I’m starting to wonder if I should become a comedian. Every time I mention that I don’t plan to introduce my child to fast food and the plastic toys and germy playgrounds that come with it, I am met with laughter and that “Oh, what a silly new parent you are” look.
“Oh sure, you just wait. When he asks for it, you’ll give in…”
They paint pictures for me of a screaming child, throwing tantrums when they don’t get those nuggets and fries.
It’s kind of infuriating.
But I let it roll off my back. Why? Because the incredulous looks I get are the same ones I got when I said, “Yes, I am going to breastfeed” or “We are using cloth diapers,” or countless other things. (Funny, we seem to make it through our commitments quite well, thankyouverymuch.)
But those naysayers do raise a good question: How do you tell your child “No”? My answer? Say “yes” enough times, and you won’t have to say “no” very often. Let me explain…
Why not try approaching a child’s eating habits and subsequent lifelong nutrition from a perspective of inclusion rather than exclusion? It’s worked wonders throughout my life. My New Year’s resolution to eat less? A failure. My resolution to eat more organic fruit? A success!
Allowing myself more of something that I enjoy and know is good for me doesn’t make me feel deprived like my old resolutions did. It makes me feel healthy, happy and nourished. And when my afternoon snack is a bowl of fresh strawberries, you know what it’s not? Cookies from the vending machine. (WIN!) And so it goes with most of the positive habits I want to adopt. Eliminate a bad habit by bringing in a better one…works like a charm.
So, how do you put it into practice? Here are a few ideas:
Focus on variety. Healthy foods come in all shapes, sizes and forms. Quick meals, snacks and even desserts provide an opportunity to say “Yes!”
Fill their days and tummies up with all the things they need. Protein? Check! Potassium? Check! Iron? Check! Once you’re done getting everything in, there won’t be room for junk!
Find “Yes” versions of common “No” foods. Are they looking for fries? Bake some organic potato, yam and parsnip sticks in the oven with a little olive oil and sea salt.
Expand your own horizons, too. If your child shows an interest, let them try something (even if you’ve never had it!) Many grocery stores are carrying wider varieties of fruits, vegetables and grains since demand is rising.
Tell your kids why. Tell them the effects of both healthy and unhealthy choices. You might be surprised at the choices they make when they have reasons.
Walk the walk. Your child wants to emulate you, so model a healthy relationship with food. Don’t talk about bad foods, deprivation, or what you “shouldn’t” have. Instead, focus on how much you enjoy the things that you should eat and how they benefit your body.
Find local cafes or non-chain restaurants that are dedicated to bringing you better options. When you feel the urge for a restaurant visit, you’ll know just where to go.
Offer kids what you want them to eat. They will take some and leave some, but allow them lots of variety. Encourage them to try new things often, and establish special favorites from the list of healthy foods you deem acceptable.
Some things will be seasonal and some might be a bit pricey, so save those for special occasions – the all-important “treat.” Right now, fresh organic asparagus is a special treat in our home. My son will bite the tips off a whole pound of it if I let him, and he’ll dance around while doing it. Who needs candy?!
I dream of the day when my son is old enough to really talk and asks me to take him to the Saturday farmer’s market so we can sample sweet melons and tomatoes warm from the sun, instead of asking for lunch that comes from a drive-thru window. To those who scoff at my dream, I say go ahead and laugh. It’ll happen.