I've always been interested in the language that parents use with small children when discussing food and nutrition. We've all heard the old threat: "If you don't eat your veggies, no dessert." By saying this, we're setting our kids up to view eating vegetables as undesirable, just a means to get to the good stuff. I'll be the first to say, I love dessert. In moderation.
So how can I talk to my toddler about food and avoid the negotiating and bribery game that drains so many parents and ends in a power struggle?
I recently consulted Dr. William Sears's book, The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood. Dr. Sears uses a simple and kid-friendly language when discussing food. He talks of "green light" (best) foods versus "red light" (worst) foods, and uses this terminology to steer kids towards making healthy choices. Dr. Sears also refers to nutritious foods as "grow foods." His article, The ABC's of Teaching Nutrition to Your Kids, is an excellent resource for parents; it offers practical tips for raising a health-conscious child with an adventurous palette (without crowning you Meanest Mother in the World).
Stacie Elliott, founder of New Mommy Help, regularly blogs about supporting and encouraging new moms. She is the mother of 4 beautiful children, twin boys- 6, girl-3, boy-1. I am so grateful for Stacie's expertise in this area (I consider the mom of 4 good eaters an expert!)
I believe proper nutrition begins at birth--preferably breastfeeding. This requires a mom to think about what she is eating right from the start. By the way, this is a fine example of the beginning of motherhood, isn't it? We have to make sacrifices and wise decisions regarding our children that we might never have made otherwise.
As moms, we all know that it doesn't matter what is on our plate; our children want it. Obviously, we can say what we want about food, but in the end our actions speak louder. Modeling healthy eating is a vital form of communication. For example, when our children started on solid foods, I chose to make homemade baby food. As often as possible, I would simply use the food we were having for dinner. If we had baked sweet potatoes, I made a puree for the baby. Of course, this only works when choosing nutritionally sound meals.
We regularly talk about the ingredients and nutritional value in different foods. Like, meat has protein for strong muscles. Fruits and Veggies have various vitamins, etc. Our kids respond well to that and seem to make good choices when given the chance. However, our 6-year-olds are already dealing with peer pressure in this area. They see what other kids eat and drink and want to know why they can't have soda (for example). Since we have already talked about how foods provide various types of nutrition, they can understand our decision better.
In response to the question, "Have I eaten enough to have dessert?" we have designated dessert days. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday are dessert days. Everyone knows dessert is only on weekends. We view it as something special, and it's not expected any other day. We do, however, make exceptions on special occasions (i.e. birthdays). We tell our kids that desserts have lots of sugar and very little healthy ingredients, if any. That's why we do not have dessert every day. We want to take care of our bodies and limit foods that are empty.
Thank you, Stacie, for sharing your wise words of wisdom with us! Please visit Stacie's blog for more information and insight.