Raising Children to Eat Healthy (Originally posted on February 15, 2013)

Raising Children to Eat Healthy

Posted on February 15, 2013

A few weeks ago I saw a post that a friend of mine responded to on Facebook.  It’s such an important subject that I thought I wanted to post about it as well.  If you read it, maybe you’ll add to the conversation somehow, whether online or at home.

How do you plan to raise your child to have a healthy relationship with food?

While there’s a growing awareness and acceptance about healthy eating it is still often perceived as something for the elite or…obnoxious.  I know that when I told people about my certification as a holistic health coach eyes rolled and they thought, “Great, I’ll never be able to eat cookies in front of her again.”  The truth is, we have been inundated by awful food information for years and what I do has nothing to do with eliminating cookies.  It has to do with teaching people to understand what’s in their food, how they feel in general and the strong connection between the two.  It’s about adding to your food choices not about strict elimination.  I really do think that we are in the midst of a change.  I believe that, as more and more people become aware of what happens to their food from seed or egg to plate, more people will demand that the way our food is processed and delivered is changed, for the better.  But until then, I don’t want to have to hide the fact that our family eats mostly organic, locally grown food.  And I want my daughter (and son, come June) to embrace these habits as well.

Unfortunately, the cost difference can be a real obstacle for many people in this country.  Not only are there limited options in neighborhoods with traditionally low-income families, but there’s lack of education on how this can impact the overall health of their families. We need to continue to push for healthy options for everyone regardless of economic status, age, ethnicity, location, etc.  In addition, we need to end the myth that eating pre-packaged processed food is the easiest and best option.  There are ways to get healthy meals on the table without adding a ton of extra time or cost.  Over the next couple of weeks, I will start posting food ideas for you to try.

I’ll be honest, I’m already worried about the school lunch situation.  I recently looked over the menus for the local schools and they have a long way to go to be considered healthy.  It’s not that our children will never eat things other than vegetables and lentils…but, in our house we will try to limit the processed foods and make as much as we can using organic, whole foods…and cookies can and will still be eaten!

I think what it comes down to is practicing the 70/30, 80/20, 90/10 rule (whichever you feel most comfortable with) and education.  The first is eating whole, organic, local foods as often as you can but leaving room for treats when desired, special occasions or a guest in someone’s house. The second is educating our children early about where our food comes from.  This takes on a more non-traditional approach. Getting your children involved in planting even a small garden, preparing food with you, getting them to see how they feel when they eat certain foods will teach them how to make responsible choices.  But, and this is important, totally restricting them from even trying food will create animosity and rebellion.

When we were growing up, we couldn’t eat sugar cereals.  Not that the cereals we ate were super healthy but we couldn’t eat the typical all-sugar cereals on a regular basis.  Once in awhile we would get the mini packs of cereals that had something chocolatey or fruity and that was our treat.  And I’ll be honest, I never really liked them and I think some of that had to do with being able to try it once in awhile. On the other hand, we did grow up in a household that was always on or falling off a diet.  And that created confusion and ultimately bad decisions later on.  If the focus is on just eating healthier, you don’t need to count calories and fat and everything else. And while a movement to get kids to eat better is happening, some of the focus is too heavy on counting calories which, unfortunately, can lead to obsessive eating behaviors.

Just like with everything else, there is a line between healthy eating and obsession about healthy eating.  Orthorexia Nervousa was recently identified as an eating disorder. Unlike Anorexia, people are not obsessed about gaining weight but obsessed with eating only what they consider healthy pure foods.  People become so rigid in their food choices that they actually become deprived of adequate nutrition, exactly the opposite of what they are trying to achieve.  My point here is that it’s not as easy as saying “eat healthy.”  And it ends up being a delicate balance, especially when it comes to our children who already face so many pressures, including pressure about how they look.  It’s critical that we raise them in ways that build strength in character and intelligence in decision-making.  Neither of which are easy given outside influences.

So what do we plan to do?
1. Never complain about how we look and “walk the talk”. It’s important for our children to view us as healthy role models.
2. Get our children involved with planting and cooking the food we eat early and often
3. Crowd out the bad stuff with more healthy options
4. Provide experiences to learn about where food comes from and how it can impact overall health and well being
5. Avoid strict “never’s” and “no’s” that can lead to rebellious behavior in children- just as it does in adults

Again, none of this is easy.  And I hope that my children don’t end up being the outsiders in their school or with their friends.  What I really hope is that our children grow up demanding more transparency about the process of food for all people and that eating well is no longer a luxury that exists for only those that have the time and money to think about it.  It’s a big hope but one that I believe we can achieve.

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder please contact your doctor for support and guidance. 

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