The Right to Choose

My kids are becoming more involved in activities outside of the home with school, soccer, and birthday parties.  It has been a wake-up call for me that they will be – and are – making more and more food choices on their own.  I’d love to keep them in our wholesome at-home nutrition bubble, but that’s just not realistic.

My husband and I have always been honest with them and teach them about what they’re eating – including when we eat foods that aren’t the norm for us that we eat from time to time (e.g. cake at a birthday party).  Little did we know that they were actually paying attention and absorbing most of what we have been saying about food.

When they began playing in a local indoor soccer league recently, I cringed when the dreaded post-game snack sign-up sheet made its way around the bleachers.  It was as if it was coming at me in slow motion as I yelled “Nooooooooooo!” in my own head.  Why do 3 and 4-year-olds need a snack after 45 minutes of no-impact soccer chaos?  Especially when that snack is put into their hands after they’ve most likely already eaten dinner and are headed to bed soon.  My initial reaction was to contact the program director (I’m passive aggressive like that) to ask that a no snack policy be put in place.  The soccer league was taking place at a local health club, after all.

After giving it some thought, I decided to let it go and instead use it as a lesson for my kids.  It turned out to be more valuable than the initial plan of trying to ban snack.  Instead of begging to eat the snacks (Rice Krispie treats, jumbo Capri Suns, fruit snacks – just to name a few) that were graciously given to them by their peers, my kids would immediately ask “Is this yuck?”.  On our walk to the car after each game, we would talk about why the snack in hand was, in fact, “yuck” and that it wasn’t real food.  They were always given the option to try one bite of each snack, too, because completely banning it can very easily backfire.  So, what did we hand out when it was our turn to bring snack?  Mini water bottles, mini bananas, and individual bags of natural popcorn.  All of which were a hit with the team.

In addition to asking if food is “yuck”, they also ask if food is “real or fake”, or “does that food make me run fast or slow?”.  It’s a proud parenting moment to witness them making their own logical decisions.  That old saying “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day.  Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” rings so true in this life lesson that my husband and I are instilling in our kids.  Teaching them about food is much more valuable than just hiding it from them or banning it.

Continue to praise healthy choices with your kids and be open and honest about what their food is made of and where it comes from.  It’s amazing what food empowerment can do for kids…and us as parents.

Here are some easy ways to get your kids excited about healthy food:

  • Be honest about where their food comes from: the farm, a tree, an animal, the ocean.  We had mahi mahi for dinner the other night and showed the kids a picture of a real mahi mahi fish in the ocean.  They were amazed!
  • Let them choose a component of a meal from time to time and help you with age-appropriate kitchen tasks.
  • Bring them to your local Farmers’ Market (or better yet…a farm) to meet a real life farmer and see his/her yummy produce.
  • Sit down with a pile of cookbooks and let them choose a special (healthy) treat to make.
  • Plant a garden or simple potted herbs and put them in charge of watering the crop (with your assistance).
  • Describe food benefits in realistic ways they can understand.  For example, instead of  telling your child that chicken is a good source of protein, tell him that chicken will give him big muscles.
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