How the Heck do I get My Kid to Eat Healthy Food? Part 1

I was a fat kid. Not lazy, just fat. I rode my bike all day long, played “war” in the woods, got mangled during full-contact football on ice sheets during the deep freezes of Ohio winters; I got plenty of exercise every day. As most children do, I loved sugary and salty foods, and ate too much of them.

Kids love sweet stuff not just as a taste preference, but as a physiological predisposition. Children have the same amount of taste buds as adults, but they’re concentrated on a much smaller-sized tongue. Therefore, flavors are much more intense. A chocolate milkshake that tastes “good” to an adult probably tastes “amazing” to a child. It’s also a well-observed fact that kids love sugar, and the more sugar they eat, the more sugar they want (think of a kid devouring their weight in Halloween candy).

I’m not advising parents to never let their children have sugar or “fun” foods; these foods become more of a problem when they’re accessible at all times, or turned into a reward. Children quickly begin to associate doing a good job at something (getting good grades, winning a baseball game, or going potty all by themselves, for example) with a food reward (pizza party, ice cream, fast food). When an accomplishment is always celebrated with something unhealthy, it inevitably becomes the end goal for going after the accomplishment in the first place. Humans are programmed to expect “rewards” for “being good”; it’s the same reason you find adults out at happy hour after a long day at work.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to inspire kids to eat healthy foods, and intend to explore this topic further in the near future. For now, here are five tips:

Be a role model

If you kick your dog every day when you come home from work, your kids will learn to kick the dog when they come home from school. Surprise, surprise. The same theory goes for food; if your kids see you making a habit to eat healthy foods, they’ll do it too. Never forget how malleable and impressionable a young mind is. Kids are learning how to live from your example.

If at first you don’t succeed…

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard “oh, my kid doesn’t like vegetables.” Guess what? If your kid doesn’t like vegetables, most likely, they’ve only tried vegetables a few different ways. If they don’t like raw broccoli, why not try it dipped in hummus? If they don’t like it that way, why not try roasting it with butter and sea salt? Or chopped and sautéed in coconut oil with some mushrooms. Or as a soup? Research indicates that it takes an average of TWELVE times before a child will come around to eating a “new” food. Have patience and keep trying. Don’t let yourself become your child’s short-order-cook, though; work with them to find foods they’ll eat, but don’t let them walk all over you in the process.

Get them involved

Children will be more interested in a meal they helped create. Let them help in the kitchen, let them touch and play with their food. Tell them why certain foods are good for them and praise them for having fun during food preparation and mealtimes. Let them create their own colorful fruit or vegetable salad with as many ingredients as they want. Help them create their own salad dressing, or make their own healthy pizza. The sky’s the limit in the kitchen. Kids aren’t worrying about weight gain, diabetes, or heart disease, because they don’t know any better. Be the nutritional superhero and coach.

Snack Attack

As a stay-at-home dad and all-around busy guy, I completely understand the urge to grab some prepackaged snack to have on-hand for snack emergencies. Try to go with whole, real food, and preferably homemade. Some easy snacks include cut vegetables, almond butter, hummus, homemade muffins, raw cheese, Greek yogurt with berries, diced chicken, bananas, and apples. There are endless options out there, just make an effort to stay away from prepackaged food.

Don’t be manipulated by marketing

I believe that marketing directly to children should be illegal. Roughly 93% of children can recognize McDonalds, and not just the logo; they’re keenly aware of the characters, the playground, the signature colors. Children today are swimming in a branded environment. A simple way to shut the door on these shameful forms of marketing is not watching tv, or avoiding commercials at the least. Although, unless you live on Mars, your kids will still be inundated by branding and “commercials” every time they take a ride in the car. Your children don’t need the french fries, macaroni and cheese, chicken nuggets, chemicals, unhealthy oils, food colorings, artificial sweeteners, and added sugars in any of these commonly advertised “kid” foods.

