One of the questions my husband and I get the most is “how do you get your kids to eat like this?” For us, this is easy because of the place we’re coming from. In one of my previous articles I discuss focusing on what we want vs what we don’t want. In our family, our highest value is health. We feel that when he have an optimal level of health, we have an abundance of energy and are at our best which causes a spillover into all other areas of life. If you decide to fully embark on this lifestyle, your life will be easier, trust me. Jason and I thoroughly enjoy mealtimes with the boys even when we eat out. They eat from the adult menus like us and are often ready to try new things. We have trained them to become like this and our lives are easier because of it. We don’t dread mealtimes like so many other families. There are many areas of my life where I am not great but this is one area I have put a lot of attention and energy toward and am now able to reap the benefits. My hope is that by sharing some of these tips with you, meals can once again become fun for you and your family.
- One of the most important things to do is determine your ‘why’ for implementing this type of lifestyle. For instance, do you allow your kids to ride in your vehicle without their seatbelt? Why not? Don’t they ever protest it, especially in the beginning? Do you let them win if they protest? Pretty sure most people have their kids seatbelted while driving. The big ‘why’ is safety and one we have had drilled into our minds. In this instance, we teach the kids it is non-negotiable because we are looking out for their ultimate safety. Interestingly enough, more people die from the result of poor eating habits than motor vehicle accidents. So, this is where Jason and I develop the ‘firm but fair’ policy. We teach our kids healthy eating habits because we know where health comes from and it is our responsibility to teach them healthy habits. Our lives are easier because of it, they make healthier choices by habit.
- Kids are incredibly intelligent and have minds just waiting and ready to learn new things. Teach them by asking them questions. If you have a dog, you can ask them what happens if you feed the dog ice cream? They will typically know that this will make the dog sick. Ask them why and listen to their answers. How about a rabbit, what does it eat? They usually know it’s carrots and lettuce. Ask them what would happen if the rabbit started eating Ritz Crackers or candy. Again, they understand that these animals should be eating what they typically get in the wild. Make the link for them that we too are animals and that we too have specific health responses when we start eating too many foods made in factories vs from the ground or from healthy animals.
- If you ask my boys, “what does mommy want her boys to be?” they will respond “healthy and strong boys”. I tell them every day how I want them to grow to give them a visual of what they can become. When they’re eating healthy food, I let them know how strong and healthy they are becoming. I tell them this many times every day when they are taking healthy action steps to reinforce the good behaviour. It makes them feel great and since we are pleasure seekers, they move toward more of this behaviour, it’s a cycle.
- A few years ago when David was 4, we had been talking a lot about sugar and how it can make your immune system not work as well as it should. We taught him how to read labels even when he couldn’t read. He knew where to look for the sugar content and that if it had 6 grams of sugar or more it was not likely something we would purchase. I was tired and doing groceries with kids can be challenging. We were going down the aisle with applesauce and pudding. He saw pudding and said “can we get this?”. Before I had the chance to reply, he had looked at the label and saw how much sugar was in it and was already putting it back. What a great moment that was for me.
- Ask them to help you make the change for the family and do it gradually by changing what your pantry looks like. Once you are rid of the junk food, replace it with healthier more colourful fruits and vegetables. I remember as a kid when I was just about to make my bed and my mom would come along and ask me to make it, I no longer felt like doing it. I wasn’t inspired anymore because it came from her telling me to vs me wanting to. Nobody wants to be cornered into eating certain foods or doing anything for that matter. So, when they feel they are part of the process, which they totally are, it makes them feel empowered. If I’m adding kale to a smoothie, I have my 4 year old Alex do this because he loves to help. We joke around about if we can make the kale disappear in the smoothie. We then taste test it together to see if we’ve accomplished our mission. He loves to be part of this.
- When it is mealtime, have them help by chopping up veggies for you. This is a painful time of day for most of us when we get home and are busy trying to prepare meals. The kids are always around and bugging us when all we want to do is get things done. I bought a lettuce knife at the grocery store and a fruit knife from Backyard and Veranda. You can buy them their own cutting board if you like. Give them some veggies to chop either for a salad or whatever, just something to eat before the meal. You will see that in a short while, the kids will start asking if they can have a bite of the red pepper or cucumber or carrot or whatever it is they are chopping. They love to feel part of the process. That is one of my biggest tips for getting them full on healthy stuff before the healthy meal is ready.
- Never bribe them with dessert while they are eating. I rarely use dessert as a bribe for them to finish their meals. In my opinion, this is giving them a wrong message about the healthy food they are eating. I have the expectation that they are in this process with me and we want to be as healthy as possible as a family. Eat what you can from your plate and when you’re done, you’re done, that’s great. Sometimes there will be a healthy dessert but that is not the incentive for finishing the meal. The reward is rather a strong and healthy body. That is always our focus!
- Do the best you can with the healthy choices around. When you’re travelling, there may not be healthy choices but just do your best. Ask yourself “compared to what?” and make the healthiest choice there is. Once you’ve taught the kids about what healthy food is, they will be able to help you choose healthy foods. As a result, they are more likely to eat them when it is their choice. My boys can spot wheat from a mile away. We also don’t eat dairy so they either tell me things have dairy or wheat in them or ask me.
- Finally, you get what you expect. Once you’ve done your work of teaching them and asking them questions about the foods they eat, have a knowingness that they are intelligent enough to understand you want the best for them. When you put the meal in front of them, trust that they will eat it, at least some of it. As their taste buds evolve more and more, trust that they will want to eat what you are feeding them. Remember, just because they don’t like it the first time doesn’t mean they don’t like it for always. They may need to be exposed to the food 20-30 times before they like it. Try not to label them with “so and so doesn’t like this or that”. Taste buds evolve in time. They can sense when you don’t trust them and will challenge you. When your ‘why’ is strong enough, this part becomes easier. Be firm and fair and you will see great things come along in time!