Do: Find out what matters to each child the most. One of my children wants to grow taller, so sometimes I use that as incentive to eat better. The goal is to create positive associations with all food groups, not just an elite few that have little to no value.
Don’t: Use food or candy as incentives for good behavior or as special food for holidays. Kids will draw the erroneous conclusion that sweets are a treat. That’s a trick! We already know that sweets lead to obesity, poor health, low attention spans, skin breakouts, and bad teeth. Where is the reward in that?
Don’t: Preach. Kids watch what you’re doing. They will do as you do, not as you say. If you’re lecturing a lot, it won’t work. If you’re not even following your own advice—fuggetaboutit.
Do: Teach. Educate your children about the food that they are consuming, while they’re still young and impressionable. Discuss why their dietary intake makes an impact on their bodies supporting strong bones, muscles, growth, and health. Show them videos about what each food does in the body and about the harmful effect of sodas, too much sugar, or not eating vegetables. Good ones are: “Supersize Me” and “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” A Google search will lead you to more options. Even if kids don’t seem to be listening now, they are assimilating the information. Trust me. Plus, it’s crucial to model good eating behaviors yourself.
Do: Make eating fun. Vegetables and a variety of food choices can be delicious! Offer positive reinforcement when they make nutritious choices. Kids will feel good about themselves when eating healthfully. Make sure every meal includes at least one or two different color groups like orange sweet potatoes, green broccoli, and yellow squash. Point out the different textures too, like soft, crunchy, mushy, tough, tender, etc. Invite them to laugh and talk about what they like or describe what they don’t like about certain foods. Explore ways they can make the food tastier with seasoning. A little experimenting and mixing is in order. Use dips. Decorate plates with funny faces. Make meals look appealing. Whatever works!
Don’t: Withhold food as a way to control eating habits. Kids will find ways to sneak around behind your back to access the snacks.
Do: Encourage a balanced diet that incorporates all five or six flavors, depending on either the Chinese medicine view or the Ayurvedic view. The flavors are: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent. Use this as a guideline to vary different tastes. A balanced eater often doesn’t crave unhealthy foods. For instance, if a child constantly yearns for sweets, feeding them something from the opposite of the list (that’s pungent) could balance out the craving. For helpful lists and food choices from each category, check out 5 Element Food and The Six Tastes.
Don’t: Feel bad if your kids are not quite there yet. It takes time to unlearn habits and retrain the palette. There is no “perfect” scenario unless you’re eating foods straight from the garden. Kids will pick up on discouragement. Allow things to evolve. My kids could not stand the taste of freshly juiced apples, yet they couldn’t get enough of their sugar-full cocoa cereal. Out of the blue, my eldest son, 14, suddenly decided to eat only healthy foods and forgo all sugar cereals. Go figure! It certainly made me feel like all my efforts were worthwhile.
Do: Remember this tip from Dr. Gina Kim, D.C. She told her children: “If you’re going to eat junk, at least drink lots of water.” I love that advice for the times we parents want to give up! Make sure kids are drinking enough alkalizing water to neutralize the effects of impure foods.
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