My husband, Daniel, and I recently received a question from a new team member on staff, asking about how to handle it when outside forces influence your kids—specifically, when it comes to their dietary habits. It’s as if our society is set on poisoning our kids. What do you do when other people do not live by the same values you try to uphold in your own household?
Here’s the question we received: “We are surrounded by typical gatherings in suburbia, with kids’ parties and housewarmings,” the employee wrote. “The food they provide at every single event, including soccer games and church functions, is just pure garbage.” He went on to lament the “fat-fried, sugar-coated nightmares,” “man-made horrors” like Cheetos, and “toxic food-like products” that are often on the menu. “Obviously, we as adults can fend for ourselves with a polite ‘No, thanks,’” he continued, “but how do we deal with children who feel like they are missing out?”
If you’re a parent, you can probably relate to this situation. And like our new team member, you may be wondering if we have any tricks to help kids come to their own (healthy) decisions when they are faced with this issue. Having faced this ourselves, we certainly do.Help your kids notice how they feel when they eat different foods. Do they feel tired or down, have a tummy ache, or have trouble sleeping? Ask them what they ate. Click To Tweet
HELPING KIDS SAY NO TO THE POISON FOODS
This question reminded Daniel of when we took my daughter, Chloe, to private school near where we live in Southern California, and we found that the staff was teaching kids to count using candy corn! (I’ve written time and again about the damaging American addiction to sugar, so this was definitely not OK with us.) Or, when Chloe would go with us to church, she’d pick up the donuts they offered—obviously, a food not allowed in our own house—and taunt us with them or grab them and put them in her pocket to take home.
Parenting is no walk in the park, and this is one of those common sticky situations we face. Everyone who has kids deals with this issue, so we’re not alone. But it’s crucial to know how to proceed, as we know that the SAD (Standard American Diet) is detrimental to both kids’ and adults’ physical and mental health, and as childhood obesity has risen to such high levels in our country.
So, yes, we have some ideas on how to tackle this dilemma—and, for what it’s worth, Chloe now eats cleaner than I do, so I’m happy to say those negative influences didn’t win out. Here are 7 ideas to help your own children make better choices in what they consume:
1. Be a positive dietary role model. Modeling the behavior you want to see from your kids is more helpful than filling their heads with a bunch of cold, hard facts that barely register. Lead by example and provide healthy school lunches, drinks, snacks, and eating habits for your young ones so they can learn firsthand. No one can expect their kids to eat healthy if they’re not also doing the same—so make sure you’re modeling health, not illness, in your household.
2. Give up your ‘food police’ badge. When you’re too focused on controlling everything, it can backfire. Food policing, such as restricting food or making kids clean their plate, has been shown to have negative effects on youngsters. I may have gone through every kitchen cabinet and scanned every last label in our house, but I figured out that parenting with love and logic is the better choice. Try to let go of control and instead embrace influence and consequences—they’re much more effective ways to teach and learn.
3. Make it fun. When you want to educate your kids, make it fun instead of boring. Chloe and I would play games at the grocery store, like scavenger hunts: I’d tell her to go find 5 healthy foods she loves the taste of, for example, and I’d give her a little prize at the end. She started loving going to the health food store, and she loves it to this day. Then, at home, Daniel would play a game with Chloe (he called it ‘Chloe’s Game’) where he’d ask, “Good or bad for your brain?” using things like frozen blueberries or donuts. She became a whiz at spotting those healthier choices.
4. Offer helping hands. When your kids are going to be in places where you can’t control food options, like at school or parties, don’t fret. Again, relinquish control and simply send your kids along with healthy choices. For her part, Chloe quickly began to realize she didn’t feel very good after eating a bunch of junk food and felt better with the options I provided instead. So, on her own, she started to eat less of the bad stuff. (And, let’s face it, if we can win 80% of the time with our child, that’s pretty good.)
5. Let the journey play out. Over time, Chloe began to make healthier choices, but she’d still go through phases—sometimes eating really clean, sometimes less healthy. This was all necessary for her to find her own way, but armed with my education, empowerment, and options, she was also able to monitor her body’s responses for herself. Get out of the way and allow your kids to experience the natural consequences of their behavior. They will learn over time what is right for them.
6. Raise awareness. Help your kids notice how they feel when they eat different foods. Do they feel tired or down, have a tummy ache, or have trouble sleeping? Ask them what they ate. No one feels good after gorging on junk, and Chloe realized that firsthand. So letting kids make their own way is important, but teaching about those consequences is also key. One rule: Don’t judge or be self-righteous. When you’re too forceful, they’ll often rebel and do the opposite of what you want.
7. Control what you can. There are certain areas out of your control, but other areas you do rule over—like what foods you purchase for your house. When we adopted my nieces and they asked us for processed foods, Daniel was clear that he won’t spend money on harmful things. But we also said, “If you buy it with your own money, that’s your choice.” Again, it’s all about controlling what you can and letting go of the rest.
The bottom line is, we know that kids will be kids and make mistakes, despite all of our best intentions and advice as parents. But when they see and understand the consequences—no matter what the behavior—and when we continue to love them, give them the knowledge and tools they need to succeed, and model by following our own advice, we’ll create a much healthier recipe for making better dietary choices, both inside and outside of our households.
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