Monday, February 15, 2016

Eating with Children

Healthy Eating Habits

A Parenting Journey

When my family eats together in a restaurant, it is not uncommon for me to receive compliments from fellow diners about my daughter's interest in fine food. Most of these diners are parents who find it challenging to get their own children to eat well.  This is surprising to me. My child eats well, but don't most?

Like many youngsters, my daughter perks up when I make plans to dine at the local pizza parlor or burger joint, (those french fries -- oh boy!)  But she is equally excited about enjoying pad thai, or chicken vindaloo, or hearty Vietnamese pho, or pork saltimbocca, or ramen. And at home, her big request these days -- baked cauliflower; it's on our dinner menu 2-3 days a week (try it -- just drizzle with olive oil, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper, and bake for 20-25 min, so easy, so good!).

When I receive comments about my daughter's impressive eating, I am never sure how to react.  There is no special trick to getting her to eat well, she does so simply because she has only been exposed to foods that are healthful and well-prepared. I have long believed that children's food should not be that dissimilar from adults. And yes, I will admit that I am one of those parents that proudly boasts about having a daughter who has never had fast food (at rest areas, when traveling, I always opt for the healthier sandwiches and fruit cups at the Starbuck's kiosk). But, that said, my daughter's eating habits are by no means a great stressor in our lives. She eats what we eat, and we eat well.

It's simple:  if given a choice, children do not naturally gravitate to the most healthy options.  But, if healthy options are the only options offered (mostly) then that is what they will learn to love. Like everything else, eating is learned behavior.

In my family, when eating dinner at home, I serve a protein or a pasta -- chicken cutlets, pot roast, pasta marinara, and so on.  But, always included with these main dishes are a dark green vegetable; I prefer bitter greens such as Kale, Swiss Chard or Broccoli Rabe.  After this, there is always a large salad course.  So now, at home or otherwise, when my daughter looks down on a plate that does not include both a vegetable or a salad, she thinks it is unusual. And it is unusual, for her.

Children seem to receive a lot of messages --  from peers, from the media, even from adults -- that they shouldn't enjoy vegetables, that they should be suspicious of them. But this can be turned around, and can be easily, by ensuring that our children are inheriting our vibrant eating habits. And then, without sounding silly, we should expect to hear comments like "there aren't enough vegetables here" or "when is the salad course?" when the balance is off.


Like everyone else, I love a tasty dessert.  But, as a forty-something year old, if I expect to remain in my current pant size, I have to limit myself. So, in my house, aside from the occasional box of organic vanilla wafers,  there aren't many dessert options in our pantry at any given time. On weeknights/school nights, dessert is limited mostly to a bowl of yogurt or better yet, fruit. Ice cream is a treat that is reserved for a weekend night, as a special treat. This is our normal, isn't it everyone's?

And, if you ask my daughter, candy is a VERY special treat.  Hard candy, in particular, is simply dangerous for children -- it's a huge choking hazard, especially when eaten while running around.  So, on the rare occasion that my daughter is allowed to eat hard candy, I require that she remain safely seated at a table. An added benefit to this rule --  the candy is usually discarded long before it is finished.

Also, before taking a pieces of candy, my daughter must promise to  "double brush" -- meaning that she must brush her teeth twice as long as normal later, or before bedtime.  This not only makes her conscious of the effects the sugar can have on other parts of her body, but also on what it can have on her dentals.

So the next time someone makes a comment to me about how well my daughter eats, I can share this (somewhat didactic) post with them, it's simple -- that my daughter eats what we eat.

And that worked for us.

Be well!

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