If you stay on top of the news, you probably already know that obesity is the number one health problem and type II diabetes is becoming epidemic among US children. Yet, many parents are baffled at how to get their children to eat more healthy foods. Getting children to eat healthy isn’t as complicated as it first appears. By following a few healthy eating tips for several months to a year, children will begin to prefer healthy food choices, because that’s what the body craves, anyway. The tips include healthy choices, variety, color, avoiding junk food and…very important, do-it-yourself instructions.
Make Healthy Food Choices: Controlling food choices is essential for children to begin eating healthy. Food choices don’t have to be controlled in the home if they are controlled at the supermarket, cafeteria and restaurant. If only this tip were used, children would be far healthier than they are today. If it doesn’t get into the basket, it doesn’t come home. If it doesn’t come home, it can’t be eaten there. Simply by choosing low fat, non fat, sugar free, and fresh, unprocessed foods, you can deal a death blow to obesity. “But my son won’t drink diet soda.” Fine, there’s the water faucet! Which one of you is responsible for his health? “But my daughter’s school serves processed food meals for lunch.” Give her no lunch money…Send her with a bag lunch…if they insist she eat their lunch, find a more flexible school or one that serves only healthy food choices. You can always make ice cream or cake an occasional treat, but if someone is loading your child up every day on sugars, fats and salts, they are literally poisoning and addicting the child to things that will destroy their health.
One 4-year-old I knew naturally preferred vegetables over everything else. Her mother forced her to eat pork chops like mine forced me to eat spinach. If your child naturally prefers things that are healthy, don’t fight it. You can find creative ways to add foods like soy beans, nuts and beans that are high in proteins. Don’t fight success! Don’t accept failure, either. Another family I knew had the mother scurrying to meet every tiny food preference the children had. It turned out that the only thing all of them liked was pizza, beef (especially hamburgers), cheese, corn and ice cream. Needless to say, the whole family struggles with weight issues. The tip of making healthy food choices is only successful if you use the discipline to make those healthy choices consistently. Skipping back and forth can’t be an option if your aim is to teach your children to make healthy food choices.
Use Variety In Texture, Flavor And Color: One of the most helpful tips in aiming kids toward healthy foods is to use a variety. Young children are attracted to bright primary colors, which is one of the reasons yellow corn is popular. I didn’t like salad as a kid, but it was always the same…iceberg lettuce and tomatoes…on Thanksgiving we got croutons. There are so many beautiful colors and interesting flavors in the vegetable section, there is no reason to use one boring recipe over and over. Fruits are naturally colorful, full of many nutrients and unprocessed sugar. Fresh fruits are excellent snack and dessert substitutes. Many ideas for variety and color of snacks are in my article Making Healthy Snack Choices which is too long to duplicate here. Please…if you want kids to like vegetables, don’t use those mushy canned ones…they have no nutrients and are the most unpleasant things for a kid to eat. Almost everything in cans is also available frozen and is simple to cook, using a microwave. Use pepper, garlic powder, ground dill or basil for added flavor with no salt. Also, use variety in preparation methods by going from stir-fry, to baked, to BBQ, etc. The very changes in texture, color and flavor of foods gives kids an appreciation for the natural flavors of healthy foods.
Eating Healthy Saves Time And Money: Many people have the misconception that eating healthy is expensive and takes a lot of time. In my personal experience doing both, preparing healthy foods is no more time-consuming than preparing unhealthy foods. In fact, most recipes are faster and easier to prepare, and there’s no driving or waiting in line for the prepared foods. Time is just an excuse! As far as cost goes, well, there’s a huge difference. Eating healthy is far less expensive. The average family could save at least 75% of their food budget if they switched to fresh meats, fruits and vegetables and eliminated the prepared snacks and meals. Anyone can do this and improve the health practices of their children. All it takes is the decision to change and the discipline to stick to it.
Do It Yourself-Avoiding Junk Food: You may have noticed I talk a lot about preparing this and cooking that. That’s because one of the healthy eating practices every child should learn is the practice of doing it yourself. By doing the cooking yourself, you set the example that it can be done…you don’t have to bring your meal home already cooked from the store or restaurant. Doing it yourself puts you in charge of the amount of salt, fat, carbohydrates and proteins in your foods. It’s much healthier! Also, one of the things that makes food interesting is cooking it. If your kids get to take part in the preparation, they have a vested interest in eating the foods. You can’t do that with dinner-in-a-box.
When we talk about using “do-it-yourself” to aim your kids toward eating healthy, there is one tip that outweighs all others. If you want your kids to eat healthy, do it yourself. You can’t eat ice cream and tell them it’s only for grown-ups. While puffing on a cigarette, my Dad told us never to smoke “It’s a filthy habit.” I’ll bet you know how that turned out…four out of five of his children smoked. If you want your kids to eat healthy, set the example by eating healthy, yourself.
Of course, where kids are concerned, there is no guarantee, but the vast majority of children will eat healthy if their parents make healthy food choices, use variety, plan and prepare the meals, and provide a healthy eating example in their choices. The bottom line in most cases, childhood obesity isn’t an epidemic… it’s a choice. Choose health!