The news seems to be full of statistics to show that the health of our kids is declining due to poor diet and lack of exercise. I think most parents understand this and yet find it hard to know what to do. How can we get our kids to improve their eating habits?
There are many reasons why kids are choosing to eat a poor diet. We have heard a lot of them: busy lives, coercive media messages, unprecedented access to junk food and the sugar, salt and additives which make these foods so addictive. Many of these things are hard to change. They are a product of our changing lifestyles. They are supported by our consumer society. So what can we do?
There is not just one answer. Simply telling kids they should eat better just won’t work. We need to work on reconnecting kids with good food and the joy of eating so that they in turn will be inspired to make new choices for themselves. It requires a family effort. Most of the suggestions below require a little time and input from the family as a whole. I am finding more and more parents who are concerned enough about their kids’ health to want to try something.
• Turn off the television, put away the newspaper, sit down and enjoy a meal together. Food is so much more fun when it is shared with others. This is a time to set a good example. If we are happily eating vegetables with our meal, our children will see that and be more likely to try them as opposed to if most of their meals are spent with other kids eating takeout pizza and pop. Make the family mealtime fun. Set the table, light candles, put flowers on the table. It shows that food is to be enjoyed.
• Get the kids involved in their food choices. Encourage them to start reading the labels of the packaged food they buy. The list of ingredients is by weight. Those ingredients in the highest amounts are listed first. Do they know what most of the listed ingredients actually are? Do we? Look up unknown ingredients on the internet. Check on their health or non health benefits. Inspire in them an interest in finding out more about what they are eating.
• Get kids in the kitchen. Borrow some simple, healthy cookbooks for kids. Get them to pick a recipe they would like to try. Everyone loves being in the kitchen amongst delicious smells, and kids are always more willing to try something they have participated in creating.
• If you have a yard, dig up some lawn and start your own garden. Get the kids to pick some vegetables they would like to grow, read up a little on what kind of soil and nutrients they need and then get planting. Check a planting guide to make sure you are planting in season, or ask gardening friends for advice. Kids love to eat food they have grown and they seem to get real joy and satisfaction from picking and eating straight from the garden.
• Take them to a local farm where they can talk to someone who grows food. See the surprise on their faces when they pull a carrot from the ground. Take them along to farmers markets, where people who love good food gather. Enthusiasm is contagious. Good luck!
Anna Louise Dodds is a registered holistic nutritionist practicing in Nanaimo. She works with diet to address health issues, teaches healthy cooking and baking and even helps people get started on their own vegetable gardens. Email or call for a consultation – firstname.lastname@example.org or 751 9751.