A Happy, Healthy Family


Teaching Our Children (and Ourselves) About Food

I grew up during the fat-free craze of the 80s and 90s; if it was fat-free, it was "health food," never mind the miles-long ingredient list.

I dutifully read nutrition labels, and if something had more than an arbitrary amount of fat, it was "bad." If not, it was fine to eat.

This meant that a roll of Sweet Tarts or sleeve of fat-free cookies were acceptable foods for me, whereas foods like hummus, an avocado, or raw almonds were off-limits.

Of course, my logic was completely flawed and unhealthy, and my diet became overloaded with sugar, chemicals, and food coloring but was severely lacking in vital nutrients.

It took me years to adjust my attitude toward food, and it wasn't until I began feeding my daughter solid foods that I really started to make changes for our entire family's diet.

I didn't want her to develop the same bad eating habits I'd had for years, so I had to change my entire outlook on food.

So how do I approach nutrition with my children?

  1. I try not to label foods as "good" or "bad." I focus on the nutrients in foods and talk about what foods can do for our bodies (positive) as opposed to what they do to our bodies (negative). I don't want my children to be scared of certain foods; instead, I want them to view foods as fuel, and if they focus on which foods help our bodies, they will naturally make healthier choices.
  2. Likewise, I NEVER, ever, ever talk about certain foods making us "fat." The truth is that too much of just about any food can make you overweight. Again, I focus on how foods can help our bodies, and we talk about how foods like fries, while they taste great, really don't do that much to help us grow and be healthy. 
  3. At home, we avoid artificial dyes, refined grains and sugars, cow's milk (although the children do currently eat limited amounts of cheese and yogurt), and juice. We also completely avoid fast food and try to avoid soy as much as possible. I am realistic and know that the kids will be exposed to these foods at birthday parties, school, and friends' houses, but we do talk about why we make other choices at home, so I'm hoping that as they get older they will be able to choose healthy options outside of the home. I don't tell them they're not allowed to have certain foods--I just talk about why we eat the foods that we do (again, focusing on the positives of healthy foods instead of the negatives of unhealthy foods).
  4. I try to get the kids involved in grocery shopping and cooking. We buy most of our food at Trader Joe's, where, although you can still buy junk food, it's not as prevalent as it is at other stores. By having them help or watch in the kitchen, they will grow up seeing that cooking real food isn't hard and is so much cheaper and, often, faster than going out to buy processed food.
  5. I model healthy eating. This is major. I'm not perfect and definitely have my guilty pleasures, but I do try to model a healthy attitude toward food for my children. They are always watching and listening.
  6. I try not to celebrate or (especially) soothe with food. That doesn't mean that we don't have birthday cakes and fun ice cream outings; it just means that I try to not use food as a reward for a met goal (we try to do experiences like zoo trips or one-on-one dates instead), and I absolutely do not offer food as a soother when kids are upset (unless I know that hunger is the reason behind the tantrum). Using food to pacify creates an unhealthy emotional attachment to food, and children need to learn other methods of self-soothing.

My children are still young, so I have yet to see whether my efforts will really pay off, but I think we're taking steps in the right direction.

What methods do you use to create a healthy attitude toward nutrition with your children?

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