Thursday, September 18, 2008

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy

One of this week's NYTimes top five links is an article titled "Six Food Mistakes Parents Make." Of course, I read the article to see if any of my habits were listed, or if there is any new information. It's a good article, not too preachy, but not anything new. After reading 700 pages of information on kids' nutrition and eating habits, I shouldn't be surprised by this. You can find a nine-post summary of that research in my Childhood Nutrition Series.

The "don'ts" from the article included:

Keeping Kids Out of the Kitchen
Kids that help cook will try the dish. It's that control thing. In fact, most food arguments have NOTHING to do with a particular food, it's all about control. Still, in the heat of the moment, after working hard to prepare a meal (after working all day), it's hard to separate the food from the real issue. One of the best mom efforts I have ever witnessed to get past this "control game" is Charlotte Hume's Great Big Veg Challenge in which she took her kids through every vegetable A-Z letting them taste various recipes and decide what they liked. The end result is now a book (with one of my recipes in it!).

For some great kid-friendly cookbooks, I would recommend Mollie Katzen's Salad People and other very visual cookbooks for the youngest chefs.

"You Have to Try a Bite"
Guilty. But only to a point. It's the behavior of being open to new things I want to encourage, and I do say "Thanks for trying that." The article just says to "encourage" and stay neutral. I will confess this is less of a hurdle for me than for many parents. My child has always, and still does, put everything (that is not food) into her mouth.

Last night, while taking a walk, the kiddo crouched down on the sidewalk and ran her fingers across the dirt in the cracks between the squares.

"What's this?" she asked.

"Dirt," I replied, just in time to see the finger going into her mouth. We're definitely on track to hit that five pounds of dirt consumed by age five standard.

The Forbidden Junk Rule
The article makes a valid point here that if the junk foods are not in the house, there isn't really a problem. At least while you are at home. We keep fruit, dried fruit, nuts and cheese around as snacks. We don't have to deal much with the forbidden food thing — until our kid goes to school.

After more battles than I care to count, I thought the whole "candy as a reward" thing was finally gone. Then one day the kiddo announces proudly, "I got three stars!" waving a lollipop. Great.

So, my spouse went to battle. The next day, the kiddo is riding home with me, holding stickers.

"Teacher said I can't have candy, that Daddy said I can't have it. Why can't I have it?" So, now we have moved beyond the reward sin to the "every kid BUT you gets it." Not a move in the right direction. Under my breath I am using words my child should not hear to describe a school that charges a grand a month and relies on bribes to get my kid to behave.

We took a special shopping trip to go choose a "better" reward than candy, all-natural fruit leather, that would be ONLY for her as her "special" reward. So far, it's worked. The point is, we parents are up against a whole lot of adversity when we try to do the things; friends, family, school, community, TV commercials, stores all seem to be working against us.

Your Own Dysfunctional Diet
Whether its Atkins or another fad diet, or soda for you and milk for them, kids watch what you eat — and don't. Thus, perceptive little sponges that they are, kids will not eat the vegetables you are pushing if you don't eat them, too. Despite the outside influences above, parents' own food habits have about 80 percent of the say in kids' food preferences. Choose wisely, you are being watched.

A Recipe for Failure
This was my favorite "don't" from the article, "Serving Boring Vegetables." If all I ever knew was the canned asparagus my mom gave me at age five, I'd never have eaten the real thing. In fact, a lot of foods I have had to rediscover as an adult like greens. Things I thought I hated, I now love.

This is the easiest issue to solve. In fact, most of the recipes on this site are vegetable sides, salads or main courses with vegetables. Even desserts have vegetables. Give some new approaches a try. Maybe you'll find out you like vegetables, too.

The Fifteen Rule
The article refers to "giving up too soon" but few parents realize just how many tries it can take. Fifteen tries is the standard, but I've personally been through upwards of thirty attempts and beyond. Much of this was documented in the first year of the Battle of Orange foods, a siege that tested my very limits of culinary creativity and squash storage space.

If you want more in depth information on how parents influence kids' food preferences, then you should read this post, part of the Childhood Nutrition series.

This post was included in the Carnival of Family Life.

1 comment:

great Big Veg Challenge said...

Hiya
I need to send you a copy of the book in which your recipe stars!
Could you send me your address by email?
Thanks
Charlotte