But why wait till we’re adults? We can teach children about good food choices – and believe it or not, they will listen! Begin now to teach your children to avoid sugar and to abhor processed foods. How? Knowledge! Knowledge is power, even when you’re five. In my family, we tend towards varicose veins. But varicosities are not necessary just because my mother has them! I’m only 38, but my legs are veiny enough that even my daughter, when she was five, could see that it wasn’t healthy. (I have since had a lot of luck in resolving my varicosities – you can read about it here).
Since varicose veins go along with “thick blood” – which is nothing more than saying a person eats too many sweets and carbohydrates – they become a very visible lesson for my daughter. I can explain to her directly that her food choices will impact whether or not her legs look like mine. Hereditary illnesses don’t *have* to be hereditary – so explain to your children that they can avoid the illnesses specific to your family by choosing to skip the pizza.
What are good food choices? Well, to put it very most simply, good quality meat, vegetables, and fruit. Make sure to get good fats – olives, avocados, high quality animal fats, and coconut are some good choices. Avoid processed, packaged food, sugar, anything made with flour, and “fake” fats such as corn oil or soybean oil. (What do I mean by “fake”? Well, if I give you an ear of corn, you can’t give me corn oil – they need solvents and factories to get that oil out. But if I give you an olive, no problem. Stick to fats that don’t require technology.)
So now you have and Why and the What – here’s the How:
To teach your children about the importance of good food, start at the beginning: head to your local grocery store or farmer’s market – together. Make thoughtful food choices together. Talk about what would be healthy. Plan a meal. Even if your family has previously been a take-out family, you can still do this!
Start on a day without other commitments: a Saturday or a Sunday may work best. Buy foods together, and agree ahead of time that you won’t buy anything in a package. You can find a recipe before you go or just be inspired while you shop – whatever you’re more comfortable with. Make sure to get plenty of vegetables, some good quality meat, and fruit for desert. It’s ok if this shopping trip takes a long time: the journey is the destination!
Once you get home, cook your food together! It doesn’t have to come out perfectly – it’s a good thing for children to see adults make mistakes and learn from them. If it doesn’t come out well, make some notes about what you would do differently next time. Make sure to spend plenty of time talking about your commitment to eating healthy, whole foods – even if this is a new commitment for you! Not only will your children benefit from watching you grow and change, but they’ll help keep you honest too.
But what if your child is a picky eater? Well, to great extent, allowing your child to help pick out the foods will help. After that, here are some more suggestions:
- Play flavor games. Teach your kids that flavors are not “good” or “bad” (or “yucky”!) – give them other words such as “strong” or “pungent” or “intense”. Pick one night a week for the whole family to experience a new flavor – just as an appetizer before the meal. Maybe you’ll try fresh sage leaves, or a bit of horseradish, or an exotic fruit. Make sure to include a full range of flavors in your flavor exploration, so that your children don’t always expect flavors that don’t appeal to them. Share your experiences together as a family – what did everyone think of the flavor? Where do you feel it on your tongue? Does it taste like anything familiar? There are lots of things you can say without saying “I like/hate this”.
- Don’t provide alternatives. Instead of making a separate “kid friendly” meal, let your child eat what you are eating (although if it is quite spicy-hot, you might want to give them a milder version before you add all the spices). Make sure to plan some elements of the meal that will also appeal directly to them, so that everyone at the table has something to enjoy.
- Plan meals together. Perhaps each member of the family chooses a dish for the meal. Take turns for who will chose the entree and who will choose sides. Sure, you’ll end up with some very eclectic dinners, but you’ll be giving everyone at the table a chance to share something that they like. If your children are older, they can even be responsible for preparing their dish!
- Run out of foods you want to avoid. Your children have certainly already had the experience of “oops – we ran out of X”. And they also have certainly seen you forget something that should have been on the grocery list. Use that to your advantage now! It’s ok if they’re disappointed, and you can even apologize – while you’re offering them a healthier option! After a while, they’ll either figure it out, or they’ll forget. Either way, it will give you a breather in the moment when they’re asking for their Crunchy Cocoa Corns.
- Get Creative! Is your son a fan of dinosaurs? Then serve brontosaurous burgers for dinner! Save bones from chicken legs, and the next night, mold ground beef around them to that their “hamburgers” have a bone sticking out! Let them smear it all over with ketchup. In fact, if you have the time, go ahead a make a caveman costume he can wear to dinner. Is your daughter into princesses? Give her a fancy plate with the foods you want her to eat arranged in a fancy way, and let her wear a fancy dress and tiara to the table. Let her drink from a fancy teacup or a wine glass. Or tell them they have to eat the meal, but they have the choice: eat with fingers, or toes? (They’ll only choose toes once – it’s really too much trouble!)
Any of these ideas will absolutely be more work than what is required to serve chicken nuggets (even the organic kind). And on top of work, and the laundry, and soccer practice, and guitar lessons, it might feel like Just Too Much™. But it’s a short term investment for a very large long term payoff. Take a month, plan ahead just a bit, put off some projects, and remind yourself that you’re asking for some pretty big changes from your kids, it’s ok for you to give them a little something silly in return. And if that’s not feasible, then make changes one at a time! Or pick one night a week to be “Healthy Food Night”… Anything you can do to get the ball rolling will make a difference!
and check out our webinar series on Supporting Kids Through Puberty!
this article was originally written for mommypotamus