It seems like getting kids to eat healthy is one of those tasks that just seems insurmountable! What with all the options that are overflowing from our shelves of opportunity, it's hard to raise kids that are willing to get down to the basics of actual food!
Keep in mind there are two main categories to what we put into our bodies: FOOD and FOODSTUFFS. There IS a difference!
Food nourishes the body for work, action and necessary function. It's the fuel that keeps us going. It is what provides the nutrients for growth, repair, and health. Think pure and whole fruits, vegetables, greens, herbs, nuts, seeds, meats, beans and plant vegetation.
Foodstuffs are fillers. They may have originally been derived from natural ingredients, or even contain a small percentage of a natural ingredient, but they are made in a factory, with lots of processing lots of additives, loads of preservatives and usually lots of synthetics. They are generally sugar, salt, and congestor food based. Think: cereal, sugared cereals, poptarts, commerical pizzas, candy, treats, cookies, etc.
It sounds simple but it can be confusing, especially since some of our biggest "advocates" seem to support the use of foodstuffs as a viable option of nourishment. For example: the stores that supply them, and schools that serve them. While they've been homeschooled their entire lives, my boys had a period of time where we tried public school. I remember them coming home with wrappers from breakfast in their pockets. The first red flag here is "wrapper" (from breakfast? really?) The second red flag was that it was a sugared cinnamon churro bread (for breakfast? really?) The third red flag was that it said, "This food fulfills two servings of the bread/grain food group". REALLY??? Yes, it can be confusing when the institutions where we are to LEARN are providing such obvious misinformation.
People seem to carry the notion that if a store provides it, it must be approved. No, sadly the FDA does NOT check everything that goes on our shelves. Just because it exists does NOT mean we should be eating it. The choice is entirely up to us. That means that what we feed ourselves and our kids has to be determined, analyzed, educated, solved, and enforced by US, at least if we want health, that is.
In order to have a healthier world where the higher ups support us, and provide for our needs in real ways, we're in this together. Getting kids healthier is a big priority. Helping families and individuals eat better needs to be a goal for ALL of us, so even if you don't have kids living in your home, read on so that you can make changes for yourself, AND you can find out how to support the health of those around you, particularly for the children. Here are some common difficulties parents and adults in charge of children are facing, and here are some ways you might help.
Kids These Days Are Too Picky
This is one of the most common expressions I hear people say when they are expressing their frustration over getting their kids to eat healthfully.
There ARE so many options out there, and kids don't understand that some of them should be eaten and some of them should NOT be eaten, they just see them on the shelves, in the stores or restaurants so to them, it IS available so it IS an option. Besides, they see others eating these things, and usually even YOU.
It is hard to raise kids to value nutrition when foodstuffs are so easily accessible to them. You have to teach them to have a good relationship with food, and healthy habits to create success.
What can you do?
1. What's a kid to do when they adults around them are providing it for them?
I know you've heard it before, but we'll say it again. They will partake in what they see around them. Don't consume it yourself. If you are eating or drinking it, ask yourself if you would want your kid drinking or eating it. Remember this is not just about getting our kids to eat healthy, in my mind, it is about demanding more of a healthy lifestyle. It's about stepping up and casting our vote that we want to be a people of health, youth and energy. We want our governing organizations to support this, and we want our manufacturers to support us, NOT make money off of our ignorance and poor health. HOW are they allowed to do this? Because we let them....by buying their stuff. If the kids see the adults they look up to consuming, even PROVIDING these foodstuffs for them, why ever would they change? They have seen that it is not a value to you, why should it be to them?
Keep in mind, kids do not provide food for themselves. Their health is ENTIRELY maintained by you. You might like these meal ideas. Not to put the pressure on or anything, and go easy on yourselves for not knowing any better before now, but a kid doesn't have a say generally in what kinds of foods are being provided for them, so their ability to have a lean, athletic body ripe with vibrant health isn't an option for them if the path has been laid out in the opposite direction. The risks of obesity aren't generally understood in a child, and they are powerless not to set themselves up for these risks. They don't know any differently, and they aren't being provided the right tools.
2. All The Options All The Ways
I can't tell you how many parents tell me, "They just won't eat any fruits or vegetables". I can understand the struggle, but I can also almost guarantee that most of these parents haven't possibly tried ALL fruits and vegetables, plants and herbs, and they certainly haven't tried them ALL the ways they can be enjoyed.
