Being a trainer and working with adults I often thought about the way my clients ate. But I never gave much thought to the way kids eat. When I started teaching PE in elementary schools my eyes were opened and it felt like lemon juice was sprayed in them.
After weeks of seeing fruit snacks, chips, cookies, and lunchables at lunch AND recess I began to get frustrated. I began a mission to see what the students knew about the difference between healthy foods and unhealthy foods. I thought maybe they just didn’t know the what they were eating was not good for them. I was so wrong!
I started by giving little quizzes. I asked the students “Which food is more healthy: fruit snacks or fruits? Apples or apple juice? Salad or sandwich? Salad with a lot of dressing or a sandwich?” The vast majority of students got the questions right and knew the difference between healthy foods and unhealthy foods.
After the quizzes we moved on to naming as many veggies, fruits, and protein sources we could as a class. The lists were quite long and impressive. Then I asked which foods are unhealthy and should only be eaten “sometimes”. That list was also long and impressive.
We progressed that to a game of freeze tag where the students were frozen by foods with too much sugar and fat and they had to be unfrozen by a veggie or fruit. Before they were unfrozen they had to name a veggie or fruit.
In my quest for answers and solutions my first instinct was to blame the parents. After all they are the ones who pack the lunches and buy the foods. I figured that if the students knew then the parents definitely knew but were just cutting corners and taking the easy way out by going with more convenient but highly processed foods.
Considering the fact that I am not a parent myself and don’t know what it’s like to be one, maybe I was too hard on them. Maybe I wasn’t, either way placing blame without offering a solution is irresponsible and seems judgmental. Sorry.
I set out to find ways to help parents get their kids to eat better. Here are my solutions:
1. Set a good example
The first and most important thing a parent can do to teach their kids how to eat healthy is to set a good example. You can’t tell kids not to eat certain foods then eat them right in front of their face. That’s hypocritical and kids see right through it.
Go out of your way to eat healthy foods in front of kids and make sure that they are aware of it.
If you wanted to keep your kids from saying bad words you might use a swear jar system. If you are into that sort of behavioral modification then something similar can be used for junk foods.
Every time mommy or daddy eats an unhealthy food they gotta put so much money in the jar. Every time the kids eat a healthy food mommy and daddy puts so much in the jar. When the kids eat an unhealthy food you remove money from the jar. Kids collect at a given time each month.
2. Be careful what foods you introduce
When kids are born they have no idea what a piece of pizza or a soda tastes like. You can’t miss what you’ve never had. Wait as long as you can before introducing unhealthy foods to kids and introduce them one at a time.
When you do introduce such a food to your kids use it as an opportunity to teach a lesson. Let them know it is a privilege for us to be eating this, not a right. We use food to fuel our bodies. This pizza is not the best fuel, but we worked extra hard this week and we played longer than usual so we can get away with eating a little bit naughty.
Eating unhealthy food should be seen as something you earn, not something you have a right to. And it certainly should not become the norm.
3. Get kids involved in shopping and planning
When you go shopping and prepare meals for your kids take every opportunity possible to teach them the difference between which foods are good for them and which are not.
Take them through the isles of the store and point out the fact that most of the healthy foods are on the perimeter of the store and most of the processed foods are in the middle. Teach them that your body is made to use whole and natural foods as a good source of energy and processed foods are not digested the same and don’t provide the same energy. Also teach them what too much food energy turns into.
4. Watch what they watch
The vast majority of commercials on TV are for foods. The majority of those foods are unhealthy foods. In those commercials kids see their favorite character or hero telling them how tasty a baggie fully of sugar is.
Advertisements are made to make even the most developed minds susceptible to wanting a product. Imagine how easy it is for a treat company to get your kids to want their product.
Limit your kids exposure to commercials to limit the subliminal messages planted in their minds. Of course it would be best to have them play instead of watch TV but a good way to limit exposure to advertising is to change the way you let them watch TV.
Only let them watch a streaming service like Netflix that doesn’t have commercials or DVR their shows and skip the commercials.
5. Fight the good fight, it’s worth it!
No matter how hard you try your kids are going to see unhealthy food. They’re going to think they’re cool and they’ll beg you for them. You need to fight the good fight. It is our job to make sure kids grow up strong and healthy. At times that means we need to be the bad guy and lay down the law. They may not like us at that moment but they will still love us in the long run.
It will be a constant battle to keep your kids healthy in a world that encourages the opposite but I believe in you and I am here to help.