Chuck, with our children bombarded with fast foods and junk foods at their school and their friends’ houses, how can we as parents and guardians promote their good eating habits without spoon-feeding them every good food? – Roxy R., Arizona
A while back, Amanda Chan and Remy Melina, writers for MyHealthNewsDaily, did a nice job discussing some direct and not-so-direct ways for parents to nudge their kids into not eating the fudge. Let me cherry-pick some of their advice and elaborate on a few others.
7. Don’t just junk the junk food. “Never” is a big word for anything. Sugar and salt addictions aren’t overcome overnight. An occasional treat might be a just reward for doing well all week long. And the treat doesn’t have to be three candy bars. We know friends who give frozen yogurt nights to their kids for getting good grades and other special occasions. And introduce some not-so-sugary desserts into their diets – e.g., air-popped popcorn, dark chocolate, health food bars, nuts and fruit.
6. Empower your children to eat well at school. Because my wife, Gena, and I homeschool our kids, we have much more influence over their diets. If your kids go to public schools, the safest bet is to make and pack your kids lunches. If they’re older, give them the duty of packing healthier options at home – what they need and like, but not everything they want.
Cafeteria food has generally gotten better over the years, but I wouldn’t call it a walk through the health food store. Regularly examine your kids’ school lunch options. If your child is younger, don’t turn him loose with money by a vending machine or in an a la carte lunch line, lest he get a box of cookies and greasy fried foods in his stomach every day.
If your child is older, turn her school lunch into a lesson about her choosing the right foods. Here again, don’t be afraid to do a little bargaining: “If you eat well during the week, on Sundays after church, I’ll treat you to (blank).”
5. It’s your kitchen; you pick the foods that fill your refrigerator and cupboards. It’s difficult for me to listen to parents complaining about their kids’ weight or lack of fitness when they fill their cupboards with every bad food imaginable. Similarly, if you are taking the family out to eat and ask your 4-year-old where he wants to eat, you might as well drive to your nearest fast-food restaurant. Simply put, it’s your money; it’s your kitchen; they’re your kids. You buy the foods you want your kids to eat, or they don’t eat. It’s called parenting.
4. Have quick, easy-access nutritional treats available in between meals. Produce areas in groceries offer wide arrays of vegetable platters already cut and ready to go. Baby carrots and sliced apples are now offered in small one-serving bags. Always make a plethora of fruits available. Have sitting on the refrigerator shelf a plate of small celery sticks with peanut butter or a plate with whole-wheat crackers and cheese. Health food bars and nuts in one-serving packages are another great option. Lastly, whether it be in bottles or refilled containers, offer copious amounts of water ready to grab and drink. That not only keeps children away from sugary drinks, but also keeps them hydrated with God’s natural juice.
3. Help your children train (or retrain) their palates, tongues and stomachs. Many Americans eat what they want and do so until they are stuffed beyond measure. But eating until you’re full not only is the opposite of what most people around the world do, but also can lead to unhealthy overeating habits.
Michael Pollan, author of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” said: “Many cultures have rules that you stop eating before you are full.”
For example, the French diet focuses on a few basic European eating habits: Eat for nutrition, not just to be full. Learn to enjoy good foods, not just sweets and fatty foods. Learn to taste longer, not just chew more. And slow down your pace of eating.
Pollan added, “In Japan, they say eat until you are four-fifths full. [Arab] culture has a similar rule, and in German culture, they say, ‘Tie off the sack before it’s full.’”
That is why Chan and Melina wrote that if your children’s plates are stacked full enough for an adult, “Do not urge them to finish all the food on their plate, and do not praise them for completely clearing their plate. Instead, tell them that it’s best to only eat as much as they want at that time, and that the leftovers can be finished later when they become hungry again.”
2. Eat smaller portions by reducing the size of your utensils, plates, etc.As I pointed out in last week’s column, more than 78 million adults and children in the U.S. are obese or overweight. Most of us are used to eating from large plates or bowls, with large spoons, large forks and 32-ounce glasses. We have supersized not only our meals but also our utensils. One strategy to control portions and improve fitness is to reduce the size of those things with which we eat. It really works, and it has been proved over and over. I’m not saying that you have to convert to a shrimp fork and an egg spoon, but anything in that direction would help you and your children.
1. Slow down and eat with your children. One recent journal study noted that in 1987, 50 percent said they ate at least one family meal a day; by 2008, that fell to 20 percent. So slow down and eat with your loved ones. The art of cooking needs to return to American homes, and so does eating together. Sitting down for meals with your family not only improves eating habits and ensures proper nutrition, but also reduces obesity patterns in children and provides for daily times of interaction and relationship building.