Let’s Teach Our Kids About Food!
Ashley Giles is the Health Services Consultant at Community Montessori. She is a family nurse practitioner and has been a parent at Community Montessori since 2016. She also currently provides primary care to Humana employees.
She has presented the information below to share with you based on her experiences as a healthcare professional and parent. We hope you find this information helpful to your family!
In the next 18 minutes four Americans will die as a result of their food choices. We are the first generation to have gifted our children with a projected TEN year shorter lifespan. Seven out of ten of the leading causes of death in America have obesity as a main contributor. As parents we are constantly consumed with how to set our children up for success. Which school is appropriate, what sport will develop this specific quality, what peer group is healthy for their emotional development? While these things are important, there is another way position our children for success that may be more effective than any of the previous topics combined. That opportunity comes in the way we teach our children about food.
Teaching our children how to properly fuel their bodies may be one of the most important values we pass on to them. As a primary care provider, I see the connection of a healthy brain and body to its effect on a person’s mental, emotional, and social success daily. As a parent of three children, the challenge of this task is not lost to me. As our children grow and become more independent, the challenge grows as they begin to make more of their own choices. Educating our children properly can help this process, as well as setting them up for success in the home by bringing in good food choices. Ultimately, as long parents are shopping and paying for the food in our house, we have an opportunity to positively influence what fuels our children’s bodies and what perceptions are associated with these foods.
A lot of parents aren’t sure how to start this conversation. With a lot of trial and error, we finally began educating our children just as we educated ourselves. I would eat a salad and think about the benefits of having glowing skin and lots of energy. When they ask us if a food is healthy often we talk about where it came from. Did we make the food in a factory or did it come from the earth or an animal? Is it ALIVE, as in will it root or last for years? We talk about food in the sense that some foods help us grow strong and healthy and some foods are a special treat that taste good, but that will make us sick and weak if we eat them too often. Our 6 year old will ask us, "Mom, does this food make me strong, or should I just eat a little?". Food is not considered ‘good’ or ‘bad’ but described in the way it acts on the body and how it should be consumed. We have our children eat healthy food first to fill up and explain to them that we want to make sure they have enough energy to play and feel good because that is a way we can care for our bodies. What would Batman do if suddenly the Batmobile was out of gas? These analogies can be applied to princesses or sports stars - vegetables are good for everyone and help us be successful in brain and body power!
We talk about only having one body and the importance of taking care of it just like a favorite toy. We also encourage fruit and vegetable intake by allowing these choices any time of the day. While this doesn’t work for some families, it helps us understand if they are really hungry for a snack or just wanting a distraction. It also goes a long way to increase their consumption and variety of vegetables and fruits. Just like commercials are ‘selling’ our kids on the cereals and cookies, we tell our kids stories about tasting a pineapple for the first time, we take them to the orchard to pick apples, we have a tomato and pepper plant in our backyard, we let them help us in the kitchen when preparing meals and we talk to them about the amazing abilities and ‘super powers’ of fruits and vegetables in their own bodies. When we talk about super heroes we talk about how super heroes need to take care of their bodies and how they love fruits and vegetables, too. Our kids are constantly asking us why, so we give them the why in a way that is exciting to them.
On the occasion that we do overindulge, it’s not uncommon that our kids come to us with stomach aches. Sometimes it’s helpful to ask them why they think they have a belly ache, and often they will come to the conclusion on their own. High sugar food is not off limits in our house but we try to teach them to respect it for what it is. Just as vegetables can give us ‘superpower brains’, indulging too much or too often in sugary foods can cause our bodies to perform like superman hanging out near 'kryptonite'. Enforcing these concepts on a daily basis can be a challenge. We know from personal experience the time and planning (and conversations) it takes to keep everyone eating nutritious food. When we think about ways we want to support them, this continually comes back as worth the effort and a high priority. We want them to have a healthy relationship with food, to feel good in their bodies, to be able to run as fast as they want to run, to learn and remember the things they want to remember. Having a family meal each night (and letting them help us make it) is a way to be together as a family and it provides structure to their day. It lets them know that spending time with them is important to us. It teaches them that taking care of our bodies and is important and this is a lesson I am still trying to teach most middle-aged patients I have in my practice. Let’s make this lesson be natural and enjoyable for the next generation.
While the list of resources in this area continues to grow, (which as a parent I am so thankful for) I will share some things that have worked well for us:
Meal planning: These resources provide you with a shopping list and daily recipes for dinners that week. Often times I will double each dinner recipe for lunches the next day. Some examples are Cooksmarts, Kitchn, and Emeals.
Meal prepping on Saturday or Sunday to have snacks and lunches ready for the week: Bag frozen vegetables and fruit for smoothies, precook vegetables for lunches, make a healthy ‘dessert’ like energy balls to have a homemade option for food cravings.
Using a grocery delivery service: Shop at night on your couch and have your groceries delivered the next day.
Setting out carrot sticks or sliced tomato as a snack to take the hunger off: So cooking can be done leisurely and with everyone’s participation.
Getting the younger kids stools for the kitchen so it’s easy for them to be involved.
Taking our kids to the store and making it a game to find the needed product.
Making go to snacks for the week: Energy balls, premixed trail mix, whole apples/tomatoes or carrots and making them easy for the kids (and parents) to see and access. Microwaveable bags of frozen edamame or air-popped popcorn (topped with cinnamon and raisins with coconut oil) are also family favorites.
Putting treats away and out of sight and harder to find.
Not keeping any premade desserts. If we want pie, we roll up our sleeves and make one- and then store the rest in a container away from site. This also makes for great memories in the kitchen!
Joining a CSA or a co-op and letting our kids come with us to fill our bag each week.
Buying frozen vegetables: Buy in bulk, lay them out on a sheet pan, spray of olive oil and some sea salt; roast for 30-40 minutes and put into containers for the week. What is prepped will be eaten!
Make your vegetables taste good! Add coconut milk, red pepper, soy sauce and peanut butter for a Thai vegetable soup. Pinterest will have a fun idea for almost any vegetable. We love zucchini fritters, cucumber noodles, eggs in a pepper, zucchini boat pizzas, stuffed acorn squash, cauliflower rice, and spaghetti squash with meatballs… the list goes on.
Keep it simple. Think JUST. EAT. REAL. FOOD. Food that is alive and will rot if you don’t eat it! Foods that don’t need an ingredient list and are typically found on the perimeter of the grocery store.
In writing this article, I had a stunning realization. I worked on a local farm as teen and I remember wanting to eat a healthier lunch than the peanut butter or bologna choice that was offered to us each day. I couldn’t figure out how to do it. I worked on a farm; I picked tomatoes, cucumbers, and peppers all day long! I didn’t realize I could just eat what was around me, because I had never seen anyone eat them that way. Now I wouldn’t think twice about eating a variety of vegetables in their raw form and while my kids join me in eating some and not others, they know that it’s possible. It’s considered normal in our house.
While our children will grow up and make their own decisions, they have the information they need to be well informed about just what kind of choice they’re making; to thrive or not to thrive. That is the start to generational change and something as parents that we can be excited about. Let’s equip our children with ten lifesaving healthy meals that they can shop for, prepare and enjoy while in school, college or when starting their own family. As our bodies affect our moods, self-esteem, abilities, concentration and confidence along with MUCH MORE this can truly be life changing. Let’s give our kids an excuse to cook at home and LOVE it.