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5 Ways To Help Our Children Be Healthy
Managing the bad influences!
As a mom and nutrition consultant, I am often pulled from one direction to another when it comes to the health of my children. It is a priority for me to make sure I feed them the best foods and expose them to healthy lifestyle choices. However, they are often exposed to unhealthy influences, that there are days I just throw my hands in the air with frustration.
Oh, we can't stop them from being exposed to these things, unless we keep our children locked in their rooms forever. Influences come from school, the grocery store, friends and family, and the television to name a few! I cannot even count the times when my 5 year old has said, "Mommy, why can't we get that cereal?" And it is usually the cereal that is nothing but sugar, corn, preservatives, and artificial colors. Yuck.
A personal struggle I have is this: how can we feed our children the right foods, teach them to be healthy, and still accept the fact that they will always be exposed to "other" influences from time to time?
Instilling healthy choices for children doesn't always have to start when they are infants. I've come across many people who say, "My child has always eaten this way, how can I get them to change and eat better?" or "My child has always enjoyed just sitting around. I cannot get him to do anything else!" Hmmm......Whether they are 3 or 13, we, the parents/guardians have the power over what happens with our children, and we can definitely be a good influence for them! I've seen an 11 year old, who drank Mountain Dew daily transform into another child after he had a more consistent healthy lifestyle, with better food choices, more activity, and no more Mountain Dew! I've also seen behavioral changes in children whose parents have banned certain artificial colors in their foods. Imagine that!
Here are some ideas that will help us get a better grip on the outside influences, as well as ways we can be good role models for our children!
1.) Negative influence #1: Television. I've seen more cereal commercials during a 30 minute cartoon than I can count! If it is not for the sugary, fake-colored cereal, then it is for the artificially colored "fruit" roll ups. I often wonder WHY the word fruit is even in the name? Really, does anyone know the answer to that? Anyway, children are going to see these influences on television and ask questions. If they are over the age of 5, they will usually say that they want said food, or that it looks good. Often the commercials are bright and cheerful with neat cartoon characters. I use this time to honestly answer the questions with an explanation that not all of these foods are "healthy" for our bodies, and mommy tries to get the better choices. Fortunately, the store DOES offer fun choices for children that have better ingredients. Another option is to limit their TV time. This is obvious though. Less television time means less exposure to the negative influences. In addition, it promotes more active time playing and running and just being kids!
2.) Negative influence #2: School. Unfortunately, schools still just don't get it. Although I feed my children a nutritious breakfast each morning, they will still choose to eat the school's "breakfast" that is offered for free. The other kids are eating it, so they are going to as well! The breakfasts are usually sugary cereals or cereal bars that resemble a fancy candy bar. We have a few options here. One, we can simply inform the teachers that we don't want our children eating this, but then we take the risk of our children feeling left out from the other children who are eating. I never want my children to be left out. Two, we can grin and bear it. It is a small amount of yucky stuff compared to the large amounts of good stuff we feed them the rest of the time. Is it worth getting really worked up about? Often, I come up with a compromise. I tell my 5 year old that he can make a choice to eat it, but it is not a very healthy choice. I use this as an opportunity to educate him on what is not healthy about the foods at school. But I leave it at that. Getting too strict and too controlling will only bring on food issues later on in life. Instead of trying to have the upper hand all of the time, children 5 and older can begin to learn about healthier choices and take charge in what they put in their bodies.
3.) Negative influence #3: Other kids. Whether it is at school, restaurants, or other houses, our kids will be exposed to the choices of other kids. It may be a lunch filled with Doritos and Little Debbie cakes, or a child who chooses to sit in front of the television all day. Our options in this situation is to, yes, you guessed it.....grin and bear it. We cannot change other children, or change the way they are being raised. We CAN choose to limit their exposure to them, but that may not work if they are at school with them each day. In situations like this, I just have to go with the flow and "have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change."
