We have all seen and heard the reports that diets high in processed foods affect the health of our kids during their childhood and teenage years, with ongoing effects into adulthood. In our culture, it is extremely challenging to help our kids embrace REAL food.
Kids are bombarded with things like chicken nuggets, corndogs, French fries, frozen pizza, sugary cereals and the list goes on and on! There are a variety of factors that contribute to this, some of which we can control and some of which we cannot. But one reality – we can control – is we are the role models! Whether we like it or not, our kids model our behavior, both good and bad!
Rodney Atkins wrote about how kids are “watching us” (we apologize now if this song stays with you the rest of the day!):
Cause I’ve been watching you dad, ain’t that cool.
I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you.
And eat all my food and grow as tall as you are.
By then I’ll be as strong as superman
We’ll be just alike, hey won’t we dad
When I can do everything you do
Cause I’ve been watching you.
If only we knew then what we know now; we would have done things differently from the start. We know, easier said than done! When we started realizing the benefits of REAL food, we decided we needed to make some changes with our kids’ eating habits.
You want to hear the bad news first, right? The bad news is kids are a hard sell! We thought, no problem, just flip the switch and they are on board! We change our habits and they will follow right behind! Ha! Not quite.
Now the good news - change is possible, it’s true, we have seen it! Even if it takes time, kids can change – and their eating habits can evolve. The most important factor is our actions – words are important, but our actions are HUGE! If we tell our kids they should eat more REAL food, but then proceed to pick up fast food or heat up a frozen pizza for dinner, that is the behavior they will model.
Every family’s situation is different, so we don’t believe there is one approach that works best for everyone, but here are a few ideas to consider:
- Expose kids to a variety of REAL foods. If something is unfamiliar to kids, they are less likely to try it. The more they are exposed to REAL foods, the more they will come to like them. Yes, it may take time and it may be a…dare we say…“battle” in the beginning when they refuse to eat unless they get a hot dog, but change will happen if you are consistent.
- No one should be a "short order cook". I stumbled upon an idea that helped our family: if the kids don’t like what is prepared, they get a simple backup option like a turkey sandwich or PB&J. The point is, they have to make it themselves (at a certain age of course) and it can’t be something that has to be heated up or takes long to make (hopefully eliminating corn dogs, etc.). We all know some kids can be stubborn, but the theory is they will eventually get tired of these backup options and begin to try what the rest of the family is eating!
- Encourage your kids to help in the kitchen. If they are involved, they will be more likely to try new foods and will begin to understand the difference in taste and quality between meals prepared with REAL foods vs. the processed ones. They will also gain confidence that they are able to prepare simple snacks and meals rather than just throwing something in the microwave. Our daughter loves making a shrimp and veggie stir fry meal that she can now do all by herself!
- Take your kids shopping. We know you are thinking, “Are you crazy? Take the kids when I can have a few moments to myself?!” but this is a great opportunity to educate kids on good choices and poor choices in the supermarket. Our daughter discovered pluots (plum-apricot) during a trip to the store, asked if she could get some, and this has now become “her thing.” When they are in-season, she now is excited to buy pluots vs. cookies or crackers.
- Enjoy good food! Keep in mind, there can be a negative connotation when we use the word “healthy”, so instead just focus on the fact you are eating REAL food and how good it tastes. And, try to slow down and enjoy it. If kids think mealtime is just something to get through as fast as possible to move onto the next activity (or the next TV show), this will reinforce quick meals, which often means processed foods.
- Don’t deprive. We believe kids need to be able to enjoy their favorite cookie, ice cream and other treats in moderation. The key is “moderation.” Just remember that fast food in moderation, followed by ice cream in moderation, followed by processed snacks in moderation, will not change eating habits for the better!
- Small steps = big change. Don’t try to overhaul your kids’ eating habits all at once. Take small steps, talk to your kids about it, and most importantly, make sure your actions reinforce your words!
Have patience, be strong and consistent, and know what you are doing is good for them! Helping them make good choices now will also help them to make good choices later in life. What tips do you have? Please share with other members on Eat REAL America’s Facebook page.
“Setting an example is not the main means of influencing another…it is the only means.”