Here's an exaustive list of vegetables, and one for fruits. Look at the list together, make a chart, choose what to try. Make another list of all the ways you tried it. Cooked, raw, roasted, boiled, dehydrated, in a smoothie, fermented, powdered, juiced, as a jam, etc.
If your child does not like an apple, for example, see if you can find out why. Is it the texture, taste, the skin? Sometimes we just check it off in the "won't eat" column and haven't taken the time to find out why. Often there is a solution. It's OKAY to remove the skin for now. Try it sliced, try it cooked and mashed, try it freeze dried, dehydrated, or juiced. Try it added as applesauce to muffins instead of sugar, try apple crisp or apple muffins. Try it powdered an added to smoothies. The options are endless, it just takes some creativity.
3. The reward of health is too obscure so bring a reward they CAN see.
There is a psychology involved in this dynamic as well. When I am working with a parent and they say to me, "They just won't eat any fruits or vegetables", they've identified the unique psychology factor that comes into play. They've already accepted this as a concept...and so have their kids. Now, subconsciously, they are out to prove it to me, "see, I told you they just won't eat ANY fruits or vegetables", and that's exactly what your child is doing to you. Nobody wants to be proved wrong, and we can be stubborn in our accepted concepts. The point is we are in it together, we should be working together to try to achieve the GOAL, which is the worthy goal of knowing that fruits and veg are NECESSARY so the goal is to eat them. Rather than spending time trying to prove to me how difficult it is, I want you to never give up because it's not an option, and CONTINUE to come up with strategies together on how we can bring it about. This may mean sharing recipes, sharing attempts, sharing options, varieties, new discoveries that we can pass back and forth between us to discover what really is the problem, and what can the solution be?
This is the same psychology that needs to be given credence to with your child. You keep telling them they have to eat fruits and vegetables, and they've already accepted the concept that they don't like them you are going to have a battle waged, each and every time. They have to see that you are on the same side, and that there is a reason to have this goal. Kids usually don't care about health or the boring facts of nutrition, they need to see tangible, immediate results. This might mean coming up with a game plan, a reward, an earning, etc.
I will say, here, that I do not believe kids should be "rewarded" for eating the things that should be their only options anyway. It's just what you eat. But by "reward" I mean hitting a goal and celebrating that goal. For example, if they currently won't eat a single vegetable or fruit, you celebrate wth a family event or outing once they've hit a certain mark, for example, try ten fruits or veg on the list. Or try these:
* They earn tv or game time by after checking off so many fruits or vegetables on their charts. Do NOT give them the reward of "eat their vegetables and then they get dessert". This just teaches them that the DESSERT is the good prize, when we want to stop using Junk Food as the reward.
* They use the food functions chart to see for themselves... they must have more Eliminator tallies than any other column. If they are in balance, then they can have the cookie or candy
* For your scientific kid - get scientific and study one new fruit or veg that you've never heard of or tried. Look it up, look at pictures of it, look up recipes, taste it, try it, check mark which ways you try it and which ways you liked and didn't like.
* There needs to be option for NOT liking something. Its just a reality that they are not going to like everything, every way. Keep a smily face, sad face chart of the ones theylike or don't like.
* Have recipe contests between your kids, see who can make the best version of a fruit or vegetable
* Have a tasting contest
* Tell them you're on a mission to fill up a jar of all the healthy foods they like and will eat. When the jar is full, there is a special family event or celebration.
The key is you can't pit them against you. It's a collaboration towards a worthy goal. Again, having a support system to share ideas with can be uber-useful. You could even challenge another family to fill up their chart of foods they like fastest!
4. Get Impedance Analysis done
Sometimes kids are picky because a food doesn't make them feel good and they don't know how this is what's causing the feeling. Working with a wellness professional can not only help come up with foods that are fight for this body, but can help you come up with options around the obstacles.
You might like this article: Picky Eaters, Anyone? 9 Questions to Ask and the 3 by 7 Rule
Daycare, Schools, and Grandparents Provide the Garbage
Because there are many people in your child's life that they spend their time with, it would help to be a cheerleader for the people in your circle. Help your family set up their own support system. They say that you make up the 5 people you most spend time with, so it makes sense to set yourself up for success with people that you can learn, grow, and reach your goals with. Find people in your area that believe the same as you and uphold these same values. Spend time with them, get to know them, share meals and playdates. Be the neighbor that provides healthy additions to the potlucks and the halloween baskets and the birthday parties. There are still lots of FUN, HEALTHIER variations to everything. Pinterest is a great resources for this! Ask your immediate family to support your efforts. Even better, SHOW them what you value by living it yourself.
