Teaching Your Kids Healthy Eating
It can be tough getting your little ones to maintain a well-balanced diet. For me, going to the grocery store with my kids can be a challenge. I’m the only vegetarian in my household. Both my older kids and husband eat meat, so you can only imagine what family dinners look like!
Our six-year-old son is the pickiest eater I’ve ever encountered. All he wants are hot dogs, ramen noodles, Oreo cookies and sweet drinks. My daughter is thirteen and she has gotten much better at choosing her foods wisely due to being pre diabetic. That diagnosis changed her perspective about food. I’m proud of her because at one point all she wanted to eat were Takis.
Yuck! I don’t have to worry too much about my newborn because all he eats right now is breast milk. I do, however, have to choose the right foods for me so he is getting the best milk supply. Both of my older kids were breastfed and I made their baby food. So, I assumed that those good eating habits would carry on as they grew. When they got older, I tried to include them in choosing the foods they wanted; I didn’t want to be completely unreasonable. However, giving them that much power backfired on me and it got out of control. Three years ago when I decided to take my health more seriously and transition to a more plant-based lifestyle, I saw changes not only in myself but my kids.
We started going to the vegan food festivals every year here in Phoenix, because I wanted to show them alternative styles of eating. Granted they didn’t like everything, but it allowed them to see that they could still eat good food that did not have a bunch of words none of us could spell or pronounce. Once I saw that they took a real interest in what they were eating, I began to incorporate them in the meal planning and cooking process as well. We would find alternative recipes to some of the classic foods that we loved like spaghetti, tacos, lasagna, donuts, and pastries. I replaced the kool aid with flavored seltzer water and fresh fruit. I used meat alternatives for my ground beef and turkey because my son would not eat the food I would prepare, but he would eat the alternatives. Now I’m not saying that I don’t allow my kids to have a bag of chips once in a while, but I do give them a choice and eight times out of ten they choose the healthier alternative.
Shopping has become easier and less stressful. My husband and I implemented this star program for our kids six months ago. It allows them to earn stars for demonstrating positive behaviors throughout the week. Once they get to five stars, we take them to get something of their choosing. Sometimes they choose an ice cream or a piece of candy and that’s okay; it was earned and we don’t stress too much about it. Although they don’t get candy or ice cream all the time, it’s a proud moment to see them being able to make better choices when it comes to eating.
Here are some tips that could possibly help you:
- Introducing your kids to new food environments allows them to see that good eating is still possible without all the additives.
- Let them be a part of the process. Taking my kids to the local farms here in Arizona allowed them to see where their food is coming from and how it is picked and packaged. Doing this, I found my kids were more likely to continue to keep these foods in their diets.
- Find interesting food recipes that are geared towards children and replace those ingredients with the ones the children have chosen, if you’re able.
- Educate. Educate. Educate. Show your children the importance of eating healthy. Having visuals tends to impact kids more than just talking about it.
- Be an example. If your kids see you knocking back sodas and munching on donuts and snicker bars all the time, they will think that’s normal food behavior.
Whether we know it or not, our kids watch everything we do and say; that includes our eating habits. My kids are far from being vegetarians, but they have succeeded in choosing carrots over candy. It brings me great joy to know that by changing my lifestyle with food, that my children would want to join the journey and eat better too. As the saying goes, “You are what you eat.” So, what are you eating?
By Shebah Etosha Brown