As a mother of an 11 year old girl, I have been through the food issues that many of my friends have faced with all of their children, and have fought the battle myself from day one. I grew up on healthy food, had a mother who was into exercise and taught me how to take care of myself. I have always followed down that path and wanted to make sure that I taught my daughter the same. I have witnessed firsthand how parents give in to their children too easily, and as I stated in my last blog, parents do not want to say ‘no’ to their children.
I have several friends who through the last 11 years have gone through battle after battle regarding what their children would eat. ‘She will only eat macaroni and cheese, he will only eat chicken nuggets, and she just won’t eat her vegetables’ have all been heard over and over again. While I realize that sometimes you have to put forth effort, I also laugh at the idea of a 5 year old telling a 35 year old they won’t do something and somehow the 35 year old is the one who ends up exasperated and gives in.
I had one good friend who had a daughter who would only eat pork for several years of her young life. I heard over and over how this child will only eat bacon or ham. Personally, I never serve pork, so when I would have this child over for sleepovers, I would feed her what I made for dinner without concern as to what her mom would warn. The child always ate decent for me and certainly wasn’t an issue. Yet, every time I would attend their meals, there wasn’t even an attempt to serve anything other than pork. This brings us to our first rule:
1)Do not assume anything each new meal. Parents just settle in on one thing and never attempt to try anything different. Because they went to a restaurant 2 nights and ordered chicken nuggets for their child, they automatically think that’s what they always have to order! Because their child only ate bacon on the plate the last 3 mornings, they now assume she will only eat bacon every morning. Because you decided to feed them mac-n-cheese the last 2 nights (because you were saving time), you now think that it’s all you can serve for dinner. We have to stop thinking we know what they’ll eat when the truth is, it can change daily. My child loved pancakes for years, then one day decided she didn’t like them any more! Just because they eat something all week doesn’t mean they will only eat that from now on.
I think one of the reasons parents do this is because they themselves tend to eat the same things over and over and forget to mix things up and get nutrition involved. With children, they aren’t programmed until we program them. Therefore, if you start feeding them all sorts of stuff at the age of 2, they will just assume it’s normal. I started feeding my daughter carrots, broccoli, sushi, & beet juice as soon as she could physically handle them and what happened? She just thinks that’s normal. Did she like everything? No, of course not. This brings us to our second rule:
2)Add variety for nutrition, even if you don’t like the food. Just because you happen to not like carrot juice or plain broccoli, don’t assume your children won’t like. If you feed them plain broccoli at the age of 2, you might be surprised. Some of the healthy foods that are grown in the ground actually taste quite delicious on their own. We have people that doctor our food from day one and we never learn to taste them. When we start feeding our children solid food, we start with broccoli that has cheese or butter mixed in, before we even try plain steamed broccoli. We put butter on potatoes before we even try serving them plain. We have to change the way we think, and stop this chain with our children. My daughter has eaten baked potatoes plain for 10 years. She recently ate a potato at a friends house and learned that some people put butter on them. She tried it and liked it, and now wants to add butter when she eats. I let her add a little, but remind her how yummy the potato was by itself.
Another great example is green bean casserole. How many times have you been to a Thanksgiving meal and green bean casserole is served as a side dish? When I started hosting Thanksgiving meal on my own, I remember looking up the ingredients out of curiosity and just laughed. Why bother? No offense, but has anyone ever tasted green beans sauteed in olive oil with a little spice thrown in? Seriously they are delicious! I have served them to countless children and have never had a bad reaction. Try serving your children different healthy foods and you might be surprised. If you are still at the infant phase, your road will be an easy one. If you’ve passed that phase and are now on the detour back to healthy, it might take a little more effort. This brings us to rule number 3:
3)Just because you’ve tried a few healthy foods with no luck, doesn’t mean your child is doomed with all healthy foods. This is absolutely a good rule for older children who have not been eating some of the healthy foods that you would like to have been giving. If you have a 10 year old who has never drank carrot juice, don’t expect her or him to jump for joy when you ask them to finally try. You may have to try several things and you may have to begin with a disguise. I am not a fan of ‘disguising’ foods as a general rule, but if you are working with someone who has established taste buds, it might be a good way to start back on the road to healthy.
