I have two children. One will eat anything I put in front of her. The other; not so much. We’ve tried rewards, punishments, bribes, and even lies (yes; I’m not proud of it, but it’s true). With such a picky eater, our family has become quite skilled and finding successful ways to get our kids to live healthy.
I was recently inspired by Chobani’s #ChobaniKids project which encourages kids to live healthy lifestyles. Since this is a topic I’m passionate about, I decided I’d share our family’s healthy habits.
- Have plenty of accessible, healthy snacks: For some weird reason, I can’t get my kids to pick up the raw kale and seaweed snacks sitting on the counter (I know. Weird, right?). So we’ve had to come up with other snacks. We keep bowls of fruit like apples, clementines and grapes on the counter for easy snacking. We have a jar of mixed nuts constantly out. We also dedicated the lowest shelf in the pantry (kid height) to snacks like applesauce, jerky, peanut-butter and dried fruit. We also make sure to have great “grab snacks” like cheese sticks, snack peppers and Chobani Greek yogurt tubes. This means the kids always have access to a healthy, easy snack. Because even though I try to be a good mom, I don’t always have time to put on my frilly apron and make them a green smoothie for a snack. Priorities baby!
- Limit sugars: Sugars are EVERYWHERE! Breads, crackers, juice, etc. Look at labels and try to keep sugars low. Just because something has the word “organic” in the title or comes in a green box doesn’t mean it’s low in sugar. And check ingredients. Anything that ends in “ose” is a sugar.
- Find fun ways to exercise: Make sure your kids get out and play every day. Rather than make them pull out those P90X DVDs, have a family game of soccer. Play tag outside. Ride bikes. Go for walks and hikes. Jump on the trampoline. Walk to stores/appointments whenever possible. Even in the winter, turn on some music and dance. Just get them moving.
- Educate!: This is one of the most important things you can do to help your kids. If my kids just keep hearing me tell them they can’t have 12 candy bars a day but I don’t tell them why, the message won’t stick. I try to explain to my kids how sugars affect their bodies and the benefits that come from foods like fruits, vegetables, meats, yogurt, etc. My children know chicken has protein and protein makes us stronger. They know yogurt and milk strengthen their bones. They know fruits and vegetables have vitamins to keep them healthy and help with digestion. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for. Just explaining the benefits of some foods and the dangers of others can go a long way. Also teach them the importance of exercise. Make sure they know how exercise strengthens your muscles and heart and keeps bad fat away.
- Don’t demonize treats: Treats are just that; treats. Which means they don’t happen every day. We have dessert every Sunday night and we enjoy every bite. But if we eat candy and cookies every day, it ceases to be a treat and becomes a habit. I don’t want my kids to feel guilty for eating ice cream, but I want them to realize it’s not something we do every day.
- Focus on health rather than body size: I made a goal that my children would never hear me call myself “fat,” or hear me say, “I need to lose weight.” I want my kids to make a goal to be healthy; not “skinny” or have the perfect body. When my kids say, “Why aren’t you eating a cookie, mom?” I never say, “Because it will make me fat.” I say, “Because too much sugar can make us unhealthy.”
- Limit screen time: When kids are watching TV, playing video games or playing on an iPad, they are more likely to mindlessly eat and will likely spend more time than they mean to “plugged in.” When we limit their screen time, they are forced to get up and move and are more conscious about what they are eating.
- Get kids involved in meals: My kids love to have a say in what we eat and help me make it. Sometimes we go to the produce section and I let the kids pick a new fruit or vegetable to try. When I cook, they love to add ingredients, stir and chop veggies (with a plastic knife). This is also a great opportunity to educate. When my daughter is tearing spinach, I talk to her about its health benefits.
- Shop the outer rim of the grocery store: The healthiest, whole foods are found on the outer edges of the grocery stores and not in the inner isles. Produce, meats, nuts and dairy products are the best foods for our bodies.
- Switch to homemade whenever possible: To avoid the processed foods, we try to make our own bread, muffins, trail mix, salad dressings, etc. I get how hard it is to find time for everything, and so I don’t plan to start churning my own butter from the cow living in my backyard anytime soon (I don’t really have a cow in my backyard), but even replacing one processed food with a homemade version is a great change.
- Lead by example: This is the most important thing we can do to help our kids be healthy. When we exercise and eat healthy, our kids are more likely to follow in our footsteps than if we have an unhealthy lifestyle. If we’re eating junk food and avoiding exercise, how can we expect our children to do anything else? If we keep packaged cookies and candy all over the house, how can we expect our children to avoid these things? A few weeks ago we had a snow day. My kids asked if we could do yoga together because they know how important exercise is. They also see me eating vegetables and ask for some (because the laws of the universe convince our children that what mom is eating is always better that what they’re eating and they must have a bite right now). We are our childrens’ biggest examples.
Whenever I read blogs like this, I feel totally overwhelmed. As a mom who doesn’t do it all and falls short in several areas my advice is, don’t feel guilty or like you have to change everything in your life. The point is to pick a few things you can do to change and do those. If you can’t do this entire list, pick one or two things and focus on them. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Small and simple changes can make a big difference in our childrens’ lives.