Updated: Feb 29
Educating is more than simply dictating rules, believe me, I 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 right from wrong and hope they learn. So how to make our kids eat healthy?
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 can (and should) be a little stricter since they do not know any other way or can’t really open the refrigerator themselves. I can’t believe when I see mom’s serving soda on a sippy cup or even giving their little ones juice boxes. Drinking menu should consist of water and breast milk if you have it, or the alternative to it. Period.
You are creating habits on 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, to understand harmful ingredients. 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 they grow, so must our tactics. Policing their choices too hard will drive them away. I am just learning that, not easy for a control freak mom like me, but surrendering is also part of motherhood. So I had to bring my guards down and trust that they have learned what I spend the last decade preaching…
If you came over to my home right now, you’d not find much crap. But if you opened their backpacks you would see some hidden packaged goodies. Oh my. How do I allow it? Well, they have legs and electric bikes and friends on the right places. Therefore, it is inevitable 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 connections and, boy! Do I rub it in at every opportunity! “Feeling tired and your stomach hurt? What might you have eaten that is causing this? Can’t poop? Well, garbage comes in, garbage comes out (Or don’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 food will only grow them up to hate healthy food, or worse, develop an eating disorder.
Freedom of food choices will grow them up 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 in stating “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 like hell, dark circles under the eyes, face full of zits and full blown mood swings, I make sure to chime in stating “Last week, you were feeling and looking so good…. Sorry to see you this way now. Something must have changed. Food choices perhaps not the best?” Yep, subtlety rub it in, sometimes not so subtle.
As a mom, it’s hard to see the short-term pain, especially when I know they could have been avoided. But long-term results is my goal. Therefore, letting them suffer a bit and endure 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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Isabela Fortes is a
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