs, fries/potato wedges, pizza pops, nachos with cheese and salsa, Donair pita platter, tater tots, pizza pretzels, alphaghetti soup, ‘homemade’ mac and cheese.”
Even their ‘Nutri Shack’ menu includes items like Sun Chips, pretzels, Baked Lays, Ritz Bits, goldfish, cereal, Bear Paws, pudding, assorted bars, Welches fruit snacks, yogurt tubes, rice krispie squares, and so on.
These are scary lists! I know there are kids who buy their lunch and snacks there every day and wonder how they can apply the 80/20 or 90/10 rule with such choices!
As parents, how can we make a difference? Get involved and get the menu changed to more of the healthier choices and less of the processed foods!
Join the Movement
We’d like to leave you with a TedTalk presentation made by Ann Cooper who is Director of Nutrition Services at a school district in California. Her talk is very inspiring and thought provoking.