I have a 4-year-old son who I love like crazy. Part of my love for him is making sure he not only eats healthy, but he understands why it’s important to eat healthy. Why? So that he’s inspired to continue to make good choices throughout his whole life. Children’s brains need fats like high-quality butter, olive oil, nuts and seeds (unless there’s an allergy), avocadoes, and coconut oil. The brain is made up of cholesterol, EPA and DHA--the same fats found in fatty cold-water fish-- and thus needs those nutrients to grow healthfully. We now live in a nation where one in six children has a developmental delay or some type of ADD, which tells me our kids have altered brain chemistries and are grossly deficient in these nutrients. Toss in artificial colors, corn syrup, and trans fats and you’ve got the perfect storm for a poorly developing brain and a nation of poor achievers. This phenomenon will only continue to rise and become a pressing issue if we do not take serious action to set our children down the right path.
Kids have an inherent desire to eat what’s good for them; sometimes you just have to tease it out. When I first went into holistic nutrition, I worked with autistic children who were nonverbal and would not make any eye contact with me. All they ate were chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and maybe one other food, but no fruits and vegetables. Yet after educating the parents, those children would eat whatever was put in front of them. And it took three days of offering only healthy foods. This proved to be consistent with all the parents of special needs children I worked with. Whether you have a special needs child or not, you can overcome the trials and tribulations of a picky eater.
Here’s a story my friend Jen shared with me, whose son Murray was a very picky eater at age two:
“ I used to give Murray what he wanted to eat because I was afraid he’d lose weight if I didn’t. But he was still a picky eater so I decided that I would wait it out and try to make him healthier. I told myself that it wasn’t abuse since I was still offering him food and that he would not go hungry. Sure enough, after three days, he started eating whatever was put in front of him.”
Taking the first steps are always the hardest ones, so you may need to have an honest conversation with yourself and start exploring what has been dictating your food choices. Here are some simple questions to ask yourself before feeding your child:
1. Am I feeding my child what I want to feed him because it’s what I ate when I was a kid?
2. Am I afraid that my child won’t eat if I don’t give her what she wants?
3. Do I think my child won’t fit in with the other kids if I give him something healthy?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, it’s time to break free from the shackles of your mind and take a fresh approach to your child’s eating. Here are some simple guidelines to get you started.
Guidelines for Raising a Healthy Child:
1. It takes courage to go against the grain and have your child eat differently; it’s almost counter-culture these days. But it will also make you a better parent and set your child up for success. If you feel embarrassed about offering your kid carrots while everyone else is scarfing down Goldfish crackers, don’t give up—you may actually inspire other parents and children down the road.
2. Sit down at the table and eat with your child at meals. Children may not listen to what you say, but they sure as hell will watch what you do. Have them eat what you eat. I get my son to eat canned salmon because I put it on my plate and he wants to try it--he thinks it’s just delicious meat.
3. Have your child go shopping with you and pick what colors they’d like to eat. This not only helps them feel in control, but it’s a great teaching moment about the importance of fresh produce.
4. Have your child help you prepare one food item per day. Mashing avocadoes, washing strawberries, or making a marinade for meat are good starters. It may take you 5 minutes longer to get food on the table but it’s worth it in the long run.
5. Everyone is capable of change and healthful eating; you just need to believe you can all do it. Set your child up for success in this world by educating them on the importance of healthy food. Our children are our greatest asset—let’s protect our amazing investments!
Special thanks for Jen S. for sharing her story with me. In my next blog post, I'll discuss foods and supplements to give your kids. Stay tuned!