* Tell grandparents and aunts and uncles and babysitters of your values about food and give them suggestions for good snack and meal ideas when they're in their care. Here are some snack ideas you might like to share with them.
* Bring lunchbags, or snacks to share
* Ask them to support what you are trying to do with your child by getting them involved.
* Make the goal included them, send them the discovery charts or Like it charts, or food function chart with when they go.
* Come up with games together that they can use with your kids
* Provide them with resources, like new recipes and ask them to try them together or make it with your child
* Involve grandparents in ways where they can show their love that isn't expressed through sugar.
* Search for daycares that agree with your ideas about food and health
* Work out arrangements with other parents to swap care
* Become a daycare provider yourself and find a new career sharing your values with other families that are struggling.
* Partner with your daycare provider in creating challenges, charts, and fun rewards
They Throw Fits When They Don't Get Their Way
* Ultimately, health can't exist if we don't provide the environment for it. I know it seems easier in the moment to give in to the tantrum or fit, but think how this will translate later on in their lives, when their teenagers, for example? You're going to want to set up a firm guidance with unwavering values early on.
* Yes, they have a choice to throw a fit. They don't have to like it, they just have to do it. Chances are good in parenting that they aren't going to agree with you quite often. They don't have to understand or agree with you.
* You can choose to be embarrassed by it or not. Who cares what others think? You are working on a goal bigger than that...and it involves your child's life.
* Yes, they will throw a fit, because they are used to getting what they wanted. They won't see yet WHY they should no longer eat those things. It's not about taking it away ENTIRELY, it's about learning with the Food FX chart to eat in balance. Show them the appropriate timing that they will get to eat the thing they are asking for....when the Eliminator column wins out they can choose what congestor they are wanting. You can get free charts and resources here to get started for your family.
I'm Just Too Tired to Put Up With It. I'm Overwhelmed and Can't Deal With It
Yes, I know. We are a species with overwhelming responsibilities. It's time to pick and choose those that matter. For me, the health of my children is non-negotiable and the biggest tool in my belt that I have is their food. When they are youngest, it's easiest so it's ideal to start then, but even if they are grown it still is worth the effort. And in reality, do the arguments go away when you give in and give them the candy, junk food garbage they are asking for? Usually not for long. Once you make it known that balanced eating is a number one priority, the war simmers down.
* You AREN'T taking away everything. You're just teaching them when it's appropriate to eat it. Have various standards set: no garbage for breakfast, snack foods only after Eliminator column has more tallies than the other columns, treat foodstuffs for an after supper time if your chart is in balance, etc.
* The war with food with your kids is a TINY war compared to what can come in the teenage years. Set your position in their lives up now as one of guidance and support for their wellbeing, and that means right now, food so that later they trust you with the big stuff.
* Again, find a support group of people. If not in your visible circle, there are tons of online groups you can find for support.
* There is nothing more important than your health and theirs. If you're feeling overwhelmed, see what else needs to drop off or step aside and do it. Make your life your own.
When it comes down to it, we can find all the tips and tricks, but ultimately, food needs to become a value in our society, not a commodity. It is necessary to eat healthy...for health, for livelihood, for healthy emotions, for smart brains, for the world and the planet. Our health is not negotiable. We can begin with food.
Here are some additional resources:
The Skinny of Baby Fat: 9 Common Questions Answered to Know If Your Child is Getting Fueled Properly
What is a serving https://www.halfyourplate.ca/fruits-and-veggies/what-is-a-serving/
Look up what to do with fruits you don’t know: www.halfyourplate.ca
6 Healthy Snacks Kids and Parents Love
Want to learn more about taking charge of your health and learn Food Functions, too? Join the list and get 4 FREE resources to help you! This link will get you to free tips, free tools like our Food FX chart and tally chart.
Amanda Plevell, PhD, CNHP is a Natural Medicine Practitioner, researching Cellular Biochemistry, and the effects that food, disease, experiences, emotions, and beliefs play into the programming of the cells, along with the resulting health expression. She is the founder of the Natural Source Companies including community WellClinics, Health Rocks Cafe online education hangout and, as a Personal and Business Transformation Expert, The Success Conditioning Academy. Author of over 28 natural health and self development books, her bestselling books include such titles as "The Genesis Code", "UnBound: Kicking Anxiety From Your Bucket List", "The Energy of Divorce", "The Real Heal", "Clean Your Plate", and "Beyond the Plate". When she's not serving at her Minnesota-based practice, she spends her time homeschooling her children along with her husband, growing food, and making garden medicines.