Disguising food could be as simple as using olive oil or salt, or a pinch of butter or parmesan cheese etc. It truly doesn’t take much to make many foods savory. Broccoli, carrots, onions, green beans, spinach, and potatoes are all very delicious sauteed with olive oil and some seasoning. Keep trying new things until you find some that your child will eat. Be patient and stern, which brings us to the next rule which helps parents when they forget who they are:
4)Remember who is the adult and who is the child. Even if you have tried several new healthy foods, and even if your child is being extra difficult and stubborn, please remember who you are. You are the parent. The child needs a parent to teach them all things in life. One of these crucial things we need to teach our children is how to eat and how to eat for a good healthy life. Remember the first time you taught them how to swim or bike ride? It wasn’t always just an easy task! Sometimes you had to coax and cajole and bribe your child into that pool or on that bike. Sometimes you have to ask them 10 times to make their bed or brush their teeth. That’s what we do as parents. Why do we stop so easily when it comes to food? What we put into our mouth truly plays a huge role in determining the quality of our life. As parents, we cannot ignore how to teach our children to eat, and to remember that it is part of our responsibility. Teaching what to eat is crucial, and teaching them ‘why’ goes along with the ‘what.’ The next rule, teaching the why:
Be completely honest with your children and teach them the ‘why.’ I can tell you that I have sat my child down and have explained to her why she doesn’t want to eat unhealthy and why she doesn’t want to overeat. With so many kids today already showing signs of obesity at such young ages, it is so important that we be honest with our kids. Why should obesity be avoided, and why do we want to eat our vegetables?
It is ok to point out that obesity will cause diabetes, heart problems, liver problems, bone problems, etc. It is ok to teach our children about disease and what happens when you eat unhealthy foods. Teach them and be specific. If you have had disease in your family, use that as an example. I have had other moms who are friends of mine be appalled that I will talk about obesity or disease with my 7 year old! They automatically assume that it’s too much for them to handle or it’s not appropriate. Is it more appropriate to let them become unhealthy? In this day where food has become so unhealthy, it is vital to be blatant and honest with our children. Don’t be shy and don’t worry about being politically correct, our 6th rule:
Don’t worry about being politically correct. People are so concerned with being politically correct nowadays that we throw away the welfare of our children. We are afraid to talk about obesity because they have a friend who is obese. We are afraid to talk about disease because we don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. We have to understand that without us teaching our children, how will they know? How will they know that obesity is bad unless we tell them? How will they know that eating fried foods every day is bad unless we tell them? We don’t criticize people, but we do teach the healthy way.
I understand that adults have every right to rear their children however they choose. I also understand that many parents today are extremely overweight and unhealthy themselves. If two parents are obese, the likelihood of their children being obese is far greater. Although it’s quite selfish behavior, it is harder to feed kids healthy meals if the parents aren’t eating healthy foods. It is very hard for an obese parent to sit their child down and explain that they should not overeat. However, most of the obese parents today were not obese when they were 8 or 9 years old! This became a part of their life through college, or children, or careers, etc. This became a way of life after they reached adulthood and made these choices on their own. Children that start life being obese and never having a healthy base will have countless more disease associated with their obesity, and in return countless more medical bills. We are crippling our children without them having a say. Stop worrying about being politically correct, stop worrying if you are hurting someone else’s feelings. More damage will be done in the long run if you don’t.
Rule Number 7 goes hand in hand with so much in life. As parents, we learn to say no so many times throughout the life of our children. We say no because it will harm our children or it will cause behavioral issues. We say no because physically our children need things that they themselves aren’t capable of being in control. With my daughter, food has always come easy. Other areas of her life, I’ve had to learn to say the word no.
Learn to say no. Rule 7 is a complement to all of the other rules, as well as many rules in life. Learning to say no frees up time, brings focus, aids discipline, and gives confidence among just a few things. Learning to say no to our children sets boundaries that are necessary in life. If children have no boundaries, they will ultimately have a hard time with many things. The first time a teacher or a boss tells them no they might have a difficult time with if they’re not used to hearing the word.
Saying no in the area of food is absolutely necessary. Can I have more ice cream? No. Can I have chips? No. Can I have french fries? No. Can I have that candy bar? No. Can I go jump off a cliff? No. Of course not. Why? Your child may ask? Because it isn’t healthy for you. Why can’t I have soda? Because it’s essentially poison. Why do I have to drink water? Because water is essential for all organs in your body, as well as for aiding in digestion and waste removal, etc. Why do I need to eat this broccoli? Because it contains vitamins that help you stay healthy. I think you get the point.
When it comes to food, our children will ultimately eat what we serve them. This is especially true with young children who are completely at the mercy of their parents and caregivers. If your child is 4, and only eats macaroni and cheese, it is your fault as their parent. Start doing the necessary things to get you and your household back on the road to being healthy.