Healthy Eating, Healthy KidsMar 14, 2022
For most of history, children have generally outlived their parents, but now we are seeing something very different. Due to rising rates of obesity and poorer health overall, the younger generation may die before their parents. This is a heartbreaking state of affairs, and it was never God’s design.
Since obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the cascade of health problems they cause are all quite reversible, giving your child the gift of health is more important than ever. And since children usually follow what they see—rather than what they’re told—modeling healthy habits as parents is where the change begins. It’s just good parenting: when we cultivate a healthy home we teach our children skills they can access when they are on their own.
Helping your child develop healthy eating habits and a positive relationship with food at an early age breaks generational patterns of poor eating, and it sets your children (and their children!) up for future health success. The earlier you start this process with children the better, but it is never too late to model healthy eating.
This may sound easier said than done. How do we get our kids on healthy food, especially if we are starting late in the game and their taste buds have already been hijacked by the candy man? It starts with being intentional and setting healthy boundaries around food in the home.
In general, setting boundaries with kids is a big deal, and since you can’t make them eat, a food fight is a power struggle you won’t win. So don’t engage in that struggle: play the long game instead. Change won’t happen overnight—especially when dealing with older children—but for children old enough to understand, you can begin by explaining that your home is a safe place where they’ll establish the eating habits that can ward off chronic health issues.
Create a Positive Environment
Stock your home with healthy foods, so kids are not constantly tempted to reach for junk food. Highly processed foods are addictive, but out-of-sight can be out-of-mind. Removing sugary, salty, and artificial foods from plain sight is a major win. Kids should have access to the most nutrient-dense foods in their safe space, their home.
Keep introducing new fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts & seeds, and a cheerful attitude. Just because a child doesn’t like something the first time doesn’t mean it’s a closed case: it may take multiple exposures before their taste buds adjust, so don’t give up.
Build a Healthy Foundation with Food
Explain to your kids why some foods are healthy, and others are not. Kids, like adults, can be motivated by knowledge and can develop their own internal desires for eating certain foods. You can start with their faith and their concern for God’s earth.
Kids learn how to say grace early, and this is a great opportunity to help children make the connection between blessing their food and how important their body is to God. Start a conversation about having integrity in what food we bless, using age-appropriate language to point out the contradiction we’d be making if we blessed, say, a bag of Cheetos. Kids can understand that God wants them healthy, and as parents or mentors it is our job to lovingly help them define what healthy means. You’re helping your kids say grace in a new way.
Exploring where their food came from or its impact on the environment are awesome conversations for the dinner table. With knowledge, faith, and support, you can instill in your children responsibility for their own health, so they won’t be vulnerable to the diet culture that awaits them.
Honoring Your Temple
Many kids today are sucked into fleeting concepts of beauty, especially on venues like Instagram. It causes issues with body image and self-esteem for them just as teen magazines did for us. Helping them to see healthy eating as a way to honor their body helps them to move beyond those Photoshopped body image standards.
Also like adults, kids may eat on autopilot. But they can start associating healthy foods with positive outcomes and bad foods with negative outcomes if you help them identify how food makes them feel.
We all may reach for food even when not hungry because of stress, and children may react to school or family issues with emotional eating. In a loving and supportive way, educate them on food as a way to nourish the body rather than comfort the soul. This would not be an appropriate time to be strict or rigid: if they’re seeking consolation in food, maybe you can console them instead.
As we said earlier, you want to avoid making eating a battle—that would be counterproductive to your goal. One way to de-escalate is to make eating healthy an enjoyable experience. Get your children involved in growing, shopping for, and cooking foods, since they will more likely eat the food they helped to make. Add vegetables to sauces and dips.
Make things fun: especially for the younger ones, use shapes and colors to enhance the food experience. Studies show that for kids, the shape of the vegetables increases the odds that they will be eaten. Most importantly, make delicious foods so that kids can enjoy healthy eating. Mealtimes should not be a drag or boring. There are so many ways to serve healthy foods that are kid-approved like The Best Chocolate Hummus, kid-friendly Sersie’s Favorite Cheese Sauce, Guilt-Free Banana Nice Cream, and the delicious Oatmeal Raisin Cookies.
Breaking generational patterns of poor health is a legacy we can leave our children. To learn more about raising children plant-based, pick up the book Nourish by Reshma Shah MD, and Brenda Davis, RD.
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