Monday, June 1, 2009

Getting Kids to Eat Healthy-An Experiment

Okay, I totally blew it with teaching my kids to eat healthy. I fed them a variety of foods when they were babies. (I made their baby food.) They had great appetites. I have always served healthy dinners, so I figured that they would just take to table foods with no problem. As they grew, I routinely let them help me prepare meals. They go grocery shopping with me and help pick the fruits and veggies we buy. We have a garden that they help weed and harvest. But somewhere in that transition from baby foods, to table foods, they became picky about everything... color, crust, texture, and so on. My toddler used to complain about the crust on waffles! I'm still trying to figure out what went wrong. But, as a parent, I have to assume some responsibility.

It was somewhere in the toddler years, I think. One season my daughter couldn't get enough blueberries, and the next she won't touch them. I figured this was a phase. So I tried to play it down and just keep offering. But things only got worse, to the point where, at dinner time, my two older kids only wanted milk and bread. I could only take so much of this. What's the point of cooking, when they don't even appreciate it?

I didn't want to force them to eat healthy foods. But, I didn't want them to get away with bread and milk whenever they didn't like the dinner spread. So, I chose the road somewhere in between. It's a choice, a choice between eating the meal, or not eating the meal.

Here's what I did. At dinner, before we started eating, I told them they were not making healthy eating choices and as their parent, I had the responsibility to help them make the right choices since their father and I are paying for their health care and because we LOVE THEM! I informed them of some new rules that would be implemented immediately and would remain in effect until they could make healthy choices on their own:
  • At each meal they are required to eat a fruit or vegetable (from what I have prepared for the meal) before they can have milk* or a grain product (if it's part of the meal). I usually specify the amount of the fruit of veggie they should eat before they get what they want. If it's something they really don't like (broccoli), they have to at least try it.
  • Water is a wild card. They can have all the water they want.
  • If they do not want to eat what is on the table, they can wait until the next meal.
I'm sounding like a harsh tyrant. I'll blame it on reading 1984. It's still in my system, I guess.

I've been doing this for 2 weeks now. The results are worth it. During the first three days, there was a lot of howling in our home around meal times. Then it hit the kiddos: Mom and Dad are serious! Now, they are trying foods they have never tried since they were 3. My oldest son had carrots! My daughter had a blueberry smoothie! She still won't touch whole blueberries, but it's a step in the right direction. There are still meals where my daughter will not eat anything but water, but it's no more than once a day, since hunger is a great motivator.

*The reason I'm so strict on milk is because my kids love it... and too much can plug you up... if you know what I mean. The basic idea is to use what they like to motivate them to try something new.

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