4 Truths When It Comes to Empowering Kids to Eat Healthy Food
1. Share but don’t compare
The Parent’s Role
As parents or guardians of children, we are responsible over many things. Helping our kids navigate health is so important. Especially in a world with so many options and too many confusing labels.
They are not born knowing what they should and should not eat for their body’s health nor how to navigate nutrition around them. That is our job.
In America, there are so many confusing messages about food. It is important that we empower our kids how to navigate these messages. Kids form their ideas about real food and nutrition at a very young age and parents play a vital role in this
You do not have to know everything in order to know something. You simply have to take responsibility to guide your kids and help them understand their bodies in relation to food.
Don’t let the “not knowing” keep you from learning. Ask your kids to join you in learning and do it together!
Even if you do not know much about health, you can teach them that food is what gives them nutrients for their body and is one of the main reasons why we eat.
The Kid’s Role
Kids who are empowered to eat healthy, will experience a tension between what they eat and what others may eat if there is a difference.
If your child comes to you and is concerned about what someone else is eating, let them know that it is that child’s parent or guardian’s responsibility to teach them nutrition, not your child.
When we first started talking about food to our kids, a few of them quickly became their school’s “kid food cop”, telling their classmates why they should eat kale. (Bless them…it is tricky having a mom as a health coach) But I remind them often that it is not their job to inform all the kids in the school.
So what can they do? They can positively inform those who ask. When classmates see green vegetables in your kids lunch and ask them “Do you really like that?”, your kids can tell them yes and how that vegetable helps their bodies. I remind my kids that they can “share but don’t compare”.
2. They are NOT what they eat
Real and Healthy keeps the body strong
When you talk to your kids about what to eat, you always want to connect it to their health and well being, not to their identity.
We are made up of so much more than what we eat. However, what we eat does effect how strong or healthy our bodies can be.
Instead of categorizing foods into “bad” and “good”. We talk about what is “real” and what is “healthy”. This can start by a simple explanation about where food comes from.
This is a great resource to help you teach your kids where food comes from and is broken up into age groups! This is also a great resource for teachers!
After you teach them about real and healthy, you want to connect that information with what those foods do in their bodies. Once they can connect what they eat with what it does in their body, this will be a huge help to empower your kids to think smart about their food choices.
Keep it simple
There are 2 simple things I tell my kids about real and healthy: 1.Real food comes from animals or plants. 2.The healthiest foods come from healthy animals and healthy plants.
Make learning simple and easy to understand. Here is a simple explanation for connecting healthy food with the body at Little Beasts.
At the end of the day or meal, each child has a purpose in this world that is NOT connected to their food choices. Let them know that you want them to be healthy and make wise decisions about food so that they can live out that purpose with strength. But at the end of the day, they are for sure more than what they eat.
3. Read Ingredients, Not Labels
After you explain real and healthy, your kids may have a lot of questions about foods that are in boxes or packaging. In a fast paced world with options, you will need to teach them how to navigate packaged foods that are simply necessary to purchase at times.
Among packaged foods, there is a “food tension” that just wasn’t around 20 years ago. We have so many options and conveniently packaged foods, it is now troubling to know how to navigate it all.
Teach them to read the ingredients found on the back of foods, not caloric labels or labels on the front of boxes. The first 3 ingredients are the most important to read in any packaged food. If your child can not read the ingredient, chances are it is not made up of real food.
Learning to read ingredients can be fun for kids, especially if you make it like a detective game. Remember to learn and discover together.
4. Honesty and Humility is Just as Important as Your food Choice
Kids are constantly navigating their surroundings and when something is different than what they were taught, it can be hard to figure what the right response should be. Allow for honest conversations at home.
When a child is able to be honest in a safe place they are able to work out their understanding and develop confident responses. This is where empowerment happens.
Children are not born knowing the most polite thing to say, so don’t expect that they will say and do the right thing when it comes to food choices. But do create conversations at home to help them learn.
This can take some self awareness and initiating of questions to get those conversations happening. You can even role play for kids who are more aware and concerned about eating the “right foods”.
I will ask my kids thought questions, such as “Did you think about anything new today?”, or feeling questions “What was most exciting today? Did any concerns come up today?”. The answers most often do not revolve around food, but it creates opportunity to express concerns or that tension if it exists.
Sometimes I will ask them action questions like “What did you help someone with today?”. Questions like these help promote self awareness and if my kids acted like a “kid food cop” at school, it will almost always come out!
Keep in mind that as they open up, it is not so that you can pounce on them, but so that you can create a space to correct and instruct in order to empower them. When we go to birthday parties, or outings that may have foods we don’t normally eat, all of my kids know that I want them to decide about food based on the things I have taught them.
I want them to choose freely without any connections to their identity as a human being. I want them to be grateful and receive food from friends and family even if it is not something they think is real or healthy.
Let your kids know that it is not about right and wrong choices. Answer their questions. There can be a lot of curiosity when it comes to food. Let them talk about that, rather than feel they have to hide foods they simply want to taste.
Teaching our kids to be honest and humble is just as important as their food choices. Food (and non-food) will speak for itself. It is okay for our kids to walk in different tensions of life. Our job is not to pull them out of learning tension but we do need to give them the tools they need to navigate in the midst.
Talking to your kids about healthy foods is simply an opportunity to empower them. It will serve your kids in so many ways!