How Do You Encourage Your Family To Become Healthier Eaters?

There was a report on NPR this morning about high blood pressure in children.

Though obesity in children may be slightly abating, according to NPR, one third of America’s children are overweight or obese.

I’ve also read that:

Diabetes is on the rise in the youngest Americans,

• Doctors are seeing children with severe potty problems (one doctor writes of a 3-year-old with a grapefruit-sized mass blocking her rectum and a recent study shows that constipation among children has more than doubled in the last ten years), and

Children are becoming increasingly hyperactive due to non-food additives in what they eat.

EDIBLE FOOD-LIKE SUBSTANCES

It’s not just that kids are eating too much and not exercising enough, it’s that what we’re all eating really isn’t food.

One doctor I interviewed for the book I’m writing, Michael Klaper, M.D., lamented that much of our daily diet in America is made of “edible, food-like substances.”

Klaper is worried about how little attention most doctors pay to nutrition. I asked him for an interview him after I read this quote from him:

“What’s really tragic about this is that we were so busy learning how to fix broken arms, deliver babies and do all of those ‘doctor’ things in medical school that we considered nutrition to be boring. But after we get into practice, we spend most of the day treating people with diseases that have huge nutritional components that have long been essentially ignored. I frequently get calls from doctors across the country saying that their patients are asking questions about nutrition and its role in their conditions and they don’t know what to tell them.”

If you put the wrong kind of gas in your car, it won’t go.

If we fill our children up with edible food-like substances, they gain weight but they do not grow and thrive. Instead, they get sick.

FOOD RULES

It’s one thing to know what we should be eating, but it’s another to actually eat it.

The food rules are pretty simple. As Michael Pollan puts it:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

We need to feed our families whole, fresh foods.

The closer they are to their natural state the better.

Eat a potato, skip the potato chips.

Choose an apple over an apple-flavored fruit roll-up.

Fresh blueberries? Yes!

A Betty Crocker product that advertises it contains blueberries but actually contains “fruit-flavored clusters” and no fruit of any kind? Yuck!

In addition to lots of fresh vegetables (greens are especially good) and fruits, we need to eat whole grains not refined highly-processed foods. Whole wheat pasta is better for you than white pasta, brown rice contains more nutrients than polished white rice.

WHY WE AMERICANS DON’T EAT FOOD

It seems pretty easy and straightforward to eat stuff our grandparents and great grandparents recognized as food. But somehow it’s not.

Here’s why:

1) Many products that are advertised as “healthy” and “natural.” They are actually food-like substances laden with additives and artificial dyes. As consumers it is easy to get duped.

2) Many products advertised as “whole grain” actually contain very little, if any, whole grain flour.

3) Most of what you find in a conventional supermarket has a long shelf life and is full of things to make sure it does not rot. (Mold inhibitor is added to bread, for example.) Those fillings are just. not. good. for. you. or. your. kids.

4) We seek out the comfort foods we grew up with. For me it was Apple Jacks and Chef Boyardee.

5) It’s hard to change family habits.

6) Kids are picky and so many products are advertised towards kids. They nag. We buy them. We don’t mean to poison our children. We just want harmony at home.

SO WHAT’S A CONSCIENTIOUS MOM TO DO?

A few days ago my son was eating candy, my daughter was chewing gum (most chewing gum contains plastic) and I was too tired to do more than open a can of soup and throw some whole wheat bread in the toaster.

In the last six months my mom died, my book manuscript was due, and my husband had to have emergency surgery. Ever since my mom died, I’ve found it hard to cook, an activity I usually enjoy. Lately I feel like I’ve been failing pretty miserably at my we-need-to-eat-healthier-as-a-family goal, so I asked my wise friends to advise me.

