As you put together your list of New Year's Resolutions (most likely it includes eating healthier), add one more: teach your kids how to appreciate healthy foods too. It's amazing to me how we tend to fixate on so many changes for ourselves, without ever thinking about doing the same for our kids. And..I am NOT talking about force feeding them green smoothies every day.
I am talking about teaching them how to fish. NOT just cribbing at them to eat more fruits and veggies. Teach them how to read the back of cereal boxes to learn which ones have more sugar than others. Teach them that fiber means nutrition, and that more of it means your body will function better. Show them how many tablespoons of sugar there are in just one can of soda - and how much sugar they technically should be getting in their day.
I began this quest when my older daughter was just three years old. I still remember her begging for a box of cereal that I rarely bring into the house, and finally I turned the box to the side and held it up to one that was more acceptable to me. I asked her to find the word sugar...spelled, 'S-U-G-A-R'. Her little hands held the box, and she looked for the word.
Then I asked her the number besides it. We repeated the exercise with the other box, and she repeated the number on that one. It was a game to figure out which number was larger. But she actually got my point. SHE then made the choice to get the one with less sugar. At three. No lie.
My baby is now ten years old. She's the drummer for a band, and one day after practice the little local ice-cream cart came by ringing his bell. Again. And again. And again. All the other kids clamored to the cart. My girls looked at me longingly. I knew what they were silently asking. But, I asked them a little question. "I know you want some ice-cream, but didn't we just have an ice-cream after school? Do you think it's a good idea or a bad one to have two ice-creams in one day?" I was besides myself when they both said..."Bad idea, mom. You're right. We had our ice-cream." No tantrums. No fussing. And, no 'I gotta' have its.'
Don't get me wrong. This does NOT happen all the time. But in our house it happens more than not. And, my girls have been able to make cases for dessert too. If we've had a day with little to no sugar, and they ask for dessert...they point that out to me and I say, 'Why not? Enjoy yourself.' It's not about depriving them. It's about pragmatic balance. (I must admit here that I am a Libra. Full disclosure, folks!)
The moment I quit my day job and decided to take on the Herculean task of being with my kids on a daily basis..I also decided that I needed to TEACH them what foods they should be eating.
My first purchase was a BOOK...in essence an Encyclopedia recommended by my mom: The World's Healthiest Foods by George Mateljan. This beauty of 880 pages actually goes through every ingredient on the planet and give you a nutritional break down and tips on cooking said item.
For example, a page on Bell Peppers, tells you that one cup of raw bell peppers has a slew of vitamins including A, B, C, and E, promotes heart health, and helps prevent cataracts. On the next page, Mateljan gives you a fun and easy 7-minute Sauteed pepper recipe with a Mediterranean dressing.
What I did was, make this healthy-eating thing a game. (Not a chore.) One child was responsible for finding the page on the said fruit or veggie we were eating, and once we sat down to dinner (I keep the book near my dinner table), they would take turns reading little facts about the ingredient on their plates. We'd talk about it..we'd discuss why we were eating what we were, and then we'd have fun eating it. If they liked an ingredient, then they could come to the grocery store with me to purchase it.
Some nights, one kid or the other would not like what we were eating, and that would be okay. I never make my kids eat something they don't like - I only make sure they indeed agree to try it. (But, them not liking it doesn't mean I won't bring it out again for them to try a week or two later. It typically takes kids 10 tries to actually like a non-sweet ingredient.) One night, I made a beet salad, including steaming the beets and lightly coating them in a Mediterranean dressing. Neha, my older one, loved it. This in itself was a huge surprise - she'd never had beets before - she even said, "I could eat an ocean of this stuff."
Aria, my little one said she 'hated' it. Both were cool responses to me. All I told Aria was that she would have to try it again one day. She has since, and actually now eats cooked beets like apples. No lie.
Don't get me wrong. I am not perfect, and I don't claim that my kids are perfect when it comes to eating. They can be particular about what they want. They sometimes don't want to eat, and often ask for sweets and treats. BUT I am the adult in the situation. My job is to manage them. And I do that the best that I can through talking to them. Through educating them. AND through educating myself.
So...as you try and turn things around food-wise in 2013, take your kids under your wing to help them do the same.
And, soon, they may be the ones forcing YOU to look at sugar and fiber on the next box of cookies you're hoping to bring home and devour once they're in bed.
Once again. Careful what you wish for!