Monday, November 7, 2011

Educate your children to make healthy food choices!

I make a point of watching Jamie Oliver’s - Food Revolution with my kids. He does a great job of explaining, through example, why we need to make healthier choices about our food. I figure having someone else back up the choices we’re making at home reinforces what they’re learning from Good Ol’ Mom.
As we watched Jamie try to change the school lunch menu in the first season, my older son asked me, “Is this why you don’t let me buy school lunches?” 
Our school actually does a great job of providing a fresh salad bar with a large selection of fresh fruits and vegetables, but they only allow the kids ten minutes in which to eat before ushering them out the door and bringing in the next group of kids. I know that’s not enough time for my child to wait in line, get his food, sit down and actually eat. Instead he brings a healthy lunch in re-useable containers. This way he can snack throughout the day, and not get hungry, and I can see what comes home un-eaten. I asked him whether the kids at school choose the healthy foods or the junk foods from the hot lunch counters. 
“They definitely ALWAYS choose the junk food, Mom!”  
When Jamie filled up a giant school bus with sugar, to demonstrate how much sugar was being consumed by children in the L.A. school district - each week - in flavored milk alone, my son turned, wide eyed, to me and said, “Some of the kids at my school drink TWO flavored milks a day! That must fill TWO school buses!”
The most impressionable episode for both of my sons, however, was when Jamie demonstrated the crazy hidden ingredients found in an ice cream sundae, by piling an oversized ice-cream dish with beetles, duck feathers, human hair, and chicken fat, to illustrate all the stabilizers and thickeners commonly found in commercial candies and flavored syrups, not to mention, many ice-creams. Not only did it disgust the kids in the demonstration, mine were thoroughly appalled. 
At the beginning of October, we were at a fall festival, when a woman at a real estate booth offered the boys a lollipop and a box of Milk Duds. My older son looked at her skeptically and said he wasn’t sure if Jamie Oliver would approve of Milk Duds as a healthy choice. She smiled at him innocently and replied, “You know, when I go to a movie theater, I like to buy a giant bucket of popcorn and pour a whole box of Milk Duds over it, and then I drink it all down with an ice cold Coca-Cola.”
My son looked bewildered and replied, “That sounds very unhealthy to me!”
This past week, after having a fabulous time trick-or-treating, my boys were obviously interested in all the candy they’d acquired. I was torn about what to do with it and waited to see how long the fixation would last. On Tuesday, they came home and asked if they could have a piece and I let them each have one. They asked if they could play with it, and I said yes, but I didn’t want them eating any more at that time.
From the other room I heard them singing, “It’s an evil candy party, It’s an evil candy party,” and then they’d throw the candy up in the air . As it spilled out of their pumpkin buckets, I listened to them joke that their plastic Jack-O-Lanterns were throwing up from too much candy.
On Wednesday, my older son came home and announced, “Mom! At school they have a giant bucket, and you can put all of your Halloween candy in there and they give it away!”
“Really?...” I asked. “Is this something you’d both like to do?”
“Yes!” They both replied enthusiastically.
I decided to act right away, for fear they’d change their minds! We played a game of “Snack Math,” dividing the candies into categories and counting which ones were the most popular - they were thrilled to discover that they had 83 pieces of candy between the two of them. Then we drove the candy to their school, and they happily poured it into the bucket and haven’t asked about it since.
People frequently ask me, as a trainer, how I handle my kids requests for treats. The long and the short of it is, I don’t deprive them, and I educate them so they can make wise personal decisions. They have treats during celebrations, special occasions and sometimes for no other reason than it’s fun to indulge in something sweet. I usually try to provide something made from home so we know it’s been made with decent ingredients. I’ve also taught them about reading labels and they understand that, “If you can’t read it, you shouldn’t eat it.”
Most importantly, I lead by example. I’ve found that in teaching them to think about what they’re eating now, while they’re still young, they’ve come to make educated choices all on their own.