The Win Without the Battle
The stakes are pretty high. With 17% of our children suffering from obesity and 40% of their calories coming from sugars and fats, some of the consequences may be in your children’s lives right now and others – like heart disease and diabetes – may be just around the corner.
But high stakes shouldn’t lead parents to desperate measures or over-aggressive attitudes. Positive examples and gentle communication work a great deal better. Making food a battleground is just another self-defeating consequence of our cultural nutrition problem.
Part Physical, Part Cultural
To appreciate the best practices for making sure your children eat healthy, and to help you develop good instincts about how to grow a healthy relationship with them about food, it helps to see the context. Food is imbedded 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.
Almost a half-century ago, the availability of food stopped being nutrition’s biggest problem in the U.S. 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. 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 long into the 1950s and early ’60s.
Though the persistence of hunger in our nation today is not to be ignored, it is not the issue that most threatens most children. Rather, empty calories and unhealthful ingredients are the issues most families face today.
Not 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.
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.
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.
Parents are Examples and Providers, Not Enforcers
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. 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.
Another tip common to most lists, is not to force the issue. Successful parents serve the vegetables but don’t demand that they be finished. In fact, the less we insist the more likely most children are to join in eventually. 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.
It’s our identity to be a family practice, so 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.