Kids and food, kids and food. As our family’s chief cook and bottle washer (except that thank God the only bottles I deal with these days are of the wine variety), a lot of my day is spent thinking about kids and food. It was so much easier when they were only a year old, and their little mouths opened wide and I just shovelled it in. Hard poo, add some organic prunes. Soft poo, organic bananas. I was a food combo chemistry expert. Back in the good old days before they had opinions. When all I had to do was give them hunks of meat from my plate with some mushy fruit, veg, and a few Cheerios.
Nowadays I find it much harder to provide them with balance. I spend most of my day in food negotiations.
“Eat this and you’ll get some of this.”
“Sorry, you’ve hit your sugar limit for today.”
“Yes, I know you’re hungry, but if you’re not hungry for healthy food then you’re not actually hungry.”
I feel like every parent who is in charge of the fridge/stove deserves a food superhero cape. Not only do we research whether a piece of double-gluten-high-fructose-pinksludge-transfat-GMO-take-out-chicken will slowly rot their insides, we have to teach kids how to manage in this confusing marketing-rich environment so that they become adults who have a healthy relationship with food and fitness. How do I prepare them to be informed and make good choices without overwhelming them? Am I too much of a fanatic? Am I too laid back? Most of the time my defences are worn out and the latter is true. I thought I’d share some of my best tricks, though, in case some of you other superheroes are overwhelmed too. I’d love to hear some of your own strategies in the comments.
I talk in the language of sugar, vitamins, and things that grow in the ground or on a tree.
My kids are four and six. Sugar is my toughest battle. It starts with the cereal they eat five minutes after they wake up and continues about every fifteen minutes all day long, nearly driving me mental. But I won’t give up. I want them to be aware of the foods that are loaded with sugar, and that those are the foods that need to be moderated. This may sound simple, but muffins, granola bars and juices? Trickier. On the flip side, knowing about vitamins and whether something actually grew somewhere encourages them to add the fruit/veg balance to the coveted chicken finger, pizza or KD meal (let’s keep the fact that wheat grows in the ground on the down low, okay?). When they eat something nutritious, I say, “Your body is saying thank you for that healthy food.” It’s cheesy, but close to being true.
I’m teaching my kids to cook.
I believe that not knowing how to cook leads to fast food, restaurant meals, and prepared foods later on. My little guy especially loves to bake. You may think, “but baking isn’t healthy!” It sure is fun, though, and it sets the foundation for getting hands dirty with food. I let them feel up the flour, and crack eggs, even if that means I have to buy a half-dozen extra. If food prep is fun rather than work, I hope that later they’ll be up to the task.
Developing a water tolerance
A return to my sugar nemesis. I figure that if my kids drink water over sugary liquids, I have slightly more leeway with the other foods they beg for all day, and their teeth are less likely to blacken and fall out of their heads. I let my kids choose awesome fancy water bottles. The nice ones may even cost $15, but I save that in two weeks by staying away from the juice and pop aisle. Hopefully they’ll keep up with the water when they’re big.
Keeping messaging empowering
I will never in my life mention my daughter’s weight, and will always tell her that she looks beautiful. I will, however, encourage healthy food choices and an active lifestyle, and I’m obviously not shy to raise these topics. But when I talk diet, I’m never talking, “diets.”
Moderation rather than exclusion
When I was a kid I wasn’t allowed to chew gum. My parents thought it would pull out dental work. So who do you think basically had shares in Hubba Bubba when she was at school out of her parents’ reach? I don’t exclude fast food, candy, or other junk, I just try not to let it get out of hand.
An active lifestyle
This is nothing that we don’t already know. My daughter wants to quit gymnastics right now and I’m trying to discourage her, telling her how much her muscles love it. If she does decide she’s finished with it, I will help (at first I had typed “make”) her choose something else active, because we’re not great at religiously going to the park. If scheduled fitness activities don’t work for your kids, I’d suggest religiously going to the park. I love the idea of lessons in sports that adults do, because I feel like these are an investment in life-long fitness – hockey, soccer, skiing, tennis, basketball and swimming are great examples.
I don’t know, man. Like I said, I’m just trying to do the best I can, and some days are better than others. I try not to beat myself up when I see online that someone’s kid gobbles up their quinoa bars when I know that mine just ate a Costco hotdog. But if you struggle like me, be strong, food superheroes. A healthy future depends on it.