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Giving Kids Empowerment Over Healthy Choices

As parents, we strive to optimize our children’s health and success in life.  We find ourselves up late at night reading articles about happiness, wellness, and removing chemicals, as well as researching the best education plans.  It’s exhausting. And even after we have spent hours determining the best laid plan, our children then fight it.

We see it all the time.  A parent has worked hard to plan a meal, grocery shop, and prep a healthy alternative, only to have their children refuse to eat it.  Then comes the parent’s emotional response of anger, hurt, or frustration.  Arguments occur, resentment builds, and no one is the healthier in the long run.

Kids want control, and routine.  They like knowing what is coming next.  They are also learning how to gain a voice and how to stand up for themselves.  They do not like hearing phrases like “have to” or “can’t.”  So how do you get them to eat healthier?  It’s a struggle.

Education is so important, and while this ideally would start in the school–and there are some great initiatives to teach children healthy eating–creating a home environment that is healthy is great too!

So what to do about it?

Take small steps.  ANY healthy change is a good one.  Children learn through doing and seeing. Model healthy choices yourself.  Talk to your kids about why you are drinking a smoothie or eating broccoli.  Explain the importance of vitamins and nutrients.  Offer them the choice to try it.  Say something like, “ I am eating this broccoli because it is good for my body and my mind, and I want to be the best Mommy (or Daddy) I can be.  Do you want to try?”  They may say no, but keep offering it, and they will eventually say yes.

Start a garden or enroll in a cooking class.  In Bergen County, we have an excellent program called Health Barn that provides family classes in nutrition education.  Have your children pick out what they want to grow, and then plant some seeds in a pot.  You will be shocked at what your children will eat when they had something to do with its creation.

Encourage them to help you in the kitchen.  Give them some beans to split, lettuce to tear.  Talk to them about creating the rainbow in a salad; facilitate the environment for them to create.  Make this a family affair one night a week.  Have them pick a menu or new recipe to try.  The more you are able to have them become part of the process, the easier it will be.

But, don’t push it.  If he or she says no, have him or her take a bite and leave it. Present new foods all the time and talk about trying things, but not having to like everything.  If you get into a power struggle, especially with a stubborn eater, he or she wins.  Instead, create a food journal for him or her, to connect with what he or she likes about foods.

The most important part is communication. Talk to your kids how their bodies feel after eating a salad versus eating a candy bar.  Help them make the connection between healthy foods and healthy feelings.  Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and they will ultimately connect that the “feel good” foods will help their bodies, and then begin making healthy choices.

Here are some healthy cooking resources for kids:

Kid Chef Cookbook

Health Barn USA

Kids Cook Real Food

Let us know how you’re doing!
Contact Behaved Brain Wellness Center for a private family consultation.

Katie Gately
Behaved Brain Wellness Center
Healthier Kids – Happier Parents