Note from Matt: I’m at the Woodstock Fruit Festival, eating nothing but raw fruit and vegetables for a week and doing all sorts of fun stuff, from high ropes and lake swimming to listening to talks by Mike Arnstein, Tim Van Orden, and Dr. Doug Graham (I’m actually listening to him give a food prep demo right this minute).
It’s been a great experience, not just for me and my wife but for our kids, who at ages 4 and 1 are getting the chance to try all kinds of exotic fruits like lychee, durian, longans, and dragon fruit.
In that spirit, I invited my friend Sid Garza-Hillman to write a guest post about raising healthy kids. Why Sid? Because of this (those are his twins).
Living as healthy adults in today’s world is hard enough. But throw children into the mix, and you’ve got a whole different story.
Advertisements and even more subtle marketing forces abound — like the pamphlet given to my wife and me in the doctor’s office when we were pregnant with our twins, which turned out to be written by the Education Department of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Not surprisingly, parents often ask me how to negotiate this craziness to enable them to raise their kids the healthiest way possible.
I’m the father of a 10-year-old and 5-year-old twins. My wife and I both work full time (real jobs, not like a vegan blogger) and are raising a very healthy family, while still maintaining an active social life (we’re the only vegans in our entire social circle, including most of our extended family members).
Here are my top seven tips for getting your kids to eat as well as you do:
1. Set the example
I put this first because, frankly, it’s the most important. We can talk a big game to our children about what to eat and not eat, but what we actually do as parents makes a much greater impact on our children. Focus on your own health first and your children will follow.
As Albert Schweitzer wrote: “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
2. If at first you don’t succeed …
Often times, parents introduce a healthy food, and if their child doesn’t like it, they give it up. The fact is that it takes multiple tries for a child to get used to a new taste. Keep putting the food on the table, and use the food in different dishes.
3. Emphasize the connection between food and fun
Even very young children (my twins are 5) understand the concept that foods can help the body be strong and vibrant. Relate the food they’re eating to the things they like to do: monkey bars, swings, running around, climbing trees, jungle gyms, and … being happy.
A healthy body is a body that can have more fun, and children want to have fun! Explain in simple terms that you, as a parent, want to give them foods that allow them to do the things that they have fun doing.
4. Color it up
Humans are naturally attracted to beautiful colors (ask yourself what you feel like doing when you see a big red strawberry). Make the foods you eat and prepare look as colorful as possible. There are also all natural food dyes that can turn your child’s meal into a whole other experience (green mashed potatoes!).
5. Enroll them in the ‘shop and prep’
Involve your children in the process of how food ends up in your house and on your table. Bring your kids to the grocery store and show them what’s offered there — both healthy and unhealthy. Ask them which healthy foods they’d like to bring home for the whole family. Once home, involve them in food preparation. Buy some whole grain pizza crusts (or, if you have time, make your own), and have your children build their own pizzas with healthy toppings you provide.
6. Make it fun
Making up funny names for foods makes eating healthy way more fun. Try turning a smoothie into a “mermaid smoothie” or “dragon smoothie.” In my home, as my children drink the “mermaid smoothie” I pretend they’re turning into a mermaid as they drink — trust me, they drink the smoothie! I told my wife she too was turning into a mermaid, but she totally did not believe me.
7. Don’t aim for perfection; instead, focus on MOTT
Your family’s health is a result of your MOTT: what you do Most Of The Time. It’s not the once-in-a-while treats, but how you eat most of the time. Improving your MOTT means you can still have fun food experiences (dining out, parties, etc.) without sacrificing your family’s health.
Remember your job as a parent — to raise happy, healthy children.
Most parents I’ve taught have no problem setting limits on television or video games. They simply do not let their children watch whatever, whenever, for however long. Do the same with food. Our job as parents is to ensure the health and happiness of our children — to help them grow up the best they can — and feeding their growing bodies nourishing food most of the time is crucial.