When it comes to my boys’ diets, they each have distinct preferences and tastes. While I do my best to take these into consideration when it comes to meal planning, there will be days when I will not please everyone. I balance this out by making a specific favorite of each of my boys. This way I am acknowledging what they prefer while also giving me freedom to plan meals that work best for our busy schedule. So far this system seems to be working. Even with this success, I still have roadblocks when it comes to getting them to eat healthy. Below are ideas on how to teach our kids about making better food choices:
Model Healthy Eating Habits
You will never be in danger of seeing social media content in which I display my super-healthy ‘what I eat in a day’ kind of thing. I am not a foodie. I am an above average cook, but preparing food is in no way a favorite past-time or something I am excited to do. However, I see the value in sitting down together as a family over dinner. Therefore, I make an effort to make special family meals to help encourage us to slow down and connect. When I prepare these meals, I make a point to include fruits and veggies. This way my boys are exposed to a good variety of foods and I can witness them ingesting something healthy.
When we dine out together as a family, my boys see that I tend to eat a lot of seafood, love broccoli (true story) and often do not order french fries. At home, I prefer salads for lunch. All I am doing is making healthy choices that work for me and I do not require the rest of my family to do the same. I learned years ago when dating my husband, it is better to stay in your own lane when it comes to diet. The more I attempted to ‘convince’ him to eat vegetables, the more he dug his heels in. Over time, I stopped talking about it. This motivated my husband to start to making better choices and on one landmark occasion, he ordered a salmon and kale salad as his dinner. I have noticed if I back off diet choices in general, the higher the likelihood my boys will keep an open mind to healthier choices.
We have lots of discussions around the dinner table about what constitutes a healthy diet. Treats are acceptable as long as they are balanced out by beneficial options. Therefore, I do encourage them to be thoughtful when it comes to deciding on snacks or what to have as a main course. They know at the end of the day cookies are fine to have, as long as they are not the only thing they eat all day.
Limit Restrictions as Much as Possible
Some kids may have restrictions due to a variety of reasons. They could be allergy-related or kids need to avoid food triggers that may contribute to behavior issues. In these cases, restrictions are needed to keep kids safe. Beyond these special circumstances, I try not to have restrictions. If something is labeled forbidden, it becomes all the more enticing. In my own diet, I never say never. I may not order french fries often, but sometimes I do. Knowing they are an option for me to enjoy on occasion makes choosing something different easier. I also have chocolate every day. It is usually a small portion but it is a treat I look forward to as a reward for surviving another day.
Remember, the most important part of any meal is sharing it with loved ones. So, pull up a chair, do your best to stay healthy and be grateful for the ones gathered at your table.
Written by Diana DeVaul, MSW and Parent