We all want to be healthy. And we all want our kids to become healthy eaters. But according to this report on NPR about high blood pressure in children, we are failing.
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).
• Children are becoming increasingly hyperactive due to non-food additives in what they eat.
Our kids can’t become healthy eaters if we’re eating edible food-like substances instead of food
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 my book, Your Baby, Your Way: Taking Charge of Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Parenting Decisions for a Happier, Healthier Family, Michael Klaper, M.D., lamented that much of our daily diet in America is made of “edible, food-like substances,” a phrase he borrowed from journalist and food author Michael Pollan.
Dr. 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 of becoming healthy eaters, they get overweigh, unhappy, and ill.
Food rules to help your kids become healthy eaters
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 journalist and food writer Michael Pollan puts it:
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? Put it back on the shelf.
In addition to lots of fresh vegetables (greens are especially good) and fruits, it is better to eat whole or sprouted grains not refined highly-processed flours. Whole wheat pasta is better for you than white pasta, brown rice contains more nutrients than polished white rice.
Why Americans don’t eat real food
It seems pretty easy and straightforward to eat stuff our grandparents and great grandparents recognized as food. But somehow it’s not.
1) As consumers it is easy to get duped: Many products that are advertised as “healthy” and “natural.” They are actually food-like substances laden with additives and artificial dyes.
2) Manufacturers want their “food” products to last … forever: 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.
3) We seek out the comfort foods we grew up with: For me it was Apple Jacks and Chef Boyardee.
4) It’s hard to change family habits: We all mistake doing things the same way for doing things the best or healthiest way. I feed my kid X and he’s fine, we tell ourselves, ignoring the fact that he’s missed whole weeks of school due to illness, has been getting bad reports from his coaches, and has a face full of acne though he’s only 10 years old.
5) “Food” products are relentlessly advertised to kids. Kids fuss. They nag. We buy them the crap food they think they want. We don’t mean to poison our children. We just want harmony at home.
So what’s a conscientious parent 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 gall bladder 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 to become healthy eaters:
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
3 of my favorite places to learn more about kids and food:
1. Center for Science in the Public Interest
2. 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)
3. Vani Hari, aka Food Babe. She has a wealth of helpful and important information on her site. (And in her books.)
Are you trying to improve your eating habits and become healthy eaters? What do you do as a family to eat healthy?
Published: May 14, 2012
Last update: January 22, 2020