One of the biggest challenges for families who decide to adopt a healthier lifestyle is how to convince the kids to give up their favorite foods. After all, the kids weren’t in on this decision, and now they suddenly have to eat oatmeal instead of Coco Puffs. The following are some considerations for helping kids of different ages adapt to your new lifestyle.
First and foremost, is to establish your goals and reasons for your own lifestyle change. In a marriage, this should be a joint decision. Mom and Dad must be in agreement on this. Kids will fight tooth and nail to undermine the authority of mom or dad, but they recognize and respond better to united authority.
Secondly, be careful to have a positive attitude about the changes you are implementing. If your kids hear one of you complain about what you are eating and lamenting the loss of old eating habits, children will immediately see your own uncertainty and “play that card.”
Third, is to realize that children have used food as an area of power struggle since the advent of choice. You can expect some battles based on this alone. If you are really convinced that you are doing what is best for you and your family, then don’t waver from that decision, but show sympathy and consideration for the child who is required to adapt to it.
Now, with these things in mind, let’s talk a little more practical. I like the slogan, “Educate before you legislate.” Any child who can talk can understand your reasons for making changes if you can speak on their level. A family council might be in order for families with kids of school age and up. Share with your children (with mom and dad present) why you have made the decision to modify your eating habits. Then invite your kids to participate in planning for healthier eating. This process will likely take some time and several meetings. You didn’t learn about healthy eating in a few minutes and neither will they. You would be responsible to set the parameters; then they can choose foods that are within your allowances. If kids have choice, they will feel more empowered and less resentful about changes. Weekly menu planning is an excellent way to include the whole family in decisions.
As a suggested parameter, I like making healthy eating your habitual diet. Foods outside the definition of healthy (refined sugars, flours and oils) can be for special occasions. Your kids (and you) will have tons of opportunities to eat outside the boundaries of “healthy” as they and you participate in real life (school, birthday parties, holidays, eating out, etc.) So the meals planned for home, and the groceries brought into the house should mostly fit within your goals. You could take this a step further by inviting your kids to make a grocery list, and then participate in the shopping afterwards. (I remember giving my complaining middle school daughter the responsibility of planning the meals for the week. I then gave her the job of making a grocery list and shopping for the groceries. I gave her a set amount of money that she could spend. I still recall the intense look on her face as she walked through the store with the calculator in one hand and her list in the other. This real life experience helped her realize the weight of responsibility of weekly food shopping and preparation.)
Another way to include kids in decision making is to let them look through cookbooks, pick out a recipe and join you in the preparation, or if they are old enough, they can fix dinner for mom and dad. My son and I had many wonderful conversations together in the kitchen from about fifth grade through his junior year. (Then he got too busy with sports and girls.) He liked to cook more than any of my three daughters, so he was a great helper and friend. I encourage you to invite your kids, males and females, into the kitchen with you as soon as they can safely cut up cucumbers. (My son makes homemade bread, holiday pies and Saturday morning pancakes for his family now.)
For very young children, I like the idea of making food fun. If you arrange fresh strawberries and bananas into a face on a whole grain pancake, and add a dollop of unsweetened yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup, your kids won’t rebel at the idea of “healthy” eating. If you are trying to convert them from Jiffy peanut butter and jelly on white bread to organic natural peanut butter and whole fruit spread or honey on whole grain, then take the edge off by cutting the sandwiches into fun shapes. (Remember also that you have included them at least somewhat in the decision making within your parameters.) Make a list of healthy foods and let them choose from that.
Healthy snack ideas for kids include organic peanut butter or almond butter on bananas, whole grain crackers with organic cheese, dried fruit, (Make sure your raisins are organic since they rank at the top of the list along with peanuts as the most highly pesticide-laden foods,) fresh fruit, pears and cheese or apple and cheese, raw vegetables with peanut butter or a yogurt or hummus based dip. In times past, a typical after school snack might be a sweet potato with butter. A piece of Ezekiel bread with butter or nut butter would be very sustaining. Stay away from salted and roasted nuts. The best way to prepare nuts is soaked and raw or lightly roasted in the oven. Pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds can be prepared by stirring in 1 teaspoon of olive oil and roasting in a skillet on low heat until lightly brown and fragrant, or roasting dry in the oven or skillet, and may be lightly salted with sea salt. (These are usually available through co-ops or buying clubs.) For those who tolerate dairy, unsweetened organic yogurt with flax seed, fresh fruit such as blueberries and a drizzle of maple syrup or raw honey is delicious, (or add ¼ teaspoon vanilla instead of fruit.)
Finally, for kids who are old enough to understand, they should know if your decision comes from your conviction to honor God with your body. Invite them to do the same.