Climate change, peace in the Middle East, and the national debt can seem like a piece of cake in comparison to getting our kids to eat healthy. Even Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright might have been challenged to find some new tricks of the trade when it came to negotiating with their own children about their eating habits. So what does a parent who has not been trained in the art of difficult diplomacy do? My daughter is only three years old. In the ranks of dedicated parents wanting the best for our children, I want to help her hone her palate to eat healthy.
Numerous studies have shown that the development of poor eating habits can begin as early as 12-24 months of age. Diets that are sparse in whole grains, fresh fruit, and vegetables, or that consist of frequent high-calorie between-meal snacks, and high amounts of saturated fat can all affect eating habits and weight down the road.
Not to fret if you missed that boat; you can still catch the later one to get to your destination.
At the grocery store:
—Make it a family outing.
—Let them decide. Provide an option between two fruits or two vegetables. At the table, if they refuse to eat it, remind them that they chose it.
—Also, before you leave you can ask them to find a healthy recipe to take along on your trip. It makes for good conversation beforehand, supports good research and it is fun to find the ingredients at the store (read the labels) for a lively, interactive (and more often ‘yummy’) prep time at home.
In the kitchen
—Fire the short order chef. Everyone gets the same meal.
—Revamp the menu. Get the kids to create the dinner menu, with certain rules: the meal must incorporate the four food groups and be healthy!
Learning to read the labels is a valuable insight that will reward the process for years to come.
—Enlist help. Have them help with washing, preparing, serving, and naming the meal (e.g. “Bobby’s Garlic Chicken”). They will be more likely to eat it if they (helped) made it and they “own it.”
—Strategize. Try new (healthy) foods first when kids are hungriest. Don’t be defeated if they do not gobble it up. It typically takes several tries before a child will enjoy, or even be willing to try, a certain food. And give it a break by waiting a few days before introducing a rejected food again.
—Unplug distractions. Television, tablets, smart phones, MP3 players… let’s face it, distractions are aplenty. Make dinner time
an opportunity to talk to one another while enjoying what you are eating. Depending on the age of your children table time may be a challenge. Try for 2-5 nights, but we know those teens have lots of late night extracurricular activities so aim for at least one night a week (perhaps Sunday) at a minimum and as a rule.
—Don’t go hungry. There is no reason to be so hungry you can eat a horse. Take this time to offer healthy snacks such as carrots, peanut butter, nuts, low-fat yogurt, hummus, a boiled egg, or fruit.
—At school and extracurricular activities, volunteer to send sliced oranges, applesauce, yogurt or bananas for the “snack” before the big game or practice.
So grab your armor and get ready. The battle is a learning experience and requires commitment on our part. One thing’s for sure: we lead by example. Let’s snack healthy, eat well-balanced meals, and drink water instead of sugary beverages. The laissez faire attitude of “qu’ils mangent de la brioche,” or “let them eat cake” is not applicable to our battle to get our kids to eat healthy. Their health is not something that we can afford to surrender to without fighting the good fight.
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Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is
often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.