Sunday, February 24, 2008

Getting My Kids to Eat Healthy

I sometimes feel like I’m swimming against the tide when it comes to feeding my children healthy food. It’s as if there’s someone lurking around every corner, conspiring against me and feeding my children food that I don’t want them to eat.

At school, while they serve whole wheat bread, they also serve these delicious white baguettes that my son has a weakness for. Refined pasta is an option everyday. The lunch menu is designed to have everyone in mind so it’s made up of foods picked from the lowest common denominator, i.e. lots of pasta, chicken and hamburgers. They do have a salad bar that is actually pretty good and I encourage my kids to take from it but I’m sure that they are not eating as much salad as I would like them too.

For snack at school my younger children get fruit 2x’s a week and graham crackers 2x’s a week. On Fridays the kids take turns bringing in a Shabbat snack for their class. These snacks are almost always something that I would not voluntarily give to my children. When it’s one of my kid’s turn to bring in a snack I try to at least send in something not laden with fat and artificial ingredients. These selections don’t always go over well with their classmates. My son once brought in organic lollypops and came home with all of them. Apparently they were not “gross” enough for 6th graders.

When they go to their friend’s homes they are often served snacks that I would never serve. Cookies, candies and all sorts of junk can be on the menu. When I hear that my kids have had something healthy at their friends’ homes I am always thrilled.

So how do I manage to get any healthy food into my children? These are some tricks I’ve come up with over the years:

1. I keep almost no junk food in the house. I give them a cereal bowl of smart puffs and an 8 ounce cup of chocolate milk on Saturday morning for a Shabbat treat and occasionally give them some dark chocolate. That’s about all the “junk” they get inside my home

2. I try to serve a good dinner that at least 3 of the 4 kids will eat. This means that if I make some thing that numbers 1,3 and 4 like on Monday night on Tuesday night I’ll make sure that I serve something that number 2 will eat. This way each child gets a good dinner about 4 nights a week.

3. I try to make sure they eat a lot of fruit. One of the best ways to get kids to do this is to clean and cut up some fruit (or veggies) and put it in a room that they hang out in. I like to put it on our dining room table because my kids spend a lot of time there doing art and homework.

4. 90% of the grains in my home are whole grains and this includes what I bake and any pizza I order in. Even if I don’t use all whole grains while baking I try to make sure that I use at least ½ whole grains.

5. I don't chase my kids down with a fork to get them to eat a meal. If one of my kids does not want to eat dinner that is their choice to make. All my kids know that if they don’t eat dinner they can have a yogurt, fruit or cereal after everyone else finishes. I have them wait until after dinner so they have a chance to change their mind about what is being served. They will often end up eating at least some of what I have made for dinner.

6. I try to be aware of what my kids have eaten during the day so that I can help them make good choices. For example my daughter Ravi just asked me if she could heat up a piece of pizza. I asked her what she had eaten so far today and when she told me that she had eaten a bagel with cream cheese and one piece of apple I suggested she have some strawberries before she had the pizza. This is an easy way to get extra fruit and veggies into your kids.

7. I sometimes give my kids treats outside of the house so they don’t feel totally deprived. While they may not be healthy I try to make them as natural as possible. Instead of letting my kids get a frappaccino (or as my friend’s 9 year old son mistakenly called them when they first came out, crappaccinos) at Starbucks, I let them get a hot chocolate or a vanilla steamer. They may contain sugar but at least they are all natural. We are also quite fond of Hagen Daz ice cream!

8. I try to remember (but I have been known to forget) to send healthy snacks to school.

Like everything in life I try and strive for a balance that works for my family. It’s important that my kids eat healthy but I also don’t want to always be a killjoy. While in a perfect world junk food would not exist, it does in my world. I have known some parents who have forbidden their kids to eat any food that is not 100% healthy and I think that that is a lot to ask from a child. I do, however, think that placing limits on what your kids eat is a smart thing to do. I can already see that if it’s done with care and love, your kids will learn how to make the right decisions when it comes to eating the right foods. Well, at least most of the time they will.

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