Next time you're eating out at a restaurant, take a look at the kids' menu. Whether you're grabbing a bite to eat at a burger joint or devouring a bowl of pasta at an Italian eatery, the kids' menu will, without fail, always include the same typical "kids' food" items. Some time ago, Americans united and decided that children love the following (and only the following) items: chicken nuggets, grilled cheese sandwiches, pizza, cheeseburgers, fries, cheese quesadillas, macaroni-and-cheese and hot dogs. Since the birth of the kids' menu, these food choices have been branded as kids' food. While we may not be able to alter restaurant's menu options for children overnight, it's never too late to change your children's eating habits in your own home.
I know mothers who would actually die for their children, mothers who show up to every soccer practice, every dance class, every play, mothers who sanitize their children's hands before each meal and teach their children exquisite manners and life lessons. So why, when it comes to food, do many mothers keep their children from healthful eating? Instead of giving up, consider these helpful tips in order to start making healthful food changes in your child's diet today.
1) Don't please them for their love; let 'em whine!
It is so ironic that parents work incredibly hard for well over 18 years to make their children the best human beings possible. The biggest mistake I see parents making is that they want their children to love them, but the price they're paying is the long-term well-being of their children. I know that your kids give you love for being the "cool" parent and cooking them morning pancakes or nightly chocolate-chip cookies, but in reality you're hurting them and yourself.
I saw my 3-year-old cousin get 12 of her teeth filled, itch and burn from a urinary tract infection, and cry because her body hurt. Why? Because of too much sugar and soda. This is an extreme example, but within three days of a cleanse of fresh carrot-apple juice, most of her problems went away. She screamed and cried, but after she learned that she wasn't going to get frosting for lunch, she eventually stopped the tantrums. Sometimes we must let go of our own insecurities or needs for love for the future health and genuine love we can give our children, which then helps ourselves. We don't have to go through the pain of illness, diabetes or ADHD.
2) The earlier you start, the better.
All habits, from brushing your teeth to tying your shoes properly, begin young. There will always be candy and treats available at school or birthday parties (don't forget college and the freshman 15), but it is up to you to change your home environment early. You don't have to be extreme and oust chocolate from existing in your home. It doesn't have to be difficult or time-consuming, but begin by making healthful substitutions for otherwise unhealthful foods. For example, substitute candy with fresh fruits, or snack foods with fresh vegetables.
From childhood, I remember our pantry looking quite different from all my friends' pantries. While other children snacked on chips, grabbed candy to-go when playing outside, or munched on "kid food" for dinner and lunches, my go-to foods were fresh fruits and vegetables. Even before kindergarten I couldn't get enough avocado or banana. I was programmed early, and my mindset was stuck; I loved healthful foods not because they were forced on me but because I grew up with them and knew them for what they were: delicious foods that made me feel good.
3) Be an example; they watch what you eat.
A study was once conducted concerning the correlation between cigarette smokers and smokers' parents. The results were obvious, but shocking: most cigarette smokers professed to having at least one parent who also smoked. A similar correlation exists between unhealthful eaters and the parents of unhealthful eaters: most poor eaters openly profess to having at least one parent who also eats poorly.
Leading by example is key. This is difficult because many of us are stuck in our food habits: large portions, sodas throughout the day and fast food on the run, to name a few. While many of us have our reasoning, it is time to throw off the excuses and take time to eat right with our kids, as well. You may not find the motivation to do it for yourself, but do it for your children.
4) Be creative; make healthful foods exciting.
It is also important that they understand the reason you begin to eat healthy (or always have). Explain basic nutrition when you can: how vegetables and fruits give you energy and make you feel good. You can make it imaginative and take them on a journey (e.g., "Let's eat like a gorilla today and munch on bananas," or, "Have a grizzly bear snack -- raspberries and blackberries!") By giving them knowledge or a fun reference point concerning the way you eat and the way they also ought to eat, your children will understand the concept of healthful habits and perceive it as fun.
While nutritional knowledge allows children to have a deeper understanding of the foods they're eating, there is also a huge need to make the foods they eat exciting. Junk food companies attract children because their food is exciting, fun and colorful. Here are some ideas: utilize colored tooth picks to pick up grapes (also known as "alien eyeballs"); challenge them to a (one-glass) water-drinking contest; or slurp on coconut popsicles, which taste sweet but are secretly nutritious. Allow your child to feel cool and exciting when they eat their lunch at school or snack at home. There are dozens of resources on how to make healthful foods creative and fun, whether that means using shapes or constructing creatures out of your child's vegetables for snack time.
5) Most importantly, don't give up.
For many of you mothers-to-be, I am sharing these stories to encourage you to be aware of what you are feeding your kids from the start. It is much easier to feed your child nourishing vegetables right away than to suddenly alter their diet altogether. I think the key is to remember that they are small beings, and sugar or ordinary adult food can greatly affect them.
For those of you looking to change the diet of a child who may be in elementary school or even high school already, don't lose hope. While it is increasingly difficult to wean your child off sugary sodas and fatty foods as they become more used to these foods (and crave them), it is never too late to change. Whether you cleanse your household of "junk food" items overnight or slowly begin to purchase different items at the grocery store, make realistic goals concerning your household's food and stick to them.