TEACH YOUR CHILD TO BECOME A HEALTHY EATER
Healthy eating entails a lifestyle of balanced, nutritious meals to be eaten at least 3 times a day. Healthy eating is sociable eating; it includes a varied diet where all the food groups are consistently represented. There are no "bad" foods; even "junk" or non-nutritious foods are perfectly fine, as long as they are eaten in moderation and not in the place of meals or nutritious foods. What is worse for the child than eating non-nutritious foods is forbidding them, as extreme deprivation results in extreme cravings.
Parents need to understand and teach their child that fat-free eating is not healthy eating. Children need fat in their daily diet for their neurological systems to develop throughout the childhood and adolescent years, and into their early twenties. Young women need fat in their diet and on their bodies in order to support enough estrogen so that they can bear children.
If your child is interested in losing weight for legitimate reasons, make it clear that the task is not to eat less, but to eat differently. Restrictive eating of any kind in childhood is unhealthy eating, and can lead to adult obesity. The body gets hungry and needs fueling as many as six times per day; each time that happens, it deserves to be fed the right foods in the right quantity.
In teaching your child about healthy eating, parents must:
1. Recognize and help their child to understand that food is fuel for the body, not a fattening enemy to be feared.
2. Find out how the child thinks and feels about food, weight and eating. Initiate discussion; donít be afraid to bring up this topic for conversation. You are your childís role model, mentor, and ideal; more importantly, you are the best teacher he or she will ever have.
3. Explain that he or she has every reason to be confused about what healthy eating is. The media is full of conflicting reports about what is currently in vogue to eat, which diets are best, etc. Many people, including your childís peers, are preoccupied with shape, size and body image concerns, and confused in thinking about it. They obsess about food, restrict it, worry about what they eat and judge others based on their size.
4. Teach their child to become a critical and discerning consumer of the media. This is a life lesson that will improve his/her self-esteem, and that he/she will carry with her into adulthood. By teaching your child how to think about who he/she is in relation to himself/herself, others and the greater world, your child comes to understand how important he/she is to you.
5. Make breakfast every day. Donít ask your child if he or she is hungry enough for breakfast; ask instead what your child feels like eating, listing the several choices available. Your child needs to understand that everyone must eat breakfast in the morning in order to break the overnight fast and prepare oneís brain to function maximally throughout the day. Breakfast is simply not negotiable.
6. Sit down to the table with your child and eat breakfast together. It is a wonderful way to connect with your child, to prepare him/her to deal with whatever tasks await him/her that day, to nourish both physically and emotionally. This ritual will do a great deal for you too.
7. Prepare your childís brown-bag lunch so that he/she has available the kinds of nutritious foods that he / she enjoys most at midday. Make certain that all or most of the food groups are available to your child in each meal, especially protein for alertness. Replace chips and other unhealthy snack foods with nutritious treats such as raisins or other fruits (dried and fresh,) nuts, popcorn, celery sticks with peanut butter, cheese and crackers, yogurt drinks, etc.
8. Fill your refrigerator with fresh and nutritious snacks for after school, including milk or soy products, cottage cheese, yogurt, humus, vegetables, lunch meats, tuna salad, and hard cheeses. Display a full bowl of fresh fruit brimming with beautiful, sumptuous and inviting fruits of many kinds throughout every season. Keep it in a highly visible and accessible place. Donít buy fat-free or lite foods. Encourage your child to do something physically active before starting homework.
If you, as a parent and food provider, wish to raise a healthy eater, it is incumbent upon you to keep your cupboards stocked with a plentiful and easily accessible supply of nutritious and delicious foods for your entire family; in addition, it is important to be available to sit down to eat this food together with your child and family as often as possible.
Remember that by teaching your child to become a healthy eater, you are at the same time teaching him or her to become an emotionally healthy individual. How a person eats is in many respects a metaphor for how a person lives; it entails knowing what one needs and how to get those needs met, how to approach problems, make sound decisions and resolve problems effectively.
The authorís work can be reviewed further at www.empoweredparents.com and www.parentingbookmark.com.
Last updated on 04-05-2002