Monday, April 25, 2011

How to train your kiddo...to eat clean

When my son started eating solid food, I renewed my commitment to clean eating.  Adults make decisions all day about what to eat, but kids pretty much have to eat what they're given. Okay, we all know that doesn't exactly happen all of the time, but I figured that I'd get a head start on getting him to be a healthy eater before he learned how to say, "that's gross," or "I hate {insert name of food}."  Anyway, along the way, I came up with some fundamental truths about raising a clean eater.  I'll share them with you here, and if you have any to add please let me know!  We're all in this healthy-kids thing together.

1. Manage the expectations.  Food is marketed to kids as being fun, but as soon as we start expecting food to be anything other than fuel to get from Point A to Point B, we start developing emotional eating patterns that benefit no one.  You can leverage that by not creating the expectation that food is going to be a party in their mouth.  How?  Explain the function food instead of building it up to be an experience.  I was shocked the day that I heard my son tell someone that "chocolate won't fill you up," and then realized it was because I say it a lot at my house!  I also spend time explaining that he needs to eat his turkey sandwich so he can build strong muscles and eat his apple so he has energy to play, instead of telling him to eat it because it's good for him or because I said so.  A snack is something to eat because your body needs food.  It's not a game or a hobby.

2. Keep it real. Limit processed foods and avoid fast food altogether.  Pretty much anything your family likes to eat can be made healthier if you take the time to read package labels and find a more suitable version of what you want, and in the process you'll be teaching them to expect fresh ingredients and flavor.  The less processed junk your kids eat now, the better their chances for not wanting to eat it as they get older.  Besides, you don't need it either, which brings to me fundamental numero three...

3. Model healthy behavior.  We all know that kids learn way more from what they see us do than from what they hear us say.  "Eat as I say and not as I eat," is no good for anyone and will just make your kids ignore and resent your suggestions.

4. Let them help and eat with them.  I've found that my son is much more likely to try something new when he helped me make it.  This completely backfired on me when we made a veggie lasagna together, but pita pizzas and ants on a log have been great hits.  I also make sure to serve some out for myself and eat with him, and I think it helps drive home the idea we're in this healthy thing together.

5. Never use food as a reward.  Ooooh, this is a tough one. It is so hard to keep myself from saying, "if you're good....." and promise a cookie, frozen yogurt, or whatever to guarantee 20 minutes of stress-free shopping (which, come on, never really happens).  It's so tempting, but trust me, it will only set them up for food issues down the road. Food is not a reward, or a treat, or a special occasion.  It is a tool that we use to keep our bodies going. Bribe them with something else. :)

As adults, we are conditioned to expect our food to be saturated with sweetness and flavor, and as a result our tastebuds are sometimes underwhelmed when we taste something natural for the first time.  Luckily, that changes pretty fast and we soon begin to wonder how we could possibly have eaten the processed crap we used to.  Hopefully, kids don't have to go through that because their taste buds are not yet in that state of sugar shock.  Take advantage of it and set your little genius up for a lfietime of healthy eating habits!

Tomorrow, healthy snacks to try with your kiddos.

Good day!

1 comment:

Karen Thurston Chavez said...

When I was in Walmart a few weeks ago, I saw a mom and grandmother give the younger-than-1-year-old baby COKE to drink. COCA COLA! *slaps forehead*

My teenager, who I must confess was fed a loootttttt of Happy Meals in his younger years, now makes a gagging noise when merely passing by a McDonald's. My younger one? Well, he does love his plain burger wraps and French fries, but he also loves yogurt, apples, pretzels, grapes and whole wheat pasta.