Updated: May 12, 2020
Educating is more than simply dictating rules, believe me, I've tried! Especially when it relates to eating habits and healthy choices.
As a parent the best you can do for your kids is to give them the tools to choose between right wrong and hope they learn. So, how to help our kids make healthy eating choices?
Step 1, you have to be eating the things you are serving them. And enjoying it while at it! At the same time you have to be avoiding what you are asking them to not eat as well. (That should go without saying. True story, back when my mother used to drink diet coke and my kids were little, I made her drink on a coffee mug so they would not know that grandma drank poison and did not die!
Extreme measures to extreme situation. In retrospect, it seems excessive, I know.
When kids are little, we have the ability to (and should be) a little stricter since they don’t know any other way! Drinking options should consist of water and breast milk, if you have it, or the alternative to it. Period.
You are creating habits during the first few years that will dictate their taste buds and immune system for the rest of their lives. Choose wisely. Learn to read labels and understand what ingredients are harmful. Whole foods are healthier, cheaper and not that hard to make (think plain fruits and cooked vegetables with just olive oil and salt.) Boring? Not for them.
As children grow so must our tactics. Policing their choices too hard will drive them away (I, myself, am just learning this.) It’s not easy for a control freak Mom like me, but surrendering is also part of motherhood, so I’m learning to bring my guard down and trust that they have learned some of what I spent the last decade preaching.
If you came over to my home right now, you wouldn’t find much crap. But if you opened my kids backpacks you would find some hidden packaged goodies. Oh my. How do I allow it? Well, they have legs and electric bikes and friends in the right places. Therefore, it’s impossible to avoid experimentation and some outlaw behaviors.
I am left with the role of serving the right options at home and helping them make the right choices and boy, do I rub it in at every opportunity! Feeling tired and your stomach hurts? “What might you have eaten that is causing this?” Can’t poop? “Well garbage comes in and garbage comes out (or doesn’t in this case!”)
They are fully aware that it’s garbage. My son makes squeaky clean choices when is baseball season. He stops eating dairy and gluten and puts himself to sleep earlier. Coincidence? Absolutely not, I take full credit of the programing. My kids are currently 9 and 12 and have never tried Coca Cola. I got a call from a dad on his team that I carpool with telling me that my son refused to eat at In n out even though he was hungry and the entire car was feasting on it. Exaggeration? Not at all, he made his choice that day. The same way as he made a different choice on another day.
Up to recently I called all the shots, now I give them guidance and some eye rolling and smiles, but they will only learn by making the mistakes themselves.
Loving your kids is letting them experience failure.
Policing every bite will only encourage them to grow up hating healthy food, or worse, develop an eating disorder.
Education and freedom of food choices will help them grow to appreciate and love healthy food, given that they connect the dots between cause and effect. Because they have lived and experienced both at home under my roof. Do as I do, not as I say. Of course, it is imperative that one lead by example. If you tell them McDonald’s is poison but eat so yourself, incongruence and lack of trust is what they’ll learn.
How do they connect the dots? In the beginning they don’t, we do. When I see their complexion is clear, mood great and energy solid, I chime with, “Wow. You’re looking amazing these days and I love how much energy you have. You must be making great food choices.” When they look worn down with a face full of zits and a mood to match, I make sure to remind them with, “Last week, you were a picture of health and doing great; sorry to see you this way now. Something must have changed, perhaps your food choices were not the best?”
Yep, subtly rub it in, sometimes, not so subtly.
As a parent it’s hard to see the short-term pain, especially when I know it could have been avoided. But long-term results are my goal. TSo letting them suffer a bit and endure short term consequences is part of the game. At least, when you’re young it is easier to fix and you’re there helping them understand how their choices are 100% aligned with how they’re feeling and experiencing life.
I used to be Police Mom. Now I’m learning to play more of the role of coach and cheerleader. Still learning, growing pains for them and for me. It’s not easy but we HAVE to permit your kids to FAIL.
One rule: I don’t buy crap. They want it. They buy it. My money doesn’t.
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