With 17% of our children suffering from obesity and 40% of their calories coming from sugars and fats, some of the consequences of bad nutrition may be in your children’s lives right now. Others – like heart disease and diabetes – may be just a matter of time. The stakes could not be higher.
But desperate measures or over-aggressive attitudes are not the answer. Positive examples and gentle communication work a great deal better. When families make food a battleground, it is self-defeating, just another price we pay for our cultural nutrition problem.
Food Means More Than Nutrition
Food is embedded in family life and culture; it helps us know where and who we are. Food is our most direct tie to the earth, and a key ground for connecting with each other. So, changes go deep, and they aren’t simple. To help you develop good instincts about how to grow a healthy relationship with your children about food, it helps to see the context.
Our pioneer ancestors worked all day to have something on the table. And later, just the memory of the 1930s was enough to prompt the marketplace to depict “husky” or “stout” as the aiming points for parents rearing children long into the 1950s and early ’60s. Flipping through magazines from the early-to-mid 20th century, we see fat babies and chubby children depicted as desirable in advertising and in health articles. An anxiety about children having enough to eat is evident.
But the simple availability of food stopped being nutrition’s biggest problem in the U.S. about a half century ago. Although the persistence of hunger in our nation today is not to be ignored, it is not the issue that most threatens most children. Empty calories and unhealthful ingredients are the issues most families face today.
For the Lives We Live Today
And yet our families and communities may be stuck in the expectation of eating the way we did when 80% of Americans worked physically, outdoors. Just glance around at breakfast in a rural or small-town diner. People are still eating for the fields when they’re really working at a keyboard.
And our emptiest calories can be the most attractive. Sugar and fat set up their own kinds of metabolism, and it can feel a lot like addiction. In urban environments, the ready availability of easy meals and expedient snacks on the run carries the same threat a different way. A glance around a bus or subway car reveals that keeping children going in the city often involves a bag of chips.
Parents Are Examples
Whether we admit it or not – whether our children admit it or not – we are having a powerful influence on them by the way they see us eating. Near the top of most lists of what we can do to help our children eat healthy is the fact that we as parents are examples.
And the less we insist, the more likely most children are to join in eventually. A tip common to most lists is not to force the issue. Successful parents serve the vegetables but don’t demand that they be finished. Keeping healthy foods in the house and junk food outside for special occasions, and introducing new goods gradually are among the other tips we see most often.
If you would like some help or reinforcement in planning and providing a healthy food environment for your children, just call us at 843-815-6468.