As parents, we sometimes forget that part of our job is to give kids the “why” behind the “no.”
I am a firm believer in empowering children to make good decisions. If we raise our kids in a “because I told you so” environment, they will grow up without the ability to make any decisions on their own. This is true, not only when it comes to decisions regarding safety (“no, you can’t climb backward down the monkey bars!”) or practicality (“no, you can’t wear your fancy dress to play in the sandbox!”), but also with respect to healthy food choices.
When it comes to selecting and preparing food‚ tasks you probably need to do multiple times a day, it’s especially important to teach your children why you make the choices you do, starting from the grocery store and ending up on your dinner table.
How young is too young?
Children are never too young to learn how to make healthy choices. In fact, the younger your children are when you start teaching them about nutrients and the healing quality of foods, the better. That being said, it’s never too late to start teaching them about healthy eating either.
So, how do you start teaching them about healthy choices?
When your children are toddlers, talk to them about why you choose the foods you do at the market and why you stick to the outside perimeter of the grocery store. Point out the foods you don’t buy and explain why you aren’t buying them.
As you feed them at snack or mealtime, talk about vegetables and meat making them “big and strong.” Tell them they need fruit to give them “energy” and water to make them “feel good.” Talk about the fact that certain foods might not taste as yummy as others, but they’re important to eat. Tell your kids that sometimes you have to try a food seven or eight times before you know if you really like it or not. Make a sticker chart and keep track of how many times your child tries asparagus!
When you’re eating your own meals, make pleasurable sounds to show how much you’re enjoying your beets and how yummy those mushrooms are.
As they get a little older, explain to your kids that there are “fast foods” and “slow foods.” You can tell them that slow foods (like chicken and broccoli) give their bodies lots of vitamins and energy that will last for a long time. You can also explain to them that chicken has protein that makes their muscles grow and broccoli has nutrients that help keep them from getting sick.
You can then say that fast foods (like fruit juice and chocolate) give fast energy that doesn’t last for very long.
Continue to explain to them about minerals and vitamins. Tell them you’re giving them Greek yogurt because it’s a slow food that will make their teeth and bones strong. Explain that flavored yogurts have sugar in them, making them fast food, so they should eat them less often.
Tell them that you’re serving cabbage because it makes their cells strong and prevents diseases and that they eat avocado to make their brains healthy and smart.
Explain that you eat foods from all colors of the rainbow because that’s the best way to get all of the vitamins and nutrients you need and that you eat healthy slow snacks throughout the day to make sure you have the energy to get you through until bedtime. Talk about how you mentally divide the dinner plate into sections, filling two-thirds with vegetables and the rest with protein.
You can continue to reinforce these concepts as your children make their way through grade school. Give them the freedom to make their own choices for their lunchbox and get them to tell you why they’ve made the decisions they have. The assumption here is that your fridge and pantry are stocked with healthy options so they really can’t go wrong!
See why this is a better approach than simply saying, “You have to eat the squash because I said so!”?
The best way to help your children make those great food decisions is by cooking together (if they are old enough of course). The recipes in Dinner Answers work perfectly because you have the ingredients right there. You can show your child how the recipe shares the instructions for cooking a fantastic meal. You can explain each ingredient and its role in flavor and health. These small lessons will help your children make better decisions because you’re sharing the process, not lecturing. Click here to get Dinner Answers now.