Here are 11 of their excellent suggestions on how your family can eat healthier:

1) Only keep healthy food in the house: “The biggest thing for me has been only keeping healthy foods in the house. If the junk isn’t there, they can’t eat it. I always offer my little ones healthy options for snacks–such as fruits and veggies–and always with a positive tone and very matter-of-fact. My girls love eating carrots, apples, kale chips, salad, raw nuts… And they almost always drink water. I don’t keep juice, soda, or other sugary drinks in the house at all. If you limit what’s available and don’t make a big stink about eating healthy, they will think it’s normal and just how it’s meant to be.” –Grace Magnum Fox

2. Plan ahead: “For me, it has been a commitment to plan and prepare meals using real, whole foods. (no ingredients list!) it takes time to think ahead about meal planning and time to soak, defrost and do some prep … but ultimately it’s SO worth it. Real, homemade food tastes incredible and ultimately is friendlier on the budget.” –Emily Green

3. Eat together as a family: “Taking time to eat together as a family is a huge challenge in our modern culture–but I think it goes a long way toward building healthy eating routines. My advice to young parents would be to strive have family meals as a priority. Even if every family member cannot be at the table for every dinner . . . try to find time away from dance classes and sports practices for the family meal. With older kids and teenagers it gets crazy–but almost all families can commit to 4 family meals together a week.” –Jeanne Chouard

4. Shop right: “Healthy eating (and willpower) starts at the grocery store. Buy healthy stuff and that’s what you’ll eat!” –Sarah Jane Nelson Millan

5. Make it fun to eat: “Making food look cute and appealing goes a long way towards getting kids to eat it, which is why cooking in muffin tins is a great way to make healthy foods for kids.” –Brette Sember

6. Grow your own: Homegrown fruits or veggies, even if it’s just veggie sprouts in a jar, increases children’s exposure to these foods and they are more inclined to eat them.” –Cara Anthony (who has an amazing green thumb. I’ve seen her garden!)

7. Add healthy extras: “I went through a period when my little one would eat nothing but pancakes she could hold in her hand. I used to ask her what color she’d like and then we’d find a fresh vegetable to match that color: carrots, spinach or whatever. I’d put the fresh vegetable into a blender with an egg and a bit of matzah meal, or corn meal then pour the batter (pancake) on a teflon skillet. I knew she was getting three food groups in that one pancake.” –Carren Strock

8. Make it fun to eat right: “Silently encourage your kids to eat more veggies by making them fun finger foods. Make a healthy dip of organic plain yogurt, chopped cucumbers, celery salt, and dill or other spices. Then cut up mini broccoli and call them ‘trees,’ slice baby carrots into pirate gold.” –Sheryl Kraft

9. Talk about healthy eating with your kids: “From a really young age we always try to educate our children about healthy eating. It usually starts with teaching them the color green to begin with, that they have to eat something green at meals. Then we usually move onto the “bank account system” and teach that healthy foods put nutrients into the bank, while junk food takes them out. We might illustrate the point with marbles in a jar, or pennies in the penny bank. If we take too much out and there is nothing left, then if we continue to eat junk food, our body uses stuff from itself to work, and our bodies stop working. By the time they are 8 our children have been taught how the body works and how we absord nutrients, as well as how to recongnize colorings, sugars, etc.” –Christina Fletcher

10. Let them help you cook: “Involving my kids in shopping and cooking makes them more excited about what we’re eating. My guys (4.5-year-old twins) love to rinse, chop, measure, pour, and whisk.” –Suzanne Schlosberg

11. Take your kids to the farmers’ market: “Take kids to the farmer’s market and let them pick fruits and veggies that look appealing to them. (Sometimes it’s fun to let them pick something you haven’t tried before and then go home and try to figure out how to cook it!)” –Mary Margulis-Ohnuma

Related posts:
Don’t Eat My Brocolli!
The Amazing Banana Opening Trick Video
Eat Your Age in Salad

Three of my Favorite Sites Where You Can Learn More About Kids and Food:
Spoonfed: Raising kids to think about the foods they eat
Center for Science in the Public Interest
Super Baby Food (This book is a bit chaotic but it has excellent information for kids and grownups & is a must-have for families, I think)

Are you trying to improve your eating habits? What do you do as a family to eat healthy? What do you think of these ideas?

Categories: food.

19 Responses to How Do You Encourage Your Family To Become Healthier Eaters?

  • Alexandra
    May 14, 2012

    Blueberries, yes. But, wait. ORGANIC blueberries. I’ve heard that since blueberries became so popular, the ordinary ones have pesticide residue, too. Buy organic. That’s what I keep repeating to my son and his wife. I know its a bit more expensive, but it makes such a difference.

