18.5% of children and adolescents living in the US are obese.
Let me say that again.
Nearly a fifth of American children is obese. Not chubby, not a bit heavy: obese.
For the record, obesity is defined as having a BMI at or above the 95th percentile.
At least 30 million people of all ages also suffer from an eating disorder in the US.
Having both of these facts in mind, it becomes clear why it is of paramount importance to teach our kids why healthy eating is essential at a very young age. It’s our responsibility to help them adopt habits that will enable them to have a healthy and fruitful life.
However, knowing how to achieve just that without resorting to body-shaming or speaking negatively about certain foods can be a challenge.
Let’s explore what our options are.
Take your kids shopping
As you strive to teach your children about healthy eating, the first thing you can do is involve them in all the food choices you make as a family. Bring them grocery shopping and let them choose some of the fruits and veggies you purchase.
Start by creating a master grocery list, and instead of actual food items, list things like five veggies for Monday, three fruits for Tuesday, etc. Then let your kids make the choice of what these will be.
While in the store, show them different options, and make it a fun outing: try new flavors and discover what you like and dislike. Once you have them engaged and invested like this, they'll be more likely to join you in the kitchen, too.
Talk to them about different habits and styles of healthy eating
It’s important that your children know there is more than one way to eat.
This will mean talking to them about vegetarianism and veganism, for example. Chances are they will be exposed to someone who eats this way already.
You can also explain the basics of a Paleo meal plan, and try it out for a week or so. It’s still all about exploring the different options available to them and making an educated choice about what they want to eat.
Don’t (ab)use food as a reward or punishment
Many parents reward their kids with sweets when they do something right or when they achieve a certain milestone.
Sure there is nothing wrong with eating sweets every once in a while. But if you teach your children that sugar is what you get when you win at something, they will develop an unhealthy relationship to it. What if they keep winning?
On the other hand, sending your kids to bed without supper does the same thing: it lets your kids believe that food is something that gets taken away when they are bad. Should they then not eat when they don’t succeed at something? You can see how this kind of influence can lead to emotional eating and make it harder for them to maintain a healthy eating regime as they grow into adults.
Food is both fuel and pure enjoyment, especially good food. If your kids are to treat it as such, they need to realize what it gives them: energy and momentary pleasure, but nothing else.
Don’t bring weight into healthy eating conversations
Don’t ever talk about being fit or skinny at the same time you’re talking about healthy eating. On the same note, don’t associate being fat and ugly with high-sugar and high-calorie foods.
Eating healthy is about being healthy, not about looking good. Its purpose is to make you feel good.
Of course, as adults, we know that looking good will be a side effect of healthy eating. But that’s not the equation your kids need to adopt at an early age.
Don’t equate being fat with superficial negativity. Equate it with not being healthy, which is what you want to be. Don’t tell your kids they shouldn’t eat like pigs, or that fatty food will make them look like pigs.
There is nothing wrong with eating fatty and ‘bad for you’ foods now and then. It’s making a habit out of eating such foods that are bad.
Have the odd cheeseburger
In order to reinforce the above point, make sure you, as a family, enjoy a ‘bad for you’ meal or snack every so often. Don’t make the mistake of banning all unhealthy food from the house. Your kids will just get it elsewhere.
Don’t make it into an occasion either. Don’t celebrate or turn burger night into an event. It should be a night like any other, a school night where you happen to be eating fries and drinking shakes after dinner.
If your kids see you eating healthy most of the time, and unhealthy some of the time, they will adopt this as a habit and way of life. They’ll recognize it for what it is: a good model to live up to. And it’s certainly a more balanced approach than equating healthy eating with a strict, obsessive regime.
Don’t force your kids to eat everything
Some parents get frustrated when their kids refuse to eat a certain fruit or veg. Yet, this is completely normal and fine.
Do you like every fruit and veg on the planet? Every meal, every ingredient is to your liking?
Of course not.
Teach your kids that they don’t have to like everything and that it’s okay not to like the taste of something. When in a restaurant or as a guest, they might need to eat something they don’t like, but that’s also a part of life. Make sure you demonstrate that as well.
Tell them which healthy foods you personally don’t like, but then make sure you also eat that same something once in a while, to bring the point home.
Source: freepik.com (free to use and share)
Figuring out a way to eat a balanced diet can be a challenge for adults, let alone children. But as long as you stick to variety and get your five-a-day in, the choices should be simple. More importantly, those choices will be fun to make.