Fruit loops, goldfish, happy meals - it's amazing what we feed our kids in an attempt to "sneak" in nutrition and train them to like eating. We're the only animal who finds it necessary to feed our children something other than adult food (imagine a wolf pack feeding its cubs moose-shaped marshmallow cereal while it ate the caribou it had just killed) and in the process we're putting our children on a path to lifelong health problems.
The good news is, it's never too late to change those habits. And it's never too early to teach your children how truly delicious "real" food can be. Start with these guidelines to teach your kids to eat like adults:
- You first. Kids want to do what their parents do. And that goes for eating as well. You can't expect them to ask for water when you're slurping down a soda. Or snack on carrot sticks when you're feasting on chips. Brush up on the basics of healthy eating with this downloadable guide from Healthy Children Healthy World.
- Let them help. Kids who peel carrots or snap green beans will want to eat what they helped prepare. If they're younger and not ready for sharp utensils, let them wash produce or flip the pancakes with your help.
- They eat what you eat. Try to limit preparing separate meals. After all, you aren't a short-order cook. If stir-fry is on the menu tonight, everyone eats stir-fry. The same goes for eating out. Pass on the children's menu, which is often a line-up of the most highly processed, unhealthy foods imaginable, and order a grilled chicken breast with a side of steamed vegetables. Ask the waiter to bring a half order, or better yet share one entree.
- Reinvent snacking. Go through the cupboard and rid your home of all products listing high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil as ingredients. From now on, snacks are pieces of fresh fruit, cut up vegetables with peanut butter or hummus as a dip. Make sure you set an example by snacking in the same way.
- Drink water or milk. Don't flavor it, don't color it. Let your child know there is no other option. Sports drinks are a dangerous substitute, as they have high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener, which a child's body does not handle well. What's worse, they drink these while they're active, which means their mouths are dry and the natural saliva that protects the teeth is not there. The syrup has direct access to the tooth, promoting decay and harmful bacteria.
- You decide. You're the grown up, after all. Children really don't know what's good for them and nutrition is no exception, so don't let them refuse healthy offerings and hold out for cheap sources of calories. Give them a loaded choice, "Will it be broccoli, cauliflower or Brussels sprout tonight ?" And let them know that they don't have to eat now, but later when they are hungry they can have the original food reheated.
- Have some fun. Every vegetable has different essential nutrients. Play around a little by picking them by color. Let your kids choose something that looks interesting. Make it fun by looking up preparation ideas online and have a family vote on how it's prepared - and don't forget to let the kids help.
It's time we reversed the dire research predictions that our children's generation will not live as long as the generation before them due to higher-than-ever rates of preventable disease, many of which are related to poor diet. Teach your children to eat like grownups today and they will thank you for the lifelong gift of health and a strong nutritional foundation.