How to talk to your child about eating?
This is a common question that I field at the office regarding modern day eating and how to overcome outside negative pressures on our children.
The average child in school sits next to your kid and is eating lunchables, doritos and some other processed snack food while washing it down with sunny D. There are even stories of kids having chips, candy and fruit punch for a meal. WOW! It is clear to me that this child's parent either has little knowledge of healthy eating or has abdicated the authority to parent. Unfortunately, the latter is often the case.
What is happening in the world today? I have been teaching my kids that McDonald's has just changed CEO's and is in trouble because Americans are finally waking up to the merits of healthy food over fast and processed varieties. Restaurant chains like Chipotle are driving the market now because they are meeting the new American desire of rapid but real whole food that tastes good. I find that teaching my kids what is happening is a route to their understanding of our family choices.
My wife and I spend time educating our children on how food effects them and why their choices are important. They then have to decide whether to listen and learn or balk and fight. We are blessed with two different children. One eats anything and follows an anti inflammatory style diet while our other would prefer to eat anything made from flour or sugar. Obviously, the parenting challenges are hard in one case and easy in the other.
What we have learned over the past eleven years is this:
1) Education is key. They learn despite what you think at times. They have a natural desire to emulate a parent. They are very intuitive when you let them. I have noted many times that my children are making choices based on prior teachings. Even my starch craver has shown balance in his life with food. They are starting to listen to their bodies. We have noted many recent experiences where one of our children has felt off after a meal only to recognize a pattern and make changes.
2) Let them know that another child's lunch can be unhealthy and it is not their place to comment on it. They are to be empowered with knowledge. They are not to parent other kids. It is the adult's job to elevate their children to a higher place whether that is spiritually, nutritionally or physically.
3) Lead by example. If you eat garbage, you can not expect your child to eat healthy. By eating well, they can also be an example for their friends while not negatively commenting on their food. These are powerful self solidifying traits of personality.
4) Engage your child in the shopping and cooking experience. This will allow them to feel like a part of the decision making process. Empowering.
5) Let them see the truth behind food. Show them documentaries on food when they are 9+ years old. Food Inc., Supersize Me, etc...
6) Be an old school parent. You make the food that you want them to eat. They eat or go hungry. This is a key to success. It is their choice how to proceed. I have had many a parent tell me that they cannot do this. I counter that food is one of 4 keys to long life and health and not up for debate. As a parent it is your job to parent for health not just a soccer scholarship or academics. Convenience is not parenting. Would you allow your child to verbally mistreat you because you just do not want to parent today? I think not.
7) Read and learn more about food and parenting around it. It is easier to teach a child why through science than the dogma of "because I said so". Kids are very keen to a lack of knowledge.
8) Order off of the adult menu for all. Kid's menus are all garbage, period. My kids eat salad. When we eat out, people actually come up and ask me how we achieved this? Simple answer - it is expected.
9) Make healthy food tasty. This goes along with #7. Try new recipes and test them on your kids all the time. Find go to healthy players that they will enjoy. For example, we made cauliflower sautéed in olive oil, garlic and anchovies for a dinner party once. One guest child lapped it up thinking that it was shrimp because of the flavor and appearance. He had never liked cauliflower before. He now has a new food item in his arsenal of nutrition.
10) Do not buy anything that you do not wish to fight over if they choose to eat it. Save these types of experiences for special occasions like parties or holidays. This also helps support the 90/10 rule where 10% of your diet being imperfect is likely of no consequence to health if 90% is rock solid. (this does not count allergies and sensitivities)