To be continued…

 

Advertisements

Dads! Get (and Stay) Healthy

There’s a plethora of information out there about why new mothers gain weight and how they can lose it. But what about dads? Studies have revealed that new dads gain, on average, fourteen pounds after the birth of their bundle of joy.

As the father of an 18-month old, I can commiserate with all the new
papas. Sleep, healthy eating, and exercise become a thing of the past.
It’s easy to fall into bad habits (“quick” meals and snacks, or
skipping meals altogether), and into the deadly trap of reward through
“treats” after a long day of parenting. The stress of trying to
achieve something resembling pre-baby life can bring any man to his
knees.

There’s that ongoing joke about getting a belly as we age (and become
fathers). It’s almost become a right of passage for men to become
overweight once adulthood really cements itself, and those “manly”
things like drinking a six-pack of beer or gorging on pizza have
become the norm. It may seem like a drastic statement, but these
habits are cutting your life shorter. Heart disease is the number-one
cause of premature death in men, and the two leading contributors to
heart disease are poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle.

Focusing on your child, your partner, your job, and your health can be
an uphill battle. I realized well in advance of the birth of my
daughter that I needed to make my health my top priority, so that I
would be physically able to deal with whatever was about to come at me
in the future.

Here are my five simple tips for the new dads out there:

Exercise: Even thirty minutes, a few times per week, is better than
nothing and can be a game-changer for your health. Take a walk, go for
a hike, do some push-ups, or find a gym offering early or late-night
hours.

Alcohol: Be very aware of your consumption during this stressful time.
If you’re beginning to drink, or starting to drink more, because you
“need” that drink at the end of the day, or if alcohol is becoming a
reward, it’s time to evaluate things. Also, alcohol is empty calories,
pure and simple.

Snacking: I mention rewards throughout this article. We’ve been
conditioned to reward ourselves with the most harmful substances:
processed foods, refined sugars, salt. Keep healthy snacks, like
almonds, celery, raw cheese, and berries handy for your “snack
attacks”.

Sleep: Get it whenever you can. If you have a chance to take a nap, do
it! If you can go to bed early, do it! The work you “have to do” can
wait until tomorrow, and your favorite show on Netflix isn’t going
anywhere either.

Diet: Small changes can make a big impact when it comes to diet. Eat
more vegetables; instead of filling up on carbs, try to make veggies a
“main course” item (aim for making your plate 60% vegetables).
High carbohydrate diets are energy suckers for most people, yet most people find it very difficult to eat a meal that doesn’t focus on bread, rice, or some type of grain. Try quinoa, amaranth, or wild rice for a healthy change of pace. Whenever possible, eat lean meats (chicken, salmon, turkey) instead of ground beef (which features prominently in so many meals). Remember that your body is unique. Remember that there is NO perfect diet. If a diet claims to be magic, run like hell! You can also seek my help with this monumental change in your life.

Cheers to a healthy and happy life as a dad. Your family deserves to be healthy and happy, and you do too.

20140721-213501-77701110.jpg

Your Declaration of Independence

While the 4th of July is a great opportunity to celebrate with friends and family, we should fly that glorious flag at half mast in honor of our unrelenting tradition of celebrating every holiday in the most unhealthy ways possible. It’s the American way.

Saluting the US of A with vastly over consumed portions of the toxic Standard American Diet seems counterproductive. As we celebrate the birth of our nation, we continue to promise many early deaths and cement ourselves as the land of gluttony. If that tradition is a “love it or leave it” affair, I choose to leave it.

Today we wouldn’t think of eating French toast, an Asian noodle dish, lasagna, sushi. See a pattern forming? We will choose to eat potato salad, highly processed hot dogs and hamburgers on the buns that were on sale, ice cream, macaroni and cheese. These are the staples of the American diet. Maybe we should use some staples to attach some greens to our hands.

Make today your Declaration of Independence from the norm.

Choose health as your new tradition.

Do it for the future of our country.

 

“And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” 20140704-085600-32160720.jpg