Thursday, April 23, 2009

Teaching Kids Healthy Eating Habits

I happened upon this article on the LDS Church website. I admit I'm a horribly eater, which makes it hard to teach my kids to eat healthy. I'm glad I found this article because I think I really needed to be given some guidance in this arena. Here's a little bit (okay, a lot) of the article I'd like to share with you:

Let’s take a look at some of the things we may be doing wrong as parents and what we might do to change them.

1. We use food as a reward. From the time our children are small we are inclined to make them feel happy when they are sad by administering a “spoonful of sugar” in some form. If Doug falls down and skins his knee, we make it better with bubble gum. If Marty’s heart is breaking because Daddy went to the store without him, we placate him with a Popsicle. Children soon learn that feelings of discomfort or sadness can become happiness through eating. Such an early association between food and good feelings may well extend into adulthood as a self-reward habit involving a trip to the refrigerator every time a case of the blues arises. What the food-as-a-reward tradition lacks in quality it overcomes in simplicity. Most parents prefer the 30 seconds required to administer a candy mood-changer to the 15 minutes required to reward Johnny with a story about David and Goliath. Imagine the impact we might have on the lives of our children if we substituted rapture in the scriptures for contentment in cookies. Perhaps the child would even realize that there is more love involved in giving time than in giving substance. Or if time is short, a few moments of closeness and a few expressions of love might adequately attend the situation. Even a ten-cent balloon might be a healthier reward than a confectionery.

2. We use food as a punishment. When John doesn’t want to eat his dessert, his parents will probably be unconcerned. But if he balks at his broccoli, look out! Mom and Dad are likely to make such an issue of the matter that the mere sight of broccoli incites anger. Some parents will compound the problem by saying, “If you don’t finish your broccoli, you can’t have any pudding.” Then broccoli becomes the evil obstacle between John and that wonderful experience called dessert.

If you want your children to like carrots, don’t bully them into eating them. Why not try the more successful emotional approach used on television? Commercials on television associate foods with fun things like cartoons and toys. Why not develop some associations between good foods and happy, fun experiences like picnics and family home evenings? How about a pioneer dinner in the park featuring raw vegetables and fruits? Or let the little ones experiment by dipping vegetables in a variety of sauces and dressings in a fondue-style dinner.

3. We encourage snacking. To add to the conviviality of such occasions as watching television, reading, or socializing, we too often engage in snacking. And as an after-school ritual, the habit is probably firmly entrenched in most of our homes.
Children do get hungry between meals. But learning to live with that little bit of hunger, especially while yet young, may be healthier than eating at every urge. (Any Latter-day Saint knows that fasting becomes easier with practice.)

It would be best if we never developed the snack habit. If you don’t think you can accomplish that in your home, perhaps snacking could be shifted from cake and cookies to the less fattening fare of low-fat milk or fresh fruits. Of course, there is no guarantee that a well-established snack habit involving milk and fruit will not change for the worse when the child is on his own, but at least the youngster has been taught the proper principles.

Complete elimination of the well-embedded bedtime snack is also desirable, but if you can’t eliminate it, how about a glass of low-fat milk instead of a heaping plate of ice cream?

4. We eat opulently. A lavishly set table has become a symbol of success. “We always had more than we could eat at my home,” may be a braggart’s phrase, but that stuffed look is certainly testimony that it is not an empty boast.

“Waste not, want not” is a desirable ethic for frugal folk, but it might produce less obesity if it were applied at the time the plate was loaded up rather than at the time it is “cleaned up.” “Clean up your plate” is the prelude to dessert in so many homes that it’s no wonder a child feels he must eat till the food is gone, including what’s left in the serving bowls. Perhaps tables could be less sumptuously set with meals more carefully planned according to the basic food groups.
And when the food is gone, it’s gone. Some recent evidence suggests that less food will be consumed, and thus less need be prepared, if you can teach your children simply to eat more slowly. Is there really any sense in eating at each meal as though there was never going to be another one?

5. We serve too many desserts. I hesitate even to mention this last item. In many homes I’m sure it will be tantamount to heresy. But are desserts really necessary? In some homes they are so commonplace, they become ordinary and even a little dull. Reserving rich treats for special occasions would not only enhance the appreciation of both the treats and the special occasions, but would do much to eliminate obesity. If the dessert habit is too firmly entrenched, switch to fresh fruits. You may be surprised at how much your family will enjoy them.
The scriptures tell us that deathbed repentance is impossible. If we have a problem in our lives, we need to start as early as possible to resolve it, since repentance may take some time. And how much better it would be if we just never developed the problem in the first place. Poor eating habits, like all others, are hard to repent of, and prevention is infinitely more satisfactory than treatment. Therefore, start right now to try to correct your family’s bad eating habits:

  • Prepare less food.
  • Use more fruits and vegetables in your meals; cut down on fried and high-fat foods; serve desserts sparingly, using more fresh fruits.
  • As for snacks, particularly the highly processed varieties, a few days of standing firm against those pleadings for goodies might help extinguish that habit. Not having snack items around the house may reduce their consumption to almost zero.
  • Try to make meals a more leisurely and conversational experience.
  • Let’s help our children learn to eat the right amounts of the right foods for the right reasons.

I want to add my own two cents to that last sentence. By "right reasons" I think the author means that our body is a temple and we need to take care of it as best we can. We defile our body when we fill it with foods that aren't good for us. When I think about eating healthy with that kind of perspective it is much more motivating because I know my body is a gift from God, so I should respect it and take proper care of it, and I need to teach my kids to do the same. But I can't teach them to do something that I don't do myself. I'm going to be better!

I liked the suggestions in this article. What do you think? What are some of your tips for teaching your family to eat healthy?

By the way, if you'd like to read the full article, click here.


Marianne said...

I'm going to answer my own question. My kids don't really like to eat fruit (I know, they're crazy!). So, I've been making a lot of fresh fruit smoothies lately, and they really like them.

Tiffany said...

Thank you for sharing this. I need to stop doing some of the things I have been doing and get on the no snack idea.
Also, one of my sons won't eat veggies, until I tried a new recipe. Now he eats steamed carrots like there was no tomorrow.
Love, love the article. It really made me think about food and how we use it in our house. Thanks again!:D

Marisa said...

This was an awesome article! I tried early on to offer a lot of vegetables and fruit to my son. And I realize that it's normal for him not to like a certain food when he first tries it, but I keep offering it and a lot of times he'll try it eventually! I try to keep the criticism out of the picture and keep the atmosphere happy and encouraging.

Kim said...

This is really good advice for all of us!

Mardee Rae said...

I'm Joel's cousin on the Orton side. I think I may have met you ONE time, so sad! So I'm sure you don't remember me, there are a lot of us :). Anyway, I loved this post. Thank you. My two year old used to eat everything and now she is really picky, so we're trying to know how to balance our food attitudes and not make meal time a battle. You know, we both grew up in a "clear your plate or else" type of family, so we're trying not to go there. I loved the advice that instead of not wasting on the end where you dish is concerned, don't make such a huge meal or dish up so much to begin with. What a good point.
As for my tips and advice (and this is so long I should just blog about it myself), my two rules-of-thumb to ensure healthy habits are these: if it comes in whole grain, buy it whole grain. And the other is SPINACH. I always keep fresh spinach on hand. It goes in every sandwich, quesadilla, soup, sauce, etc. that I make.
The fresh fruit smoothies sound really good, could you post a recipe or suggestions?
Sorry so long. I'm just a wordy person.