How can we get our kids to eat healthier? That is a great question; first lets look at what is against us and what we need to do to combat it.
Kids are bombarded by media messages telling them to eat terrible processed food-like products that have no nutritional value. They see more ads for Coke, Snickers and McDonald’s than they ever will for locally grown, fresh, or healthy food. When is the last time you saw an ad for a vegetable? Truth is, like politics, the guys who have the worst to offer have the most money to spend on telling you why you need it. Straight out, they’re lying. They’re lying to make money. Sadly, we all fall for it. Like subliminal messages they creep in when you are least prepared to fight them off. I will confess to buying an item because I was watching TV the night before and they told me I was missing out on real cookie flavor unless I got the “new” super fudgy blah blah blah. There I was in the check out; “Dang, they got me”.
Just as we have our own views swayed into action, kids will see what we do and choose and emulate us. What we have working against us is that we make terrible choices too. If we want our children to make better choices we need to too. But what our problem is, is that maybe we haven’t bought in to healthy eating ourselves. We should.
We know this much: All people, including children, manufacture free radicals as a by-product of metabolism. These free radicals cause destruction and aging of our cells and our bodies. The more active a person is the more free radicals they will produce. We know that, on average, children are more active than we adults are (If your child is not as active as you, stop reading this post and call me ASAP at 608-848-FLIP). This is a fact. The only way to reduce these risks is to consume food with good anti-oxidants. The anti-oxidants in fruit and veggies neutralize those free radicals. Once more; The fiber in raw plant food (raw is always better than cooked) can lower your cholesterol, scrub clean the intestinal walls, and reduce the risk of diabetes by slowing carbohydrate absorption. We know that food with anti-oxidants can lower the risk of many types of cancer. Convinced yet? How about the case of Phytochemicals? Phytochemicals that can be found in raw fruits and veggies and reduce the risk of many types of other diseases. Did you know there are over 1000 phytochemicals in a single tomato? Mmm. There are also minerals in grown food, like calcium, sodium, magnesium, and potassium that are all vital to proper body function, making us efficient and whats better; they’re making us less prone to sickness and making us feel good (as opposed to tired, lazy, stupid, inefficient, sick, and depressed).
Well if what’s against us is the media, our habit and a lack of facts….that’s easy. 1. Stop buying what they pitch. That will save on the family budget too. Every once and awhile a treat is fine; even the most healthy among us is allowed the occasional cookie. Just realize that you are not missing out on the real cookie flavor of super fudgy blah blahs. 2. Change your habits, an apple is better than a Snickers any day, and the remnants of a consumed apple are biodegradable, not so of our friend the Snickers (my inner-tree hugger is showing). And 3. Get facts. They come best from someone who is not selling something. So be wise in your web information diet queries.
Here are some great strategies for getting your kids (and you) to eat more fruits and veggies.
- Keep fruit in the house. Don’t buy a ton of it because when it rots it negatively reinforces your feelings toward not spending money on a snack that will go to waste. Have a little bit of fruit or vegetable cut up and ready to be chosen. Make it’s access easier.
- When you crave a sweet snack, grab fruit. My wife changed my mind as I grabbed my car keys and told her I was going to the store to grab something sweet. She tossed me an apple without a word. Busted. How can I argue with that?
- Let your kids see you eating good food as a snack selection. In the above scene my wife didn’t have to toss my boys any apples. When they saw what dad was having (and realized there was no hope of him bringing chocolate home any time soon) they got their own apples.
- Send fruit or vegetables to school in lunches. Again, accessibility is essential.
- At dinner time, serve a salad as a separate course as opposed to a part of the main meal, just like in a restaurant. Kids get the salad when they are most hungry and it will fill them with good nutrition right away: not to say the rest of your meal is not nutritious, just saying get them good fuel when the tank is low.
- Be satisfied if they eat only a portion of the salad course, it’s better than nothing at all. Victory comes in small doses, it’s OK.
- Keep trying new fruits and veggies, don’t take “yuck” for an answer. Try a different presentation or a different recipe and go again. Kids may turn up their noses but get them to keep trying something. There is research that shows that kids need exposure to foods sometimes as much as 14 times before they admit to liking it. That number does not apply to Liver.
- Use recipes that blend healthy food in with other foods until kids realize that it won;t kill them. I love Jessica Seinfeld’s book about deceptive recipes for kids. In fact we have made everything in the book and my kids often ask for repeats. They also noticed that it didn’t taste as good when I re-made some dishes without the “secret” ingredients.
What we know is that raw fruit and veggies are the building blocks for healthy bodies. That’s a fact. It’s also a fact that raw fruit and veggies make us healthier. It might take some work, but isn’t feeling better and living healthier worth a little effort?