Monday, January 16, 2012

Guest Post by Betta: Setting a Healthy Example for Kids and How to Get Kids to Eat Healthy

Betta is my sister in law and has some great advice to give on healthy living and kids!
I would like to begin by saying how incredibly proud I am of Alissa for how far she has come on this journey to a healthier lifestyle. The changes that she has made in her life are both amazing and inspiring. It has been wonderful to see her transform over the last couple years and I know that through hard work and determination she will reach her goal. Keep up the great work Alissa.

Now I would like to tell you a little about myself. I am a wife and a mommy to 3 wonderful boys: Conner (who is 5), Ethan (2) and baby Christopher (who is 9 months old). Needless to say these 3 little munchkins keep me busy and running all day. I am not an expert on healthy eating but I like to believe that we do live a healthy lifestyle. My kids have certainly taught me a lot over the last few years especially at the dinner table. Before I had kids I always said "MY kids will eat whatever I put in front of them and they will NEVER complain." If you are a parent you understand how silly that expectation is.
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As I watched my oldest son struggle day after day at the dinner table I did research, I read just about every article and I worried and stressed at every meal. I have learned to follow a few simple rules when it comes to feeding my family that I would like to share with you.

1. Have regular family meals.
2. Serve a variety of healthy foods and snacks.
3. Be a role model by eating healthy and exercising yourself.
4. Avoid battles over food.
5. Involve kids in the process of making the food.
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I consider myself very lucky to be able to stay home with my kids and though we have had to make some sacrifices to make that possible, being able to be present as my kids grow up makes it all worth it. When I was little my mom was also a stay at home mom but living on a farm she was always busy and family meals usually only happened on the weekends; my mom usually ate standing up. Even to this day I remember how I would have loved for my mom to sit down and talk to us. It seems that sometimes mealtime is the only time we have to really enjoy each others company as a family. Even though the busy schedules of today do not always make mealtime together easy to achieve, I do my best to make sure that we all have at least one meal a day together. Family meals do offer a chance to introduce new foods to your kids, but they offer many benefits beyond nutrition as well. My kids are little, so lately at lunch time we have begun to play little games. For example I might ask them what animals live at the farm and what animals live in the jungle and they have a lot of fun coming up with answers. Then, when their Dad comes home and we can all be at the dinner table together we all talk about our day and the kids have fun recounting the many animals they talked about at lunchtime (usually without any kind of context for Dad which makes the conversation interesting! :) These things make us look forward to sitting down together as a family.

For the longest time my kids would only eat chicken nuggets and pasta and would never try anything else. I tried many things and none of them worked and then, finally, I gave up..... yup that's right, I said eat, or don't eat... I can't battle at every meal. Believe it or not, that's when I saw the changes happen. Eventually they get hungry and they will eat what you put in front of them but being consistent is key. I offer different things at every meal and my kids do have to try it, but if they do not like it they do not have to eat it all. Slowly, this has started to expand their food palate which led to something amazing happening just last week. We were busy and I did not have much time to spend in the kitchen so I asked the kids if chicken nuggets were ok. Chicken nuggets have long been the food of choice if I allow them to pick what they eat, but this time they replied with a "NO." You can imagine my surprise.
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One of my favorite things to make is soup, mainly, because you can hide many things that little ones don't like on their own in them. I can throw in grains like lentils, barley or brown rice, chicken or turkey and any vegetable at all and my kids will eat without question. Soup is also easy and quick and can easily be prepared ahead of time. We do not keep many snacks in the house and if my kids are hungry in between meals we usually have a yogurt, fruit or vegetables. Also, we do not buy juice much as that is one thing we gave up a long time ago. While it's alright once in a while, it's packed with calories and I found that when my kids drank juice they did not want to eat as much. I would rather they eat something with nutritional value rather than drinking empty calories so I use Milk and water as great alternatives.
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Being a role model is one of the easiest ways to encourage healthy living but the seems to be the one thing I struggle with the most. Being a stay at home mom can be a bit frustrating and chocolate is my sweet release. I'm known to hide in the bathroom with a piece of chocolate and the doors locked while flushing the toilet to muffle out any sound. Kids are like little sponges they absorb everything from the people that they are around, so making the right choices yourself can help them choose wisely later in life. I have a terrible sweet tooth and it just feels wrong somehow to have something sweet myself and refuse to let my kids enjoy it too. I love to bake and there is always something sweet on our kitchen counter so it's a constant battle for me to walk by and not have a taste. On some level I think that we should all be able to enjoy life and eat the things we love. My husband and I love food and our life revolves around situations where there is rich, yummy, delicious food and in moderation that is ok, but it is when you overindulge that it becomes a problem. I love that our little family is active. We have jogging strollers and all of us go for runs together and we participate in races not only for ourselves but to show our kids that being healthy and active is important.

It's easy for food to become a source of conflict. Sometimes I find myself bargaining or bribing my kids so they eat the healthy food in front of them. A better strategy is to give kids some control, but to also limit the kind of foods available at home and provide healthy options at meal time and also for snacks. Don't force the kids to clear their plate as that teaches them to ignore signs of fullness and remember, little tummies don't need that much food.
Last but not least get your kids involved in the whole food and meal process. From shopping to preparing and serving, I always find that it is easier to just do it myself but getting the kids involved in the process can teach them about making the right food choices, learn about the things that they are eating, and while often extremely messy, can definitely be a fun activity to do together. When cooking in the kitchen together, select age-appropriate tasks so kids can play a part. The most important reason behind why kids should be involved at mealtime is that it can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat which will serve them well as they grow. No, they wont suddenly want a salad instead of french fries, but the mealtime habits you help create now CAN lead to a lifetime of healthier choices.
I hope that my experience can be a help to others and remember, have fun, get messy and enjoy!

1 comment :

  1. Can I high-five this post?! I'm forwarding this to a lot of folks, I love that you mentioned how they WILL eventually get hungry enough to try what you give them!

    My son is 8, and was the pickiest eater I'd ever met when he was a toddler. We kept up with the family meals (no TV, not even as background noise), got him involved in cooking early (he has his own apron and cookbooks), and we don't force him to eat anything. Chicken nuggets are still his favorite, but he also asks for yogurt at snack time now too. It's all about teaching kids balance!



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