Do you feel like maybe you’re the only one in the world who can’t figure out how to get good, high quality food into your kids? Or maybe you desperately want to make changes, but every time you do, it ruffles feathers and seems too hard to maintain. We’ve all been there, and changing food habits is hard enough for us adults who can process and understand what is happening. For our little people, there are a few things you’ll want to understand before we move forward with our tips.
- Kids thrive on routine. If they’ve been eating a certain way for a long time, this is going to be hard. Very hard. Stick to the tips below, and make up your mind BEFORE you jump in that this is worth fighting for.
- There will be actual physical difficulty. Our brains create the pathways of how we respond to food. If a child’s brain has been tricked long enough by processed food and things like GMO products or artificial sweeteners, they literally do not understand signals for hunger, being full, or when they’ve had enough of a certain type of food. Our food needs to have live and active enzymes to help our digestive system send the signal to the brain that we are getting full. And even when that connection is functioning at 100%, that can take up to 15 minutes. So if a child is used to goldfish and hot dogs with nitrates and fillers, then it’s very important that you as a parent know that this will be a re-training that will take time. It will take perseverance. And it will take patience. But it WILL be worth it. Make sure to be ready to have extra doses of patience and understanding as you make these transitions.
Getting good food into your kids so that their bodies can develop and have the nutrition that it needs is vital. It’s not something that we want to push aside. That being said, here are the tips that I’ve found to be the most helpful and effective in our home and in the homes of friends that I’ve spent time coaching.
GIVE THEM OPTIONS
When you’re just starting the journey to make changes with the food your kids eat, they need choices. If it suddenly feels like they have zero control over this huge area of their lives, you’re in for the battle of your life! Get their input on EVERYTHING. Are you hungry? Should we make a snack? Do you want bananas or strawberries? Do you like this hot or cold? Which green food would you like? Do you want it on a Olaf plate or your Strawberry Shortcake plate? Ask them #allthequestions. So many that you’ll want to poke your eyes out. But this gives them autonomy in this area, which is SO important. They need to feel some control. Creating stress in this journey can even lead to digestive discomfort since our bodies carry so much “happy hormones” in the gut.
2. PLAN WITH THEM
Get some cookbooks out and have them flip through them. If you don’t have cookbooks, try visiting a few different blogs with healthy food and see what they’re interested in. Have them choose two to three things that they’d like to have in that week’s meals. I usually let my kids pick one sweet (healthy) treat, and then I ask them for ideas or thoughts on breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. Encourage them to try something new each week. Then when it’s time to cook the meal, invite them to be a part of it to see how it’s done! Let them chop, measure, and help. And obviously you’ll want to plan these meals for a weekend or a night without 5 soccer practice pick ups and drop offs. Set yourself up for success! If cooking is stressful or it seems like YOU aren’t enjoying it, they will see that. They’re intuitive little people!
3. GROW IT WITH THEM
Make a garden! It doesn’t have to be huge, and you don’t have to have a lot of room. Grab a couple of planting pots and go to town. Our backyard is not big, and we don’t have room for a planting bed. But we do have lots of pots. We’ve been able to grow blueberries, lemons, sweet peas, and lots of herbs. Have them go to the nursery with you and look through all the possibilities. Let them have their “own” plant. Encourage them to water daily and report back to you on how its doing. You might be surprised how excited they get when that first blueberry or snap pea comes in!
4. TALK ABOUT IT
Food is often a subject that is not talked about much. Often times, meals are a battle group, and the topic is avoided at all costs. Be willing to have discussions about why some food might be a better choice than others, and be sure to check out the categories below! Let them know that things with sugar are more likely to cause cavities and make them sick. Bad fats like the fats you find in fast food make it really hard to focus in school and actually make it so your brain can’t function as well! Processed food can give you tummy aches and lead to digestive issues now or later in life. Gauge what is appropriate for their age and have those conversations! We talk about vegetables making them smarter and helping them jump higher! Good fats give them energy so they can stay at the playground longer. Things like that! We’ll even have them jump in between bites to see if it’s helping.
5. CREATE CATEGORIES FOR UNDERSTANDING
As a Dr. Sear’s Health Coach, I’ve been able to have the privilege of being trained in how to look at foods in a variety of ways, but I particularly love the red, green, and yellow light categories for younger children. Green light foods are all fruits and vegetables! Go to town, have them as often as you like and enjoy! Yellow light foods give you nutrients and serve a purpose but they shouldn’t be eaten more than once or twice a day. These would be things like full fat, sugar free yogurt, potatoes, olive oil, organic chicken, or good quality beef. The red light foods are things that can happen on special occasions but should not be eaten regularly at all. Cake, ice cream, or high fat, low quality meat would be an example. The categories don’t have to be perfect, but work with them on how and when to eat different kinds of foods.
6. SET THE EXAMPLE
If your kids are watching you eat food that isn’t good, then they will follow suit. Monkey see, monkey do. This is a GOOD thing. By setting an example of limiting processed foods, eating lots of fruits and vegetables, and avoiding things like food coloring, artificial sweeteners, and sugar, it will become the norm to not eat those things. I realize this is tough, and it’s an uphill battle to make good food choices even for us. But I encourage you to do one thing, and that is to have your home be the place that you have strong limitations. You can’t always control what your kids get at a party or even at a restaurant with hidden oils and surprise ingredients, but you CAN control what’s in your home. Start there.
7. STAND YOUR GROUND
I know this won’t be popular, but it’s important to state this. You are the parent. While my husband and I make every effort to make food something that is fun, interactive, and a great experience for our kids, the bottom line is that we have to make tough choices sometimes. When our kids just had a cold and are still congested, then the answer to a cupcake at a birthday party is no. When a horrible stomach flu is going around school, broth and vegetables are the bulk of our diet whether the kids like it or not. If our kids are suddenly refusing their vegetables and asking for lots of treats, then we cinch things up and retrain those taste buds again regardless of the whining that comes our way. We always talk about the WHY, but at the end of the day, we will stand our ground. It’s not always popular, and in fact, has led to some very interesting conversations at parties. Apparently we’re weird for not wanting our kids to have processed foods with lots of sugar. Go figure. But the health of our children is more important to us than what others are thinking.
NOW GO GET ‘EM
As you look at this list, think about the top two that you’d like to implement this week and stick to your guns! When you feel like you’ve made some headway, tackle another one or two things on the list. Do your best to give your kids choices, make food fun, involve them in planning and cooking, and open up the subject as often as possible! I’d love to hear what your thoughts are after you’ve had a few days to make some changes!