As we are besieged daily by more news of overweight and obese children in the United States, we are reminded that our children aren’t eating healthfully. And it’s our fault. Our children follow our lead, trust our judgment and take our advice.
It’s our responsibility to make sure children are eating a healthful, varied diet. But that’s truly a tall order since children are often not open to new foods and will willingly and loudly reject a variety of healthy foods.
So what do you do? There are several steps to getting your children to eat better, be healthier and, hopefully, keep their weight in check.
First, set a good example.
If your children see you skipping breakfast, woofing down a burger for lunch and eating a beige, carb-laden dinner, they are learning very little about good nutrition from you.
Remember that your children are watching what you do and, as with so much else, they are taking your lead. If your diet needs re-working, use your children as inspiration for that change.
Second, go slowly.
If your children are accustomed to fruity pops for breakfast and chicken nuggets and fries for dinner, definitely go slowly in making changes to their diet. If you suddenly give them a smoothie with a protein chaser for breakfast and a spinach salad for dinner, you will meet with resistance, substantial resistance.
Start with slowly adding more fruits and vegetables to their diet. You can offer a fruit smoothie with breakfast (maybe make it with frozen yogurt to begin with to literally “sweeten the pot”, then taper that off as your children get used to it). Switch from white bread to whole wheat. Make this a non-negotiable item. If they are used to cold cereal in the morning, allow that, but add the smoothie. Then adjust the kind of cereal they eat, and so on.
For lunch and dinner, it’s much the same. Make changes slowly, and get your children accustomed to one thing before making another (hopefully subtle) change. Remember, some experts say it takes 10-12 exposures to a new food before children will accept it. They might never accept brussel sprouts, but if you have offered them a dozen times in various forms, you might be surprised one day when they say, “yum”.
Third, make it fun.
Since many adults consider healthy eating to be torture, imagine how hard a change this can be for a child, particularly if they’ve literally been raised on carbs, sugar, and fat. If you’ve set a good example, and been patient by moving slowly in changing your child’s diet, you might be surprised to see some resistance fading away. Now you can add in some fun.
* Head to a salad bar restaurant. Although there are abundant bad choices at these restaurants, there are enough good ones to bring even the most resistant child to the baked potato bar, or the spaghetti bar, or even – gasp! – the green salad bar. Dessert is often frozen yogurt.
* Or make your own Lunchables for your child, but fill the individual spots with grapes, cheese cubes, carrot sticks and turkey breast.
* Take your kids to the park for a picnic dinner, but instead of hauling along some fried chicken, make oven-baked at home, and add a homemade potato salad and fruit salad. *Get your kids into the kitchen with you. Although they might still sniff at the thought of eating asparagus, having a hand in preparing it might encourage them to at least try it – that’s the child ego coming out and you can exploit it for all its worth in this situation.