Monday, May 10, 2010

Getting the Kids eat healthier foods seems like an insurmountable task for many parents.
"MY kids will NEVER eat THAT," is a refrain I hear often when first discussing healthy food swaps and options with parents and caregivers.  It seems that we have forgotten WHO, exactly it is that we are dealing with and HOW, exactly their little brains work...

Kids are easy to trick.  Yes, they can be stubborn.  Yes, they can be opinionated.  BUT they are easily distracted, pushovers for a good bribe, and usually have no other choice except to eat the food YOU bring home from the grocery store (unless you've given them access to the car keys and the bank card...).  The trick is working WITH them, not making them feel as if you are doing something TO them.

I was reminded recently how we adults condition kids to want to eat junky foods by giving them junky foods as 'celebratory' foods from the time they are very young because that's how we were conditioned.  We think a particular food is a 'treat' food, so we condition them to think so, as well.  I was headed to visit my young nieces and nephew (ages 2, 4 and 5) a few months ago and wanted to take them something special (I am the indulgent auntie).  I wandered the isles at the nearest Target looking for that 'just right' thing.  There were the little $1 trinkets (but, seriously, how long would they have that thing before it got shuffled into a pile of other little things, and who needs more little things, anyway???) before heading to the snack isle.

Anymore, I can't in good conscience put any boxed or bagged item into my shopping cart without thoroughly reading the nutrition information label AND the ingredient list.  What you don't know, it turns out, really CAN hurt you... Box after box of colorful kiddie-looking foods were full of horrible stuff.  If it wasn't red or yellow food dyes, it was MSG.  If it wasn't that nasty artificial sweetener Aspartame, it was HFCS.  Hydrogenated fats were in things that I am surprised need fats added to them, sodium amounts were through the roof, and the grams of sugar in most of the stuff I saw would rival a few servings of cola.  And these are foods that are packaged for our KIDS!  Why on earth would I want to "treat" my adorable nieces and nephew by poisoning them?  Do you find that statement a little drastic?  Would it surprise you to know that our children are the first generation of Americans in our nation's history NOT expected to live as long a life as their parents.  Do you think what we are feeding them (and allowing them to drink) has anything at all to do with that?

So, after walking the isles, I began to feel discouraged that I would not be able to bring a "fun" treat on my visit.  My reputation as the indulgent auntie was feeling a tad precarious until I remembered that I AM a health coach and I DO have a little experience with helping parents figure out how to make REAL food appealing to their kids.  One way to do this is to get excited about REAL food; to use REAL food in celebrations instead of reserving those happy times for treating our bodies with the worst foods (this actually helps to set the stage for healthy cravings during times of stress, rather than looking to a cup cake to help us recapture a feeling of comfort, joy, etc.).  I grabbed 3 little clementines from a bag of fruit I was traveling with (they are a great portable food!) and headed to my sister's house.

Of course, when I walked in the door, I was greeted with "AUNTIE!  AUNTIE!  AUNTIE!" and the rush to give and get hugs and kisses.  Of course the kids were excited when I said I had something special for them.  When I told them it was their very own little baby orange that they could peel all by themselves (even the 2-year-old) they actually cheered (I've learned it's all about the presentation) and begged their moma to have it right then!  She told them they would have to wait to have their treats until after they ate their dinner... Don't discount the element of surprise and excitement that REAL food can bring.

10 tips for getting kids excited about REAL foods:
1.  If you don't have time/space for a garden, consider planting a single vegetable in a large pot or container on your porch, balcony or patio.
2.  If you do have space for a garden, consider planting a bean-pole teepee.  Since beans vine and grow fairly quickly, kids will be excited to watch their teepee grow before their eyes.
3.  Remember that kids are much more likely to eat a food that they have been involved with obtaining, so if they aren't growing it, take them along to the farmers' market or grocery store and let them pick out some fruits and vegetables themselves.
4.  Take your kids to a local farm and let them see where their vegetables are grown.
5.  Little kids love little foods.  Look for "baby" versions of fruits and veggies (grape tomatoes, clementines, small bananas & apples, mini-sized grapes, brussels sprouts, etc.)
6.  Young kids don't understand or care about nutrients, but they do understand colors.  SHOW them the colors of different fruits and vegetables.  TALK to them about what colors they've eaten on a particular day and ASK them which ones they haven't had yet, as a way to encourage eating a variety of fruits and vegetables.
7.  Demonstrate healthy eating for your kids by eating healthy foods yourself.
8.  Remember, junk foods are a lot less likely to be in your kitchen cupboards if YOU don't put them into your grocery cart.
9.  Keep in mind the 90/10 rule:  90% of the time, aim to eat REAL whole foods as close to their natural state as possible.  10% of the time, relax about your food choices.
10.  Don't assign moral labels to foods.  They can't BE "good" or "bad".  There are, however, "healthier" foods and "less healthy" foods.

To minimize exposure to harmful pesticides and herbicides, aim for organic versions of produce if you will be eating its skin, whenever possible.  These include:
     soft-fleshed produce (peaches, grapes, berries, cherries, carrots)
     edible skin produce (apples, pears, bell peppers, celery)
     leafy greens (kale, lettuce, collard greens, spinach)

If you are interested in getting more information about healthier eating with kids, email me for a copy of my brochure "What Are You REALLY Feeding Your Little Sweeties" today.  I am a holistic health coach and I work with individuals, groups and families to help them understand the effects that diet & lifestyle have on their health, happiness and overall well-being.  Contact me for a free consultation:  elly@elementalfit or visit my website:

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