My kids are adorable. I mean, seriously, completely adorable. Some days I look at them and wonder how they got to be so amazing. But in today's digital reality world, with a plethora of games, devices, movies, and so on, there isn't a whole lot of enthusiasm when I say the words "Go outside and play!" So while they are at a healthy weight and body type now, I know it's going to be tricky to keep them healthy as they continue to age in such a sedentary world. Both diet and activity levels are important, and while we're taking steps to mitigate the lack of activity, we also have to address their diets while they are young. And our vigilance can be never-ending. This digital age isn't going anywhere. The kids know more about my phone than I do, and in school they use electronic tools I hadn't even heard of before, like "smart boards". Each grade 6 student had a Chromebook to use for the school year, and I think tablets (or iPad's?) were used every day in kindergarten.
For me, the most important reason to eat nutritious food is to have a healthy life. I have conversations with the kids that focus on the various health-related aspects of nutrition, such as strong and straight bones, a brain that's fast and able to learn, muscles to help us do all the fun things we like to do. We talk about how every food has different vitamins and minerals, and the point to eating a "balanced diet" is to get as much good stuff into our bodies as possible.
My first son is at a complicated age. He's at that awkward place between child and teen. Boys aren't immune to body image issues, and unfortunately the word "diet" has negative connotations, such as being fat and needing to lose weight. The very last thing I want is for him to think that I think he needs to lose weight, or worse, for him to think badly of his body. So we focus on the quality of food, and we focus on the quantity. Nothing is off limits in our house. I personally remember smuggling "off limits" food into the house when I was a teenager, and hiding it or binge eating after an emotional day. I don't want the kids to feel like they have to hide what they're eating.
If the bulk of our food choices has a high nutritional component, I won't say no if asked for something less quality. I will monitor quantity, however, of both healthy and junk, because too much of anything is still too much.
My second son is also complicated right now, because he's picky. He will eat more now than he did a year ago, but I wouldn't say he's a great eater at this time. Our conversations about food happen almost every day. He's had a summer cold, so his usual favorite foods were pushed aside when his taste buds went funny from the cold. The thing is, he has very few favorite fruits, and when he starts to turn up his nose at any of them we have a problem. When he pushed away his apple slices we had a conversation that went something like this:
Child: I don't like apples anymore.
Me: Ok. What new fruit will you try instead? We have grapes, cherries, kiwi, oranges, strawberries, and blueberries,
Child: I don't want to try any of those.
Me: I know, but if you won't eat apples, you need to pick something else. Fruit has lots of nutrition, remember?
Child: <long sigh> Fine, I'll just eat my apples.
It isn't that my son isn't exposed to new foods every single day. He's just very, very stubborn. I won't let food fights happen, but I won't give an inch either, in allowing entire food groups to be discarded. He was eating cheerios for a snack the other day and asked if it was a balanced meal. We talked about what it means when I say "balanced". I explained that cheerios are a grain product, and they are an excellent source of iron, which helps your blood carry oxygen through your body. To make it a balanced snack, we needed to add in other food groups, such as dairy- and I gave him a glass of milk- and fruit or vegetable- and he got some cucumber slices.
When I was a kid, I hated the "because I said so" response when I would ask "why". I think it's important to teach kids now, before food and health issues typically start, so that they have actual facts at hand when they navigate the waters of adolescence. There's no shortage of advertising designed to make us feel badly about ourselves, and the more tools in our arsenal the better.
For the summer, whenever possible, I've got a meal and snack plan set up for the entire day, not just dinner. I'm finding that the kids are feeling more satisfied and asking less often "What can I eat, I'm hungry". If you'd like me to post it, let me know.
Enjoy the day, friends.