by Janice Welch
Food is at the center of almost everything we do in our society. We don’t just use food to nourish our bodies; it has become the pinnacle of parties, celebrations, and holidays. It has simply become the single most important part of our lives. It’s not just enjoying the day at the beach; it is the giant ice cream cone from the boardwalk. It’s not just the trip to Grandma’s to enjoy the company of family, it is the home cooked feast and homemade pies for dessert. With this in mind, and with food being so hooked to our psyche, it is no wonder that parents are sent reeling when it comes to changing our child’s diet. Food is comfort to so many, and quite simply the worse the food is for our body, the more comforting it is to us (ice cream, cookies, bread, pasta, etc). When parents are asked to remove these foods that mean comfort to them, it is like asking them to throw away the child’s favorite stuffed animal. Sometimes I think we are convinced that it will be so hard on the child; that we give up before we have even started. I am not able to offer any foolproof method, but I can share some of my experiences and experiences of parents with whom I have met.
- Know yourself. If you are the type of person who likes to take everything on all at once, then the idea of taking things out gradually may not work at all for you. On the other hand, if you are a person who likes to prioritize and complete each task one at a time, then saying I am going to eliminate everything all at once may just be setting yourself up for failure. So most important is to know yourself, and trust yourself that the way everyone else is approaching diet may not be the way for you or your family.
- Be willing to make the changes in your own diet also. No child is going to understand why he or she can’t have something when their own parent is eating it right in front of them. Save the chocolate chip cookies until they are well tucked into bed. But in all honesty, if you want to see the importance of diet, and believe in it as a way of life for your whole family, all you need to do is get rid of these foods altogether. You will be amazed by the increase in energy, decrease in anxiety, and increase in mental clarity that eating a healthy diet can have on your own body. Once you believe in good food as the way you should nourish your body, you will start to cringe at the thought of your child eating preservatives, dyes, and tons of refined sugar. And once you get that in your head, the diet will become a mission for the well being of your children, and not just the one who has the issues you are trying to address.
- So now the problem will be getting your child to even try new things. Many parents feel cruel if a child skips a meal because they didn’t eat what was given to them. Look at hunger as an opportunity. I remember my little Nathan going to bed hungry because all he wanted was Cheerios and cheese to eat. For breakfast the next morning I fixed him steamed cauliflower covered in ghee and spices. He gobbled it up to my surprise, and since then it has been one of his favorite foods. It became his comfort food. If your child fights you on every new food, enlist the help of friends and family. I know that friends of mine who say that their child is very picky will eat the whole dinner I serve them at my house as long as the parent is not there, including the steamed broccoli. I learned this from my own daughter when she went to a preschool in England and the children had to eat the lunch that was served at the school. I never thought that my daughter would eat lamb stew, but she did, just like all the other kids did.
- Find your own favorite new recipes, and start them as a new family tradition. I remember making cookies with my Mom every Christmas. I cannot make the old family favorites, but I have a chance to start a new tradition with new family holiday baking. On that same token, volunteer at the school to provide snacks when possible. Then your child won’t be the odd one out. Also, provide recipes and ingredients to the teacher if they are making foods in the classroom.
- Finally, believe in yourself. Don’t listen to the well-meaning grandparent or friend who thinks that depriving the cookies and candies is somehow cruel. If you have made it this far in looking for a healthier diet to help your child, you are being a caring and responsible parent. Things won’t always be easy, and slip-ups will be made, but every step you make is important to you and your family. Don’t make food so important, instead reward them with time and attention, and if that doesn’t work reward them with a favorite toy or video. My biggest piece of advice is to love yourself and then your child, and the rest will come.