We are currently waged
in a full-force battle for our children’s lives, and it starts the second they
take their first bite. One of the primary responsibilities of parenting is
to provide children the tools for optimal health. In this country of
convenience, meals-on-the-go have become the norm, and we've let our
kids decide their diet based on commercials for high-sugar, low-nutrient foods.
One in three children will be a diabetic adult. Perhaps more sobering, for the
first time in history, our children will not live as long as the generation
The time is upon you
to start making nutritional decisions for your kids. It’s never too early to
teach them the ABCs of beneficial foods, and the harmful short- and long-term
effects of eating poorly.
Use these guidelines
to improve your family’s nutrition. Your children will thank you for the
lifelong gift of health and a strong nutritional foundation can turn into a
1. Walk the walk. Your children are going to eat what you
eat. Simple as that. Kids want to emulate their parents and nutrition is no
exception. As the adult, you have to practice what you preach. You can’t expect
them to ask for water when you’re slurping down a soda. Learn the principles of
optimal health posted throughout Pure HealthMD, and apply them to your daily
2. Start a garden. This can be a very healthy family
bonding project. Each child should be allowed to pick something to grow and
given responsibilities for the care of the garden. Start small and learn as you
go. Your child will attain lifelong lessons about sustainability and organic
foods and, most importantly, they will want to enjoy the fruits (and
vegetables) of their labor.
3. Involve them in food preparation. Children that peel carrots or cut broccoli will want to
eat what they helped prepare. They yearn to be a part of everything you do, so
why not dinner? If they are younger and not ready for sharp utensils, let them
stir the oatmeal or flip the pancakes with your help.
4. Feed them like little adults. There is no reason why a child should not eat what you are
eating. Try to limit separate meals or giving options to appease them. After
all, you aren't a short-order cook. If you’re eating stir-fry
tonight, that’s what’s on the menu for everyone. This rule holds particularly
true with eating out. Usually, the children’s menu is a line-up of the most
highly processed, unhealthy foods imaginable, and should be for coloring, not
ordering. Feed your child like an adult. Order a grilled chicken breast with a
side of steamed vegetables. Ask the waiter to bring them a half order, or
better yet share one entree.
5. Cleanse the pantry. Go
through the cupboard and rid your home of all products listing high fructose
corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil as ingredients. These lead the charge
of contributors to the childhood obesity epidemic. Throw out those products
with more than four or five ingredients. Instead, load up on unsalted and
unsweetened nuts, dried fruit, or combine these to make trail mix.
6. Redefine snacks. There is no reason for a child to expect
candy, cookies or chips on a daily basis. From now on, snacks are pieces of
fresh fruit, cut up vegetables or a cup of oatmeal with dried fruit and nuts.
Let your child know what is healthy and what is not. Inform them. They should
eventually grasp the idea that sugary snacks will lead to weight gain, acne,
fatigue, poor concentration and rotting teeth. Teach them the value of fresh
produce and water, and that there are no other options. Over time they will
accept, and even ask for, the new and improved snacks.
7. Drink water. Children need to
learn to drink and appreciate water. Time and again, we hear, “I can’t stand
the taste of water.” It’s water—it has no taste. For a child, this idea is
often adopted from the parent, so let them see you drinking water, lots of it.
Don’t flavor it, don’t color it. Let your child know there is no other option.
Sports drinks are a dangerous substitute, as they have high fructose corn syrup
as a sweetener, which a child’s body does not handle well. What’s worse, they
are drinking these while being active, which means their mouths are dry and the
natural saliva that protects the teeth is not there. The syrup has direct
access to the tooth, promoting decay and harmful bacteria.
8. Make the
decisions. When it comes to
the day-to-day dangers and decisions, parents are aware that a child doesn't know
what’s best for them. Nutrition is no exception. Don’t allow them to refuse
healthy offerings and hold out for cheap sources of calories. Give them a
loaded choice, “Will it be broccoli, cauliflower or brussels sprout tonight
honey?” Don’t budge. When you serve healthy foods, and they’re used to
unhealthy options, it can be a struggle. Stick to your guns. Let them know that
they don’t have to eat now, but later when they are hungry they can have the
original food reheated. A child will never let themselves starve.
9. Eat together. Around the
family table, there are more than nutritional benefits. Statistically, there is
less drug use, high risk sexual activity and better parental communication in
children who sit down to meals with their family. Make sure at least half of
all meals are eaten together. If you’re on the go, schedule time to pull over
or have a picnic together. Eating in the car does not count. The focus must be
on nothing but eating good food and being together. To prevent interruption,
turn off the technology.
10. Make a rule. The rule of the house should be, “If you’ve never
tried it, you are not allowed to say you don’t like it.” Certainly there are
foods that they won’t like. It happens. But once the initial hesitation passes,
the whole clan might be surprised.
11.Experiment. While peas, carrots and corn hold
nutritional value, they shouldn’t be the only sources of vegetables your child
eats. Every vegetable has different essential nutrients. Start by trying to
incorporate every color, daily. Try some wild and random vegetables that you
usually pass at the grocery. Make it fun by looking up preparation ideas online
and have a family vote on how it’s prepared. Better yet, prepare it two or
three different ways and have a family taste test.
12. The advanced
class. Once you’ve
introduced more sound nutritional principles to the table, start to consider
making the organic movement. So much of our produce is laced with pesticides
and herbicides that are not only directly harmful to your child, but by
protecting the growing plant, they are usually less nutritious. Go to
www.foodnews.org to learn what fruits and vegetables are most affected by these
chemicals. Buying organic of those items in the “clean dozen” can be a lower