Tips on Teaching Kids to Eat Healthy Foods

I tell my daughters that I love them so much, that the most important thing in the world to me is that they are healthy. Even if they don’t agree on my approach, they know that their health is my number one priority. Feeding them healthy food is the one way I can contribute most directly to their health. Below is my own interpretation of what healthy food means.

Cutting the Snacks

For many of us, from the minute our child is born, it seems that our entire purpose as a mother is to feed them. As my girls were both pretty small, I constantly worried whether they were getting enough food. When I started using bottles, I obsessively counted ounces and recorded them in a notebook. Later, when they began to eat real food, I made sure to always have snacks on hand wherever we were, usually a pouch or a snack trap full of puffs. This mentality of “never let them be hungry” carried on for a while, until I realized that my four year old was snacking all day and then never actually eating at lunch or dinner. We decided to completely cut out what my daughter calls “snacky snacks” which include Pirate’s Booty, Cheddar Bunnies, etc. We still pack them for long car or plane rides, but they are no longer a part of every day life. The first few times Hannah complained that she was hungry in the mid-afternoon, it was hard to resist giving her whatever she asked for. She is picky and would reject offers of cheese or fruit as her snack. We told her she would just have to wait until dinner. Somehow, she survived the extra few hours. She then ate a fuller and healthier dinner than ever before. This has now been our routine for the past six months, no more snacks and bigger dinner. We just had her 5 year birthday checkup and she is gaining the right amount of weight and still on the same growth curve she always has been. Though now I know the calories contributing to that growth are a lot healthier.

Organic Foods

As the owner of an organic baby store, I am pretty serious about serving my children organic food whenever possible. This does not, however, mean that I don’t let them eat at other people’s houses or birthday parties. My philosophy is “you do what you can do.” I believe that organic really does matter, so I control what I can control and know that since my children still mostly eat at home, at least the majority of their food will be free from pesticides. Here is my case for organic food…

Pesticides are poison.
 Conventional food is grown with pesticides. Pesticides are meant to kill bugs and animals. In addition, they are linked to the development of cancer, such as childhood leukemia. The EPA states, “There is no safe level of pesticides, only those with an acceptable level of risk.”

According to a report done by the National Research Council, 30% of commonly used insecticides, 60% of herbicides and 90% of fungicides are potential carcinogens. Children also consume more food per body weight than adults and the EPA acknowledges they are more vulnerable to chemicals including carcinogens used on conventional crops. A number of studies by the NIH have linked prenatal exposure to organophosphate chemicals (now the most commonly used pesticide) to increased rates of developmental disorders and autism