4 Ways to Teach Your Children To Make Healthy Food Choices


I'll admit it. For someone who always harps on the motto "Don't lie to kids," I am not above tricking them from time to time. My oldest son loves to tell the sob story of how, around age five, he was visiting some relatives and they offered him candy. He loved candy at home, but what they handed him was unlike anything he'd ever encountered. It was made of sugar. I'd tricked him by calling frozen peas "candy." I don't regret it.

Don't make a face or call social services. Frozen peas are actually a very refreshing treat in the worst heat of the summer. I'm not the only weirdo out there who knows this to be true.

While that white lie backfired on me pretty brutally, I must say that I'm not the only parent out there who tricks their kids. Turn on any ad aimed at parents involving vegetables, and the theme is "This product will help you trick your kid into eating vegetables." It's almost as if marketing companies have tricked parents into thinking all kids hate vegetables.

While we could all name a few foods we don't like, by and far the worst disservice to the American diet is the demonization of the vegetable. From the time we were kids, our own parents assumed we hated vegetables. Some adults you know probably clung to that idea, and it has lived on for too long.

Now, I'm not going to tell you there aren't nights when I am too tired to pull it together, so I reach into the freezer for a pre-made meal with ingredients I can't pronounce. And sometimes we're flat broke and we only have canned tomatoes and packaged noodles to live on. But, that isn't the norm, and when we have to eat that way, we all feel it in our moods and energy levels.

Perhaps the smartest thing I have done as a parent (at least when it comes to food), is that I have always involved my sons in every process of food preparation, from reading labels, comparison shopping, and preparing the food safely, to teaching them how to really get the most out of your leftovers.

1. Teach Them to Cook:
From the time they were old enough to sit up, they've been in the kitchen with me. They made huge messes, but without even realizing it, they learned basic cooking skills that make it possible for them to prepare a meal on their own.

2. Teach Them To Shop

In the grocery store, I tricked them into thinking of shopping as a game. If you're a single parent and you've ever had to take your kids to the store with you, you know that you can go from sane to wondering if it would be such a crime to just abandon them in the parking lot.

Early on, I would send them on competition missions. If we needed cereal, they had to go read the cereal boxes and return to me with the cereal they believed would fit the bill. The first rule was that the main ingredient couldn't be corn. We were looking for low sugar, high fiber, with a decent amount of protein. The reward for picking the best one was simply that we would buy the winner's cereal. (An added bonus was my praise if the item was priced well.)

3. Treat Their Taste With Respect

If they didn't like a certain vegetable, I didn't force them to eat that vegetable. We simply did our research and found a vegetable that they did like with similar nutritional value. I have also made a point of leaving vegetable preparations up to them. This doesn't mean they boil and butter everything. They get creative with vegetable recipes, and at dinner time they are proud to serve and eat their recipes.

4. Put Them In Charge

These days, now that they're older, I will send them to the store with $10 and tell them that we need a vegetable, protein and starch. It is their mission to plan a meal and keep it on budget. You'd be surprised how easy that is to do.

Like any grand experiment, you can't know what the outcome is going to be for many years. Who knows? Maybe they'd turn on me and sneak Cheetos in their rooms at night. Maybe they'd eventually tune out my constant harping about proper nutrition. But the proof is in the pudding packs, or lack thereof.

So, when my kids came home from the store last week in the middle of a heated debate over the purchase of fortified bread, with one of them insisting that they should have bought the whole grain since it is naturally fortified and unprocessed, and the other arguing that the price difference justified his choice, I felt a twang of parental pride. And for the record, I agree with the kid who wanted the whole wheat.

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One trick my dad used to do is have me pretend I was a dinosaur. So with Broccoli he would be like: "you're a brontosaurus! Eat the trees!" And with a chicken he would be like "you're an Allosaurus hunting your prey! RRAAARR!!!"

Eventually I got so good at it that he locked me behind an electric fence and would just chain up goats for me.

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Another great ritual that always makes the food taste better is making it yourself at home! I've always found that to be more rewarding...and you can make it a fun family activity and get everyone involved. I found some great, simple, easy to use recipes at http://www.makefood.info