Tator tot casserole, pop tarts, meatballs and bologna sandwiches. All part of the nutritious diet our local daycare served while our kids were attending. Not surprisingly most parents don’t even think twice about the rubbish filling their kid’s bellies. Hence the problem we have with childhood obesity.
Funny thing is, as a kid I don’t remember diet ever being a major issue. My mom would save bacon grease in a cup next to the stove and our clown-shaped cookie jar was rarely empty. We typically ate balanced meals, though canned vegetables weren’t uncommon and beef was our primary source of protein. My sister and I would even get excited when TV dinners and chicken pot pies were mentioned.
Times have changed (though I still get excited about chicken pot pies) and I now find myself more aware than ever of the foods my family eats. I’m not extreme – in fact, I believe in a logical scientific approach that can be broken down into a single word.
It’s nothing we haven’t already heard in every health class and news report that highlights diet and nutrition, but for some reason it’s a concept that eludes many of us. Now that’s perfectly fine if you’re a poor college student who can get by on ramen noodles and mac n’ cheese, but as parents we have the duty and responsibility to look out for our children’s health. And the health I’m referring to goes beyond wiping runny noses and feeding them Tylenol.
So the great thing about this whole balance thing is that it doesn’t mean deprivation, only moderation. So you can still offer Little Debbie snack cakes just not every day and certainly not a box at a time. And there’s nothing wrong with getting your kid a Happy Meal so long as they don’t begin to ask “Where’s the toy?” every time you sit down to eat. The truth is most of us have at least somewhat of an understanding of what comprises a healthy meal, and if you don’t, go read a book on it.
The important thing to keep in mind is that children are extremely impressionable during their first two years of life. Especially when it comes to their taste buds. And it’s during this time that many kids will accept or reject the taste of certain foods. So as parents we have the role of providing healthy choices rather than caving to a kid who is set on eating a balanced diet of chicken nuggets and frankfurters. Health professionals say it can take as many as 15 or more exposures to a new food before a kid will even try it. That means there are a lot of moms and dads out there who have a long road ahead of them.
But mealtime doesn’t always have to be dramatic, with screaming kids, parents pulling out their hair and howling dogs. It’s like this – during mealtime:
- Give your kid something you know they like to eat. Preferably not pop-tarts, chicken nuggets or blue moon ice cream. Use common sense here and just choose the healthiest thing, even if it’s something like cheese pizza.
- If they’re old enough, give them a choice between two healthy items. Preferably some form of fruits or vegetables. Giving them a choice empowers them and makes them feel like they have a say in what they’re eating. If they’re too young to choose, it’s up to you to offer fruits, vegetables and other healthy items to eat.
- Start a checklist and mark every time they zip their lips to a certain food. If you get to 20 and they’re still resisting, pat yourself on the back for being patient and persistent and move on to another item. Oh, and don’t be afraid to revisit that item sometime in the future.
- For pete’s sake, get a little creative with what you offer your kid (this means you need to actually cook something – ditch the microwave when you can). If they rejected corn the first time, try corn on the cob. If that doesn’t work, try adding corn to some kind of pasta salad or mixing it with mashed potatoes. At some point your kid just might say, “Hey dad, mixin’ the corn with those mashed ‘tatoes was cool.”
In time you can start letting your kid help prepare the meals. More vested interest means a greater likelihood of eating what’s on their plate.
Bottom line is – don’t give up, though the temptation may definitely be there. Our kid’s health is far too important. Lessons learned today can last a lifetime – right? So let’s not let our lack of time or energy get in the way of developing healthy eating habits in our children while they’re young.
With so much on the line, it’s time we parents step up and start making a difference.
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