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The B4FD Project features blog posts from guest writers that explore the far-reaching benefits of family dinner.

Family Dinner Month 2012: Sept 17 -- Oct 29, 2012

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Getting Kids in on the Healthy Eating Game

By Cristie Ritz King

When I was young there was a commercial for Breyer’s Ice Cream where a kid was reading ingredients from the back of a competitor’s ice cream box and couldn’t pronounce any of the words. Then he read the Breyer’s box and there were only four ingredients and they were all recognizable which of course made that ice cream more delicious.

It was an adorable commercial. I mean what’s not cute about a kid furrowing his brow to look quizzically at the camera and saying, “carageeeeeeeenan”?

There is more to this commercial though and I’ve found it’s been the key to getting my kids to eat health(ier).

I found as a mom that I rely on the same belief I had as a teacher, “Don’t ever underestimate the inherent intelligence of a child, no matter how young or old.” I’ve always been very forthright with kids, both in my classroom and in my home, and so far it’s working out alright.

As I learn more about nutrition, I let my kids in on the reasons for the dietary decisions we make here. I don’t want them to be paranoid about FDA (non) regulations or Monsanto’s Mob-like ways to market and grow its GMO soybeans. My kids won’t be watching Food Inc. any time soon, but I am as honest as developmentally appropriate about food growth and processing and the Why behind what we eat. I’ve touched on the topics of pesticides, trans fats and GMOs with just enough detail to make them aware-not crazy.

What it comes down to in this house is this: can we recognize everything on a package? If not, we might want to choose something different. This keeps my daughter from worrying about fat and calories, which is the road she was going down when she had her first “nutrition” lesson at school. It keeps my boys interested in what makes their muscles work the best and their tummies feeling good.

My kids are aware that they should be aware, of where their food comes from, how it’s made and what it does to their bodies. The best part is that this has made food even more of a celebration than it ever was. I feared that so much instruction would make food into just fuel instead of the joy that meals should be, but that hasn’t happened at all. We talk more at the table. We unload the produce shipment box together and explore kale chips as a family. The kids see how much I enjoy making food and their dad enjoys eating it. It’s become a bit of an adventure and we’re all in it as one unit. Our tastes are different, but our intentions are the same: share meals, eat real food and love as much as we can.

I’m not promising that this way eliminates fights over vegetables. I mean, they are still kids who would always prefer candy to carrots. But giving them explanations and arming them with information includes them in the decision making and that sure does cut down on the screaming.

Most of the time.

Give it a try. Let me know how it goes and most important, share any other tips that are working for you!

Mangia!

Cristie Ritz King is a mom of three and a Certified Holistic Health Counselor. Between those two roles she spends an inordinate amount of time thinking about food. Cristie writes about family life and food on Right Hand Mom and glorifies food as a key to wellness at Real Life Wellness. 

5 comments to Getting Kids in on the Healthy Eating Game

  • I appreciate this post and appreciate the way you are teaching your children about nutrition. I, too, am very concerned about the origins of the food we eat and have encouraged my children to read ingredient labels… not only for health, but also for safety as they have severe food allergies. However, I struggle with that balance between being a Food Nazi and allowing them to make (sometimes poor) food choices and learn through experience rather than mom’s lectures.

  • I agree, Jana; it can be tough to find the balance sometimes between relaxed education and strident rules when it comes to food. As my family’s “nutritional gatekeeper,” I make decisions about what types of food will be purchased and prepared, but I don’t often talk about it. Maybe I should speak more often about the rationale behind my decisions, but mostly, I try to focus on taste, enjoyment of food, and an awareness of being full/hungry. I’m curious how others handle nutritional education with their kids.

  • It is a challenge to teach children not to fear food or to become judgmental about what other people eat. My husband and I are Canadian but we’re raising our son in Italy. Mostly, we try to stick to traditional Italian ways of eating – so that means meals, not snacks. Our son does have two snacks a day, but it’s usually fruit, bread with olive oil or something culturally appropriate. Also, we just try to avoid things that come in packages. It’s done wonders for my cooking skills. I hope it will lead my son to develop healthy habits and make good choices in the future. Thanks for the nice post.

  • Jana-I think that’s why I talk about it so much, because I want them to know my thought process as it makes me feel less guilty about not allowing certain things and then less guilty when I do! Aah mother guilt.;) I feel like I’ll probably never get it right, but at least they know my motivation for trying and maybe some of that will sink in for when they make their own decisions down the road.

  • This is a great post and an inspiration for me! I have been talking about moving our family to more of a whole foods diet and I’ve been hesitating. Part of me is scared that I will traumatize my 6-year old and part of me is nervous that I will #fail. Wish me luck. I’m planning to vlog about our journey~~~it could be interesting!