My children, 3 and 6 years of age, are at an age where they are curious, but cautious about the foods they eat. This is a natural and normal state for their ages and I am reminded to utilize my education to train my children to choose healthy foods on their own. Just like anything else in life, we would all agree that we want to train our children to eventually be able to do life on their own and it is no different with food choices. But how do we go about doing that? This is the challenge, and I fully realize it’s a challenge, because I am living it out myself. But stay encouraged. we can do this together!
Educate. This requires us to be tapping into accurate and reliable informational resources. If you have inaccurate or undeveloped nutrition knowledge, then your children will naturally have the same. There are so many governmental, reputable organizational and university websites that you can count on to bring you unbiased, reliable information. A great portal of information can be found starting on the U.S. Government’s Nutrition landing site that connects to other governmental nutrition sites. The American Dietetic Association, which is the national association for Registered Dietitian and Dietetic Technicians, has a wealth of information as well. Start there. Obviously I am biased to say you should consider getting individualized guidance from a Registered Dietitian in your area as this is the best way to get off to the right start. But actively become educated so you can educate your children.
Expose. Let’s be honest. We all come to the food table with certain likes and dislikes. Are you a picky eater yourself? Do you dislike most vegetables? Do you eliminate certain food groups altogether? These things can directly impact your children’s exposure to foods. Even if we would categorize ourselves as “healthy eaters,” we all have a tendency to gravitate toward our favorite foods. This can also limit our children’s food exposure because even healthy repetition is limiting. Head to a new grocer or even visit your local farmers market to investigate new foods.
The biggest thing I want to say about exposure is that we all need to remember to serve our children foods that they have already rejected. I know, I know – food wastage comes to mind – but if we remember that children are curiously cautious to new foods, we will gain patience. I have seen this many times with my daughter and continued exposure has lead to eventual acceptance much of the time. My son is at an age where he is rejecting most vegetables, and that’s OK! I still serve them to him knowing that most likely he will accept some of them. Exposure is a big topic when it comes to child nutrition because we like to make the foods that we already know our children like because we want them to eat! Let’s take the school lunch, for instance. Many of us commonly think that sending a school lunch with your child is the healthier option. I would challenge you by saying that is not always the case. The typical “healthy” brown bagged lunch has maybe a sandwich (primarily peanut butter and jelly, but also lean lunch meat), baked chips and a fruit cup or a fruit snack along with a juice or maybe even some milk. Where is the vegetable? Most children either do not have a vegetable or they get the same baby carrots everyday. Maybe your child will get the lettuce and tomato on the sandwich and that is good. But what about the next day? Is the lunch something different, or will it be more of the same? You see, the typical school lunch always provides the option of a vegetable and in most cases, provides variety from the home food. That is why I feel comfortable allowing my daughter to purchase school lunch mulitple times per week. This way I know my daughter will have the opportunity to take in a variety of nutrients by eating a variety of foods. But will she choose the vegetable, you say? That’s where empowerment comes in.
Empower. This is another big one. It is essential that we teach the “why’s” behind good nutrition. Let’s not stop by saying “because it is good for you.” And certainly, I do not encourage any talk, particularly with young children, about eating certain foods to avoid being “fat”. This is sure to cause poor relationships with food, so please refrain from talking about your own fad diets and dieting practices around your children if at all possible. We all need to be healthy. And kids want to be strong and smart. I teach my children that healthy foods such as whole grains, lean meats, fruits, vegetables and milk provide “super powers” that will give them all they need to run fast, read better and can even make their skin nice. My daughter loves that eating vegetables makes her skin look like a princess. See, she gets that and it encourages her to make that healthy choice much of the time. I tell her that eating candy is fine when it is eaten sometimes, but when you eat it all the time, it does not give you the fuel her body needs to be all that she can be. So, right now she thinks she is carrying around the “secret” that healthy foods have “super powers.” The other day, she asked if it was OK that she tell her best friend the secret. I told her it was OK. You can go ahead and share the “secret” with your kids, too. 🙂
Angela Lemond, RD, CSP, LD is a Registered Dietitian and proud member of the Dallas Dietetic Association (DDA) Media Bureau. For more information on the DDA, go to http://www.eatrightdallas.org. For more information on Angela, visit her website at http://www.angelalemond.com or Mommy Dietitian blog at http://www.mommydietitian.com.