July 12th, 2011 by Digestive Detective
Getting kids to eat right is a challenge for parents. With busy schedules, discerning palates, and poor food choices always readily available, it’s important to make a commitment to your child’s nutrition. Below are some tried and true strategies I have derived from research, experience, and working with a large number of parents and kids.
1. Your children will mirror your behavior.
Very few things will influence your child’s nutrition more than your own attitudes and behaviors towards nutrition. If they see you miserably “eat healthy” to lose weight, they start to see “eating healthy” as a punishment. If I have to sit through another consultation with a 300 pound parent complaining that their kid “won’t eat healthy” I’m going to transform into the incredible Hulk. You won’t like me when I’m angry.
2. Make good choices available.
“My child just eats fast food all day!” Apparently, unbeknownst to me, 10 year olds are now driving to fast food and to the store to get junk food. That’s the only explanation I can come up with as to how they are making these choices against their parent’s will. Our kids eat what is readily available to them. If we make real food available during snack time and meal time, that is what they’ll eat. Keep a lot of fruit and whole food around the house.
3. Kids need to eat breakfast!
There is a robust body of research highlighting the various physical, mental, and psychological benefits of eating breakfast every day. They have found a link between skipping breakfast and future obesity in the United States. Commit to getting your child to eat breakfast! In an ideal world, we would stick with eggs, breakfast meats, whole grain toast, oatmeal, peanut butter, and other high nutrition items. My parents fought this battle with me when I was young and to this day, I’m glad they won!
4. Sit down for dinner.
Having dinner together is a great tradition for a variety of reasons.Research has found that children who eat dinner with the family eat up to 7 times more nutritionally dense foods like fruits and vegetables in a month’s time. As we abandon this tradition, our kids learn to look for the fastest dinner alternative available, of highly processed food. With our busy schedules, it’s not always going to happen, but we should make an effort.
5. Establish the concept of “Real Food.”
Taking what we know about children, the best way to guarantee that they will do something is to tell them not to do it. When we are trying to get our kids to make better nutrition choices and we talk about “Don’t eat fast food because you’ll get fat” or “It’s bad for you” we may be actually challenging their natural rebellion. Instead of “good” or “bad” if we can create a notion of “real food vs. not real food” it’s much more effective. When I was growing up, real food was the stuff we had when we sat down for dinner every night. I would see mom get the stuff at the store and cook it. Even at a young age, I knew what was in everything. My parents would make a big deal about cooking with food we grew in our garden, so I would be extra-excited to try these home-grown foods. While we still were treated to an occasional McDonalds, even at a young age, I knew this was like candy. It tasted good, but “food” was something else. Have your child read ingredients labels. Have them actually write out the ingredients in potato chips, sugar cereal, etc. Spark the question “Do you know what that is?” Educate them on chemicals that go into processed food. At the end of the day “kids will be kids” but the better educated they are, the better choices they will hopefully make.
Brett Klika C.S.C.S., Director of Athletics at Fitness Quest 10, is a human performance specialist, motivator and educator. A graduate from Oregon State University, Brett has directed sport camps all over the nation. While in college, amidst playing club soccer and lacrosse, Brett worked with the strength and conditioning department for 3 years. A year long resident sports performance internship at the Olympic Training Center brought Brett to San Diego. Brett’s work with the Olympic athletes, as well as local high school athletes nurtured a passion for creating excellence in individuals.