4.) Negative influence #4: Your extended family. Oh, I hate to even include this in my list, but it is something we cannot avoid. Other family members have a huge influence on the health of our children. It may be at birthday parties, holiday gatherings, or just a social visit. Because they are family, I am not afraid to speak up. When a family member wants to fill my kid with another round of Hugs "fruit" drink (there's that fruit word again), I have to tell them no. I often bring "back up" choices for my kids in these situations. I have brought my own juices and bottles of water for them. I have no shame in saying that my kids are not drinking/eating that non-food item. I WILL occasionally allow them to have a forbidden item, like a hot dog, if that is the only food choice available. Options for events such as birthday parties or holiday gatherings are to either offer to bring a dish (a healthy one....such as a vegetable tray with dip), or fill your kids up BEFORE you leave for the party, so they will be less likely to hound the food table. I have been talked about, criticized, and judged by extended family for my choices, but I as long as I know what I'm doing is right, I am not bothered by it.
5.) Negative influence #5: The grocery store. Welcome to the world of good and bad food choices. If you enter the store with children, you are likely going to leave with some not-so-good-for-you items AND you will probably spend more! No thanks! The bad thing with grocery stores and children, is that children are the primary target! All of the colorful boxes of sugar, corn syrup, and partially hydrogenated food "things" are at the eye level of our children. For example, the fruit snack isle is one of horror for me. So many great cartoon characters are on the front of these boxes, from Sponge Bob to Scooby Doo. Oh, they are so cool right?! There isn't anything remotely close to a really good ingredient in any of these, yet they tempt our kids so much. Such a shame. The best choice is to try your best to have someone watch the children (aka: babysitter) when you go to the store. This way, you have the chance to read ingredient labels and calculate the best choice all while listening to an old Wilson Phillips song. (Who chooses the grocery store music anyway?) Hey, it's better than listening to "I want this!" "I'm hungry! Can we get cookies?" You know how it goes.
In addition to working with these negative influences, we also must realize that we have a powerful impact on our children's health right from the home. Here are some tips!
- YOU are the role model! If they see you chowing down on Snickers and Fritos, then THEY are going to want it too! If they see you flipping through the television station for several hours a day (who does that, really?), then they will do this as well. On the other hand, if you consistently eat foods like vegetables, fruits, and healthy grains and beans, you are showing your children that you enjoy the foods too. For those of you who may be saying "GROSS!" then maybe it is time to revamp some recipes! Healthy foods CAN taste good too! Exercising together is another excellent way to be Super Role Model for your kids!
- Don't bring the bad stuff into the house! It is YOU who buys the foods, right? If so, YOU have the control over putting that case of Pepsi into the grocery cart. Please don't tell me that the voices in your head made you do it! If the bad stuff is not in the house, they can't eat it. The kids may be mad at you for a little while, but they will get over it. They may start to even feel better when they are eating healthier (fewer mood swings, more energy, etc.)
- Get the kids into the kitchen! The best way to get kids to eat healthier is to have them help you make certain dishes. Find a fun recipe that includes lots of vegetables and maybe a favorite, such as a good pasta. Depending on their age, they can do anything from stirring, mixing, to cutting and washing. When they have helped with the "creation," it is more enticing for them to eat.
- Begin a garden together! Whole foods (foods that have been unaltered and processed) are by far the best choices for everyone. Children need to learn where real food comes from. We've gotten so far from our roots of farming, that there are many kids who think that food comes just from the grocery store. Yikes! If you can, begin a small garden. You can grow vegetables in pots or in a small plot of ground in your yard. Start with a favorite and build from there. Lettuces and beans are easy to grow. Some people enjoy tomatoes and find them great to plant in pots. Whatever your choice though, it creates a bonding experience as well as a learning experience for your kids. Allow them to dig and place the seeds in the dirt. Allow them to water. Encourage them to monitor the growth. Best of all, let them harvest their creations!
The best advice of all is to hang in there and learn as you go. As long as your kids are still under your roof, you have a lot more power than you think. What you do (and don't do) are what ultimately teach our children. Make health a priority for everyone!