The other morning when I dropped my oldest daughter off at daycare, she asked me to come closer to whisper in my ear. As I bent down, she cupped her hands over my ear and asked, “Mom, can you please bring in chocolate milk for me to drink at school?” Her request made me laugh. I said “No, honey, that wouldn’t be fair to all of your other friends to sit there and watch you drink chocolate milk for breakfast and lunch while they drink regular milk. And, chocolate milk is a treat, it has far too much sugar in it to drink at every meal – that’s not healthy for you!”
That’s when her friends in the classroom pointed out several half gallons of chocolate milk that had been brought in by parents for a few kids to drink during mealtimes.
And as I was tucking her in that same evening, she asked, “Mom, can you buy Fruit Loops please?” Stunned, I immediately asked her, “honey, what are Fruit Loops?” And she responded with “they are really bright colored cheerios.” She went on to tell me that one of the same kids in class who gets to drink chocolate milk for breakfast and lunch also brings in Fruit Loops to eat in the morning.
I spent most of that day highly annoyed with the idea that kids could be allowed to bring in chocolate milk and Fruit Loops for breakfast and lunch, while all the other kids sit there and watch. But, by the end of the day, I realized that this was only the beginning of what will become a lifelong discussion with my kids about health and nutrition.
I explained to my daughter that eating those foods every day is not healthy because of the high amount of sugar they have in them. It’s not good for their bellies, as too much sugar will make their bellies hurt, and will rot their teeth. Of course, my argument was met with “But so-and-so’s parents buy them for them.” I went on to tell her that I can’t control what other parents buy for their kids, but that in our house, those types of foods are not eaten every day. I also reminded her that she and her sister had just eaten mint chocolate chip ice cream cones for dessert after dinner.
Although my kids are beginning to ask for foods that I wouldn’t give them on a daily (or even weekly) basis, I am thankful that we’re able to have the dialogue about why those foods are or aren’t healthy, and why they’re eaten in moderation. Afterall, my husband, kids and I have been talking about well-balanced eating for a long time, and they understand that healthy food = healthy bodies.
A few months ago, my oldest daughter was asked by her teachers “What foods do you eat that are healthy and why are they healthy?” She responded “I eat eggs because it’s protein and I eat chicken because it’s protein.” She was three years old at the time.
Healthy eating undoubtedly starts with eating at home. Below are a few games and tips for how to have an open dialogue with your child(ren) about healthy eating.
-How do you encourage healthy eating in your home?
1. Start talking about food with your kids – early
Maintain an open dialogue with your kids about food. The best time to start is when your kids are really young (2 or 3 years old) and the family is sitting around the dinner table. Kids naturally are very curious to learn, and love to discuss why something is good or not good for their bodies and why. You could start by asking your children the colors of the foods on their plate, and to name the food item.
2. Play the “food game – Part 1″
To begin teaching my kids the fundamentals of healthy eating, I often play the food game with my kids. We take our plastic and wooden foods, and one-by-one, name the food and then place them into categories. Our categories are usually proteins, carbohydrates, fruits, dairy, desserts (which could be categorized as a carb, but I prefer to keep them separate for the next game).
3. Play the “food game – Part 2″
Next, I’ll ask each of my kids to make me a plate with a well-balanced meal. I’ll give them a plastic plate, and they will put a meal on it for me. Then, we’ll talk about why that meal is healthy/not healthy. A healthy plate usually consists of a protein, a vegetable (or two), a fruit, dairy, and a healthy carbohydrate (potato, rice, or pasta).
4. Learn about food through the senses
You could take a few of your plastic or wooden food items and place them in a brown paper bag. Either blindfold or ask your kids to close their eyes. Hold the bag open and let them pick out one food item with their hands and name the food item by feeling it with their fingers. Or, you could place real food in a container and allow them to taste the food one at a time (while their eyes are closed) and tell you what they’re tasting.
5. Color your favorite plate
Ask the kids to draw their favorite meal on paper. You can help them choose the right colored crayons. Alternatively, you could draw their favorite foods on paper and have them color them in. Either way, it’s another opportunity to open the dialogue about food with your kids.
6. Cook with your kids!
We’ve written several posts about the importance and pleasure of cooking with kids (yes, it can be messy, too), but kids love to help in the kitchen.
I often find myself in the ‘get it done’ mode and just want to get dinner on the table as soon as possible. My four year old begs for me to let her help me. When she asks, I usually oblige. She’s happy even if I just let her pour in a few pre-measured ingredients into a bowl. Or stir/whisk something that I’ve thrown together. The point is, you don’t have to get them fully involved to let them feel like they’re helping (and still get dinner on the table quickly). They are usually happy to help with what adults would consider menial tasks, or to help set the table with napkins and silverware.
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