  • Your PlusSizePregnancy
    May 14, 2012

    These are great tips. I have to confess that after I finished writing my last cookbook, I did not feel like cooking for months and months. As long as you have good “food morality” as I call it, your kids will be fine. And a piece of gum or candy now and then is not the end of the world.

  • jbunny
    May 15, 2012

    Excellent tips – my favorite is ‘make it fun to eat right’. Sometimes you don’t notice how much your kids model you. If they see you making a face at eating vegetables or saying things like ‘I wish I could have cookies,’ they are going to model this behavior. If your kids see you enjoying healthy food, they will too!

  • The Q Dot
    May 15, 2012

    Point #3, eating together as a family, can be the stem from which all the other points blossom. It is difficult, however, without what every novel has, Beginning, Rising Action, Climax, Denouement, and Ending. Many excellent dinners peter out at the end, as whoever ate the fastest, was the most bored, or felt most antisocial simply split off until there is left one only, usually the provider who also has to do the dishes. A weak ending is one of the novelist’s greatest crimes.
    Idea: End the meal with a formal reading. In my childhood it was the bible, but religion need not be become a paddle. Read through Hamlet one act per meal, or anything that has (1) continuity, (2) broad yet classic appeal, and (3) is not trite, such as ‘inspirational’ calendars :P .
    Once the habit is established, it unfolds into a forum for a multitude of other good habits. When the youngest (or least respected) member of the family is invited to do the reading, it can change his world.

  • Christine
    May 15, 2012

    I know how hard it is to eat well when you have so much going on – and you definitely have had a lot to deal with.

    I’ve been enjoying this book, French Kids Eat Everything, which has a lot of interesting stories about the ways that French parents teach food appreciation to children – food not just as a way to nourish our bodies but to enhance our lives. The lesson I took away from that, as well as from our time living abroad, was to treat food and eating as a whole balanced experience, and not to demonize certain foods or ingredients. Everything in moderation. I also like that the author calls attention to the issue of food insecurity, which is such a problem in our country for so many.

  • Kerry Dexter
    May 16, 2012

    The combination of making it fun, involving your family, and now and then focusing on educating about healthy eating show up in your tips, and that a combination that has worked for us. I’d add, give it time. once kids — and adults — begin eating whole foods, the processed stuff just doesn’t taste that great. it’s a good idea to identify whole foods that you can use as treats too — making carrots into pirate swords, as Sheryl Kraft said ain the tips, can owrk — rather than falling back on processed foods for that.
    Kerry Dexter recently posted…Some Bright Morning from Rani Arbo & daisy mayhemMy Profile

  • HeatherL
    May 16, 2012

    These are all good sound ideas. Hopefully I will be able to put some of them into practice.

  • Living Large
    May 16, 2012

    Involving kids in the shopping and cooking is very important, according to the nutritionists I’ve interviewed for articles on this subject. If kids feel involved in the process, they will try more things and in the end, become not only healthier eaters, but more adventurous as well.

  • Sheryl
    May 16, 2012

    All such great tips (thanks for including mine!) Now that my kids are older, it IS heartwarming to see that the healthy habits I tried to instill in them – even though I thought, at the time, that they were falling on deaf ears – are now surfacing. So rewarding!

  • merr
    May 16, 2012

    I would also venture that not saying a word can be a way to show, not tell (like in writing!) kids what healthy eating looks like. Modeling, so to speak.

  • MyKidsEatSquid
    May 16, 2012

    I had a lunch date with my youngest in her school cafeteria and I was amazed at what the kids were eating–the school meal was mini corn dogs, canned peaches, and what appeared to be baked beans. I saw kids going back for seconds…of the corn dogs. I pack my daughter’s lunch so I know what she’s eating. Her lunch isn’t always 100% healthy, but I try to keep the processed foods to a minimum and help my kids enjoy a variety. I hear you on this one.

  • Donna Hull
    May 16, 2012

    I agree wit merr that modeling is the best teacher when it comes to children. Eat healthy and they’ll eat healthy. It’s not always so easy with today’s hectic lifestyle.

    Recently, I’ve become interested in gluten-free cooking. I’m also curious about the philosophy (and science) behind the Wheat Belly Diet. Have you researched that? The idea that our grains have evolved over the centuries into a product that is doing our bodies harm is an interesting concept.
    Donna Hull recently posted…Dining outdoors at Tohono Chul Tea RoomMy Profile

  • ruth pennebaker
    May 17, 2012

    I’m just back from a trip to the rural South and was appalled at the size of people there; almost everyone was overweight. We hurry so much as a people, never lingering over meals, which leads to so many bad choices. I knew we had a problem, but now I’m freshly convinced it’s an emergency.
    ruth pennebaker recently posted…Heroes and Other Funny PeopleMy Profile

  • Cindy Bauman
    May 17, 2012

    These are wonderful tips! After reading Sheryl’s advice about the broccoli “mini trees” (love that!) and the baby carrot “pirate gold”, it reminds me of how much fun my son has eating “ants on a log”, which is so much more adventurous than it’s generic name: “peanut butter and raisins on a celery stick”.

    Another thing I do to counteract the peer pressure that my son feels when he sees other kids eating highly processed “food-stuffs” is to express my concern for the other child. For example, the other day Justin came bursting through the front door, exclaiming with utter joy that a boy on the bus had been eating “Hot Cheetos” for breakfast. My response was,
    “Ohhh dear, that’s really too bad. Hmm. Well, maybe he had some apples in his lunch box.” I also pack extra snacks in my son’s lunch so he can share them if he wants to. This helps him to feel both generous, as well as part of the crowd.

  • Jane Boursaw
    May 21, 2012

    Love seeing all the healthy eating tips and faces that go with them. I like Pollan’s easy to remember rules. Eating well is really pretty simple when you get right down to it.
    Jane Boursaw recently posted…Miley Cyrus at the 2012 Billboard Music Awards: Valley of the Dolls Meets Desperate HousewivesMy Profile

  • Vanessa Kerr
    May 22, 2012

    When my best friend died in a tragic car accident a year ago, during the first months after her death I noticed that I was feeding my kids foods that I never did before. One of those items was Tostinos pizza. My friend loved creating wonderful plant based dishes and when I was sad I would shout out, “Look what you are making me do?? I am feeding my family processed, looks-like-it-might-be-real pizza that costs $1.25 because you are not here with me!” When I mentioned this to my therapist she reminded me that instead of thinking of the negatives, that when I make food that I used to for my family to think of her and be reminded of all the positive memories I have with her eating delicious food. When we have so much emotional stuff and busy time stuff going on it’s all we can manage to find the energy to consume food. I’m sorry to hear about your Mother’s death. You are amazing, keep up the good work!

    • Jennifer Margulis
      May 23, 2012

      Vanessa, thank you so much for this comment. I am so sad to hear that your best friend died in a car accident. Our dear friends lost their older son (he was 18) in a car accident last year. Another dear friend lost her son (he was 17) several years ago. He was just about to go to college and aspired to be a food scientist. Cars terrify me.

      My mom loved to make huge batches of food and feed lots of people. Her four children were a bit heartless (she was known not to thoroughly wash the spinach and undercook the chicken) but cooking was a big part of her life and a source of great enjoyment for her. Reading your comment makes me think that maybe one of the reasons I’ve been having so much trouble cooking is because I miss her so much. Your therapist gave you wise advice!

      Thanks for your comment, and your kind words. They are much appreciated.

  • sarah henry
    June 2, 2012

    Jennifer don’t be too hard on yourself about feeding your kids well, especially with all that you’ve had going on. Truth is, I think we’ve complicated food in a way that isn’t necessary and sometimes the simplest meals are the most nourishing and satisfying. Eggs, wholegrain toast, and salad makes a perfectly health and delicious supper.
    sarah henry recently posted…Growing Cities: An Edible Field Trip and Urban Farm FilmMy Profile

  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi
    December 2, 2013

    For me, #1 is the key. If you don’t have unhealthy stuff in the house, no one will be able to eat it without extra effort.
    Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi recently posted…What does your morning coffee have to do with your DNA?My Profile

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