Have you ever wondered why grocery stores keep the sugar laden cereals at your kid’s eye level? Or why 99.9% of food commercials on TV are advertising junk, processed foods? Or better yet, why they have all the candy right there at the checkout stands so your kids can pester, plead, and beg you to buy them candy the whole time you’re trying to check out? Yep, it’s a conspiracy against parents. Luckily, there are some strategies we can use (besides never taken your kiddos into a store again or banning your TV) to help us get around all the unhealthy foods that seem to be pushed on us and our kids.
I have been blessed with having both teenagers and younger kids at the same time. Both sets with different dietary needs and different likes and dislikes when it comes to food. My teenage boys are athletic, physical, growing boys. Even though they both look full grown (at 6 feet tall) they are still growing and their bodies, inside and outside, need the right foods to help them with this.
My two younger children have different needs both physically and emotionally when it comes to food. They are both adopted and we’ve had to learn the challenge of dealing with children who have had to go hungry in their past. Hunger can do many things to you emotionally. We’ve had to learn to help our children understand they won’t ever go hungry again. That they don’t need to hoard food or over eat. It hasn’t been easy and it will be a long road but we are trying to help them understand by always having nutritious meals and snacks (and sometimes not so nutritious snacks just for the fun of it) available for them.
So, how do you get kids to think about healthy eating without having them obsess about it or giving them an unhealthy complex? Exercise and watching what you eat are the two obvious answers to keeping your kids fit. But how do you really get kids to do that? Especially if they have a tendency to be little mini couch potatoes. Here are a few ideas for you.
- Set the example- You can’t get your little mini me’s to eat nutritiously when they see you eating McDonalds and Dunking Donuts. Not that I don’t love donuts. Because I do. I really LOVE donuts. However, donuts aren’t the norm for us. Set the example by making nutritious eating a priority in your own life.
- Cut out the sugar- Ok, maybe you can’t completely cut sugar out of your life but you can cut way back. Some simple things you can do is to avoid fruit snacks, deli meats, fruit juices, kid’s yogurts, and avoid the cereal aisle. Even the healthiest cereals really aren’t that good for you. The sugary cereals are no better than handing your kids a handful of cookies in the morning and telling them to drown them in milk. Try eggs, oatmeal, toast, etc…. I know, you may have to actually cook breakfast in the mornings. However, depending on the age of your kids, they can certainly help. So, slip on those big girl panties and go for it.
- Pizza, Fries, Sodas, Oh My! Teenagers are notorious for wanting to live off junk. Mine are no exception. They want their bodies to look good so they can strut their stuff but they want to eat junk. As a parent of teens, it can be a real challenge once they start going off on their own more and more. You aren’t always there to control what they are eating. Plan on having as many sit down meals as possible (sitting down at your own table and not McDonalds) during the week. Your family needs the bonding time as well as the proper nutrition they receive from the home cooked meals.
- Purchase healthy foods- Your kids won’t starve to death if they don’t have junk food available on a daily basis. It’s ok to have the occasional not so healthy snack. Just don’t make it the everyday habit.
- Let them help with the meal planning- That’s easy for me since I own a menu planning service. After the menus are out for that week I will let the whole family decide what we are eating for the week. It makes a huge difference when they have had a say so on what to eat.
- Become friends with the smoothie- Do you know how much you can hide in a simple smoothie? Lots. And, your little picky eaters will never know the difference. You can pack a lot of nutrition in a smoothie. So what if it’s consumed through a straw?
- Start early- Start early teaching your kids about healthy eating. Teach them about the effects of sugar and that sugar isn’t the only way to sweeten your foods.
- Teach your older childen- It’s not too late to start teaching your older children about nutrition and keeping their bodies fit. Teach them to cook. All four of my boys are learning to cook (my youngest wants his own cooking show) and learning healthy ways to cook.
- Respect their appetites – If they really aren’t hungry, don’t try to force them to eat. Don’t bribe them to clean their plates. And please don’t use the starving children act. Likewise, if your child has a tendency toward overeating, help him or her to understand what it means to be full. We quite often ask one of our younger ones , “is your tummy comfortable?” That’s when you need to stop. Don’t make them feel guilty or bad for how little or much they eat.
- Get out of in front of the TV!!!- Ok, I can’t stress this one enough. And with summer upon us it should be easier to do. Three years ago we gave up our cable. We still have internet and can watch movies but we limit it. So, get your kids and yourself outside. I know, it’s hot (honey I live in Texas) but take an early morning walk, go swim, ride a bike, throw a ball. I know you can think of lots more outside activities to get your kids and yourselves moving. Just do it.
You don’t have to be the food police. It’s ok (really it is) to have a donut every now and then. The occasional candy bar is ok in my book as well. What you don’t want is to make it the norm and you want your kids to understand why it’s not the norm. Remember, it really is about life style. You choose the style and your kids will follow.
Lisa Holcomb lives near Austin, Texas with her husband and their four boys, ages 8-18. (Her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own.) She and her husband adopted their youngest two boys through the Texas foster care system. Lisa’s degree is in Child and Family Development and she is a strong advocate for family meal time. She is co-owner of a menu planning website, www.BuildAMenu.com, that helps families keep their grocery budget under control and helps bring families back to the dinner table. She is also a strong advocate for adoption.