Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Food Week Q & A (Part III)

Christina said... Do you have any secrets for instilling healthy eating habits in young ones?

Well, I guess like everything else, "healthy eating habits" is all relative... I know people who eat practically nothing but microwaved frozen food and drive-through take out! I know people who consider Lean Cuisine frozen dinners to be "health food." I know people who have never eaten hummus (gads!!!!)! And I notice what other people have in their carts every time I'm at the grocery store (I am a sociologist; I can't help but to be looking at stuff like that). But we also are part of a pretty hard-core Waldorf community-- so... we also know people who are on macrobiotic diets; people raising children in strict vegan households; all-100%-organic families; and parents who will do just about anything to avoid letting their kids eat processed sugars/white flour/eggs that aren't from free-range chickens. While we definitely don't consider Happy Meals a perfectly decent well balanced dinner option for our kids, we definitely have no problem giving them store-bought cookies (and I've never made them a birthday cake from scratch, ever; store-bought b-day cakes all the way!)... Most of all, we definitely do not consider ourselves experts in this kid-food-healthy-eating area. At the same time, we are pretty comfortable with how our kids' eating habits are developing. So, we discussed it together tonight, and for what it is worth, (whatever it is worth!!!), here is a brand new Top Ten List we just came up with for our readership's reading pleasure!!!!

Top Ten: Things We Think We're Doing That Might Possibly Be Contributing To Instilling Healthy Eating Habits In Our Young Ones~~~

  1. We try to eat meals together, sitting down at the table, whenever humanly possible. We manage to pull this off miraculously often (given our work-home-imbalance-situation!) and eat together almost all of the time (with the exception of weekday lunches, of course, which we almost never have together since the boys are at school and we are at work). And when we do sit down to eat together, we eat the same things we're serving our children at mealtime whenever possible, which is almost always.
  2. We light candles and say grace (holding hands) at the start of every meal. This signals something special and reverent is going on. We act sincerely grateful for the food that we have.... every single meal. During meals we try to have real conversations. During dinner we do 'Hi/Lo' every night (i.e., we go around the table and we each say the 'high' and the 'low' of our day). We try to all sit at the table until everyone is done eating, and then the boys snuff out the candles... signaling the end of the meal.
  3. We very rarely have dessert. We act as if this is normal. When we do have dessert we do not make a huge deal of it. We don't treat sweets as a super-special-big-huge-deal-treat. What we do treat as a special-deal-treat is going out to eat. Even though we eat out at least once per week (usually Saturday or Sunday lunch), we always act like it is special to eat in a restaurant and that we're very lucky to be able to do that whenever we do.
  4. We force ourselves to eat a healthy breakfast with our kids every morning (I say 'force ourselves' because neither of us -- H especially -- are breakfast people and we'd much prefer to skip it altogether most mornings).
  5. We've never 'dumbed down' our food for our kids. We assume they'll have sophisticated palates and enjoy the kinds of things that we do. We assume that they'll like spicy salsa (not mild); al dente pasta (not mushy); blackened fish (not plain fish); and all sorts of foods/textures/flavors. You get the idea.
  6. We try to model healthy eating in front of our children. If we're going to do something really naughty (such as have martinis, peanuts, and chocolate for dinner like we did the other night), we be sure that the kiddos are sleeping soundly upstairs in bed before we indulge in such guilty pleasures.
  7. We always have fresh fruit sitting out on the counter. And we regularly put in front of them heaping platters of cut up fresh fruits and/or raw veggies and simply assume they'll eat it. We don't talk about it. We don't go on and on about it. We just act like it is perfectly normal to eat like that.
  8. We've always given our kids plain water to drink in between meals and often as the drink on the table for lunch and/or dinner. They like water and drink lots of it. Most of the time they don't even think to ask for something else. And we (B & H) rarely have anything other than water in our glasses at mealtime.
  9. We always assume that they like just about everything (even if the last time they tried it they didn't like it). We keep putting foods in front of them over and over and over (even if they reject it often) and always act like maybe this time they'll like it. And then... voila!... at some point, eventually, they usually do. It took putting broccoli in front of them about 2,000 times before finally... ah ha!... they liked it. And now they eat broccoli all the time.
  10. We cook together whenever humanly possible.

~ ~ ~

So... What about all of you out there in the blogosphere reading this? What do you do to instill healthy eating habits in your kids? If you don't have kids, what do you plan to do when/if you do have kids someday? or (if you never plan to have kids) what do you think people who have kids should do? Or what did the folks who raised you do to instill good eating habits (or lack thereof!)??? Leave your thoughts here in the comments section!


Emmers said...

I love everything you do with your kid and food - especially the water/fruit/veggie idea. I wish my mom had made me drink more water and less milk and juice. I think I would like water more. I love the heaping piles of fruits and veggies. I imagine that for K&O, with their huge appetites :-), they dont see them as huge piles, but having that as a main part of the meal seems pretty smart to me. I love that you sit down with them at every meal possible. Its great for them and for you! I hope that when I have kids, your blog is still here so that I can stop in for some parenting tips when I need them!!

Kristen said...

Wow, I was so surprised to read this today! I'm taking a class at my university called "Theories and Principles of Parenting" (and actually, I often reading your blog and think to myself "oh, now what I learned makes sense!") Just Friday we were talking about picky eaters, and my professor told us that when a child tries a food that it has never, ever had before, it takes FIFTEEN TIMES OR MORE for them to decide if they truly dislike it. And that is heavily supported by research! So, some parents who may try giving their child a certain vegetable a few times, and the child rejects it, need to keep trying over and over, and even if they keep rejecting it, eventually the child will probably accept it and even declare that they like it! So way to go, you're definitely on the right track with that!

Great post and photos! :-)


PS. The cabinets in your kitchen are the exact ones that were in the house that I grew up in! It made me feel happy :-)

Nicole said...

Wow- I wish my parents had done this. And now I wish I was doing it with my kids. These are great suggestions. I love how you don't make a big deal of it, that seems to be the ticket. When I was growing up my parents were either "on a diet" eating salad... or picking up ice cream and chips at the convenience store. There was very rarely a healthy balance and I find myself modeling these same things.

Heather- with your background have you ever thought about the nature vs. nurture theory when it comes to obesity? Our 2 from Haiti eat like us (us being overweight mom and dad) but have yet to gain an ounce of body fat... but I look at my bio boy and wonder if he will struggle more just because of his genes? Probably. So is it your environment or your genetics that play a bigger role? My family would be great subjects for that study.

Thanks for the great tips.

Ani said...

For me, eating out is an important part of our family life. I LOVE restaurants, and as a child, we ate out often on weekends with our entire family (grandparents, uncles, cousins... yep, we were a sight to behold). From day 1 we've taken our son to the family Sunday lunches. He does great in restaurants, eats off the grown-up menu (with very little exceptions), and behaves appropriately. We are blessed to be able to continue this tradition, but for me it is so important: family, food and a pleasant environment...

Now, I really need to work on the healthy eating habits and in getting us all together at the dinner table on a regular basis!

Single PAP said...

In my house when i was growing up, sugary-treats (candy, soda, sugary cereal, pop tarts, etc.) were almost never purchased so i felt like i was deprived of all the junk food my friends got to eat. i tended to reject healthy foods and always wanted junk, which may have been in part due to my upbringing but also surely due to my older sister's poor influence (buying candy with allowance money,etc.) To this day, I still love my junk food--although I prefer baked goods to candy or soda. However, I have to give my parents huge credit. They rarely served red meat, never fried anything, gave us skim milk, and we ate salad at every meal. My mom also modeled healthy eating every day. I have to thank them now because I shy away from red meat, have no idea how to deep fry anything, love veggies and if I drink milk at all it is skim (or 1%).

I love your ways to instill healthy eating habits with your boys and will use those when my daughter comes home. I also love your eating ritual!

Great post.

Katie said...

Similar to what you said, we basically give our 16 month old whatever we eat, which we've been told by everyone we know that it is "very healthy". We don't think of our meals as "very healthy" but rather, as "well balanced". He regularly eats vegetarian chili, asparagus, tofu, lentils, spinach, broccoli, etc. I've had my son's sitter ask me on numerous occasions, "what was his lunch today?" Usually that occurs when there are lentils, couscous, or tofu involved. I've also learned to be more careful about adding fat to my son's food since he is a lightweight (like one-percentile lightweight). So he gets butter or olive oil added to most meals :)

Also for breakfast everyday, he gets a fresh smoothie with organic whole milk yogurt, org whole milk, a banana, and a splash of OJ. It is the best way we've found to get a lot of calories in him first thing in the morning. He'll munch on some cereal or flax seed waffles, but it's mostly about the smoothie at breakfast!

Funny story, the one and only time we gave him McDonalds was when we were on vacation (driving from Phoenix to Sedona) and he vomited all over the place. It was the first time he had ever vomited. So, safe to say, McD's is out.