By Lisa Holcomb
Have you ever wondered why grocery stores keep the sugar-laden cereals at your kid’s eye level? Or why 99.9 percent 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 taking your kiddos into a store) 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 have 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 six-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 and that they don’t need to hoard food or overeat. 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? Here are a few ideas for you.
- Set the example. You can’t get your kids to eat nutritiously when they see you constantly eating fast food and greasy 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. Some simple things you can do are to avoid fruit snacks, deli meats, fruit juices, kids’ yogurts, and avoid the cereal aisle. Even the healthiest cereals really aren’t that good for you. Try eggs, oatmeal, toast, etc. Depending on the age of your kids, they can certainly help.
- Pizza, Fries, Sodas, Oh My! Teenagers are notorious for wanting to live off 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 at a fast food place) during the week. Your family needs the bonding time as well as the proper nutrition they receive from 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?
- Teach your children about nutrition. It’s not too late and never too early to start teaching your children about nutrition and keeping their bodies fit. Teach them to cook. All of my boys are learning to cook 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 story. 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.
Remember, it really is about lifestyle, and as parents we have been called by the Lord to set the example for our children in all areas of our lives. That includes what we nourish our physical bodies with. It’s not always easy, but it’s necessary. So, nourish yourselves and your sweet families with healthy foods eaten around your family table and enjoy the wonderful benefits and memories you’ll make.
Lisa Holcomb and her husband, Will, have six children (her oldest two children are married and have babies of their own) and live near Austin, Texas, with their four boys. Lisa is co-founder of Build A Menu and is known as the “Queen of Meal Time Makeovers.” She is an author, speaker and an advocate for adoption, family nutrition, savvy grocery shopping and family dinners. Feel free to email her at [email protected].