Why I Don’t Worry About My Kids Feeling Deprived
Some time ago a couple of moms asked me for tips on getting their kids to eat better lunches at school. I had
recently gotten my son the Planet Box, kind of a nifty lunchbox. What I like about it is that my kid can just flip open the fastener and eat. He only gets about 15 minutes for lunch, so if his lunch has a lot of containers for his little fingers to open he will not have enough time to ingest, and forget about chewing. As I went into a reverie about his fancy new lunch box I mentioned that I had sent him off to school that morning him with a salad with chickpeas . . .
And this is when they cut me off with their laughter.Chickpeas!?” One of the moms asked, “Forget that! We have already ruined our kids!”
Ruined? That sounds bad. How does a kid get “ruined” for healthy eating?
- We set a bad example. Do you think they don't notice us drinking soda? We can tell them “soda is bad for you,” but we need to show them by not selecting it ourselves. And soda is just one example. Do we parents turn up our noses at vegetables? Skip breakfast? Snack continuously? Never drink water?
- We pacify with sugar and treats. Sometimes you just have to stick a lollipop in the hole where the screaming is coming from. I get that. My kids are 8 and 4 and I, too, struggle with bribery and pacification. Especially when I drag them around town on errands when what they really need is rest and a snack. Melt-downs are inevitable, so try to get some non-food bribes/distractions in the mix. I also recommend a book, Positive Discipline, for some ideas of how to help your kids develop more intrinsic motivations for good behavior.
- We celebrate with sugar and treats. “Great job honey, here's 45 grams of sugar and 22 grams of fat!” Celebrations with our kids are also a great excuse for us to eat something unhealthy. You're not just getting one giant chocolate chip cookie for them, right? I love celebrations and I love ice cream. I have to remind myself that every triumph (or dissapointment) does not need its own sugary fanfare. Again, get some non-food treats into the mix.
- We worry that our kids might starve so we give them butter noodles (again). Your kid will not starve. I do not think you can or should force your kid to eat something they do not want to eat. However, even when a kid has a limited range of food preferences, serving them a variety of foods, repeatedly, is important. My older son did not eat broccoli until maybe the 100th time offered, but then he ate it with gusto (and parmesan cheese). And, in our house, if the kids do not eat whats prepared they are told “well, that's dinner,” but with some flexibility. Last night they did not want to eat the fish I made. I gave them taco shells. Fish was rejected, fish tacos were accepted. Sometimes my little one does not eat much of what is offered at dinner and then he is hungry at bedtime. My response,”I guess you should have eaten your dinner. I'll make you a big breakfast tomorrow.” I think he is learning.
- They fill up on the foods they like best. Serve vegetables first! Vegetables are at the top of the “my kid will not eat” list. One way I get my kids to eat vegetables is serving veggies when they are hungriest. Sometimes I put a plate of raw veggies on the kitchen table while I am making dinner so that when they come in the kitchen asking for a snack they can grab some snap peas instead of chips, etc. If they are finishing their second serving of spaghetti before I say “eat your vegetables” their reply is “I'm full.” So, before they are served more rice or chicken or whatever they get another serving of vegetables.
- We do not want our kids to feel deprived. There is that word again. Kids want sweets and they look so dejected when we say “No.” Try letting them know, at their level, why they cannot have the super sugar cereal, etc. Little kids understand “that's too much sugar, it's not good for your body and your teeth.” Older kids can be taught about reading labels and why to avoid high fructose corn syrup, or how sugar grams per serving looks in sugar cube form, etc.
Do do I deprive my kids? I hope so! My goal is to deprive them of the long list of preventable health conditions (obesity, diabetes) by establishing good habits early.
If you have a story of child feeding triumphs or disasters please share! Tweet your comments with the @HealingSTL tag or post them on our Facebook page.