How to Teach Your Child to Love Healthy Food
At family gatherings, we have one who rushes around and acts busy, hoping nobody will notice she's not eating. (Pssst, we all notice.) We have another who won't touch a carbohydrate. We can't get through a photo album without hearing, "I was so fat then."
On more than one occasion, I was assured that my baby daughter would "grow into herself." Soon after she started walking, I started to hear, "oh good, she's trimming down."
Um, I wasn't worried.
When it comes to shaping my kids' attitudes toward food, I have my work cut out for me.
These negative influences are also the ones we can't escape. These are family gatherings. I can pull my kids out of a dance class that has an instructor who makes snide comments or something. But I can't pull them from home. Nope, these messages about eating come from the "safe space" that is the family.
Just as detrimental are TV shows and commercials and ads and celebrities telling our kids they are less than ideal, so they should buy whatever it is that they're selling. And then there are the peers who hold the unrealistic edited photo images as ideals and perpetuate the cycle...
The only thing I can do is model healthy attitudes toward food at home and hope that's enough. Well, that, and foster confidence and the ability to recognize what advertising tries to do. But that's another post.
Here are some things I'm hoping will help me shape healthy attitudes about food to my children...
Learn to Cook
Cook awesome food for them so they know what tastes good. That way, when someone nukes a frozen dinner or cracks open a plastic container of grocery store cupcakes, they'll know it's just not worth eating.
Cook with Them
That way, you can talk about the way things are made, even if you didn't make them. Sure, the kitchen gets dirtier that way, but even adults look at food differently when they learn about it.
Talk about Taste
You'll hear my kids say things like, "did you put ginger in this?" Because they've cooked with me, using ginger in the past. Even though they're young, we talk about what flavors we taste and what goes well together. It may lead to conversations about how pancakes and tomatoes might taste good together. (And who knows, it might. I've never tried.) The important thing is that they're thinking and talking about what goes into food.
Talk about Health Benefits
"Kale has so many things your body needs. See that the sweet potato is orange? That tells us that it's good for our eyes. Oh good, the berries are blue. We haven't eaten anything blue this week so we're one color closer to the full rainbow of vitamins." Kids need to know that foods keep their bodies in working order.
Don't Make Them Finish
Kids need to learn how to recognize satiety. Lady A. often leaves the dinner table without having touched a thing on her plate. When my son was small, we knew we'd get only two meals into him per day, usually breakfast and dinner. We came to expect him to refuse one meal. No big deal, no force-feeding, no bargaining, no mealtime battles, and certainly no special short-order items just so he would eat.
Treats are Treats, and Food is Food
Birthday celebration? You better believe we eat cake. But we don't expect dessert after every dinner. We talk about foods that are empty but fun sometimes, and we talk about how special treats wouldn't be fun if we ate them every day.
Eat at the Table
Car meals happen, and admittedly, meals in front of the TV happen. But those rare occurrences. Establish the table as the place where meals are taken.
Don't Ever Talk Negatively about Your Body
I don't have fashion magazines around (because, snore) and frankly, I have better things to do than analyze numbers on the scale or my image in the mirror. But if I ever have something about my body that I want to change, my kids don't need to know about it.
The best thing we can do for them is to show them that food is best enjoyed when prepared with care, in proper amounts, and shared.