For some reason, I have been thinking a lot about my kids and their nutrition recently. Maybe its because of the holidays coming and all the memories of cookies and candies I have from childhood. Maybe it’s because my oldest daughter (3) has a very small appetite and it is hit or miss if she eats at meals. Maybe it’s because keeping my kids mostly gluten-free over the past 6 months has made a difference for my 7 year-old’s behavior and stomach aches. Ultimately, I think it is because, through my multiple nutritional counseling certifications, I have learned that food is medication for our bodies. It is hard as adults to change our eating habits to be more healthy. So as mothers, it is crucial that we teach our children from the beginning to eat for great health and to have a normal relationship with food. So, below are my top five tips that I use personally with my own four children to try to make sure they eat for health for the rest of their lives.
1. SET THE RIGHT EXAMPLE! I believe this is the most important tip and also probably the hardest. As moms, how can we expect our children to eat healthy if we do not? And how can we expect our kids not to eat emotionally if we do? So, the first step is to make sure we (ourselves) have a healthy relationship with food. The next step is to know the right combinations of foods to eat for our bodies. I help clients discover the best foods to eat in my customized 12 week program. You can find out more here. Once you know what to eat that keeps you fit, healthy, full of energy, and satisfied; all you have to do is eat that way. Set the example by eating healthy and nutrition 80% of the time and eating those sweets and treats 20% of the time.
2. LET THEM READ THE LABELS! It is important that our kids know what is in the foods they are eating. I try to feed my kids whole foods, which do not have a label, as much as possible, but they do eat snack foods and packaged foods. So, I let them read the label and teach them to look at the amount of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and sugars food has. I also teach them to look at the ingredient list and that it is best if we stick to foods with a limited number of ingredients that can all be pronounced. My children love to read labels and for my older children I teach them a label rule that I teach my clients when deciding on whether to eat a food or not. So, here is the label rule total carbohydrates – fiber – sugar alcohols – protein <= 10. This helps assure that the food will not cause a blood sugar spike or an energy crash later on. I also teach my children to look at the sodium content in packaged foods and what percentage of the day’s allowance the food contains.
3. SERVE PROTEIN, VEGETABLES, AND FRUIT WITH EVERY MEAL! Here is how I feed my kids, I make sure that I serve a protein, vegetables, and a fruit for each meal. The exception to this might be breakfast and I do not always include a vegetable with it, although two of my kids love scrambled eggs or egg whites with spinach. I will also serve a side of starchy carbs (such as waffles, toast, rice, pasta, ect.) at two to three meals a day. My kids do not like casseroles so I cook simply. An example of breakfast might be gluten-free waffles, nitrite free bacon, and an apple. An example of lunch might be baked chicken nuggets, steamed broccoli, and strawberries. An example of supper might be baked chicken, carrots, some rice, and frozen grapes. After either lunch or supper, my kids will often have a dessert. This might be a cookie (usually gluten-free), a piece of chocolate, or a scoop of ice cream.
4. DON’T FORCE THEM TO EAT! I never try to force my kids to eat, but I do encourage them to at least try one bite. Did you grow up in a “you must clean your plate family”? I sure did and I learned to hide my vegetables all over the place! As frustrating as it is when we cook a meal and our kids only pick at it, it is really important that we do not try to make them eat it. There are several reasons for this. First, what they put in their mouths is one thing that children have control over and they are likely to rebel when pushed. Second, forcing a child to clean their plate can often lead to them feeling guilt as an adult if they leave food and can often interfere with their ability to listen to their own bodies’ telling them when they are hungry or full.
5. DON’T GIVE IN! What I mean by this is do not did your children unhealthy foods just to get them to eat. I have heard moms in the past say that their children will only eat French fries and chicken nuggets. The best choice is to never feed these foods to your children in the first place. I understand their frustration and need to find quick and easy things to feed their children, but my kids have never eaten fried chicken nuggets and have only eating French fries a handful of times. Once of my daughters would eat dessert and candy and chips only if I allowed her to. She will often sit at the table and request chips and refuse to eat anything I am serving. I do not give in to this request. The result is sometimes she does cries and does not eat for that meal, but she will eat the next meal. The problem is that if I give in, then she will behave the same way each meal and never eat anything healthy.
I hope you have found this helpful. I do not have all the answers and I do not feed my kids 100% whole, organic foods 100% of the time. But I do think I have found a healthy balance with my kids and their nutrition. I have also written a post on this in the past, which you can find here.