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Empowering Your Kids to Make Healthy Choices

By Dana Yarn, RDLD

Children are often bribed, potty trained, and rewarded with food, it's no wonder they become addicted to sugar easily and grow up with emotional ties to foods.  Adults who suffer from Empower Your Kidsobesity or weight related illnesses probably developed those habits as a child and then they grew out of control as an adult and resulted in obesity, Type 2 Diabetes, and other weight related chronic diseases.

If you see your child falling into a unhealthy relationship with food or gaining excess body fat here are some practical strategies that can help turn both you as a parent and your children around and could save them from suffering later in life with obese related diseases.

Cook. Be honest with yourself and your cooking, do you have balanced meals with vegetables, protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats or are you cooking processed box or frozen meals because your child is a "picky" eat. Also families today eat out far more than previous generations. Outside of your own kitchen, you lose control of the menu and lots of unhealthy choices that are high in sodium, unhealthy fats and sugar come into play. Avoid this problem by eating the vast majority of your meals at home where you can consistently offer nutritious choices.

Let your kids decide. If you prepare a meal with two or three vegetable choices, give your child a list and allow them to pick one or two and know that they're getting what they need. They will feel empowered rather than "forced" to eat things they aren't ready to try quite yet.

Let them help you. Most children (my 3 year old included) are more willing to try a new food if they helped to prepare it-another good reason to eat at home. Allow them to help out in the kitchen to become familiar with the things they'll see on the table.  This is a great time to get them away from games or cartoons and a life skill that is irreplaceable.

Educate them about foods.  If we know why something is good for us then we tend to pass on the foods that could hurt our health and we eat more of the foods that will make us big, strong, and fast.  Throwing in comments like the vitamin C from oranges can keep you from getting sick this winter.

Think Moderation. Although we would love to shield our kids from the trans-fat filled icing they use on cookies at school that mentality could cause your child to rebel and gorge on junk food when the "parent food police" are not around. If  you've followed the path of healthy eating week in and week out at home, a moderate amount of junk food will not have any significant impact on your child's overall health. Control what you can (which is a lot) and don't get too stressed out about what you can't. Trust me this was a hard pill for me to swallow as a mother, but after I stopped trying so hard it gave me a little peace and my kids did not feel like little outcast.

Practice What You Preach. Kids are smart and they can spot a rat, if you say no snacks before dinner and you munch as you cook, they will see you mimic you and view junk food as something desirable. This is probably the most important strategy you can adopt.

Relax. If you seem desperate to get your kids to eat well, they can rebel against you.  Do your best and make sure you still shop and cook healthy foods.   In the absence of a lot of junk food options, they'll eventually get with the program (or go hungry, just kidding). No one ever died from skipping a single meal, so if they completely reject a particular meal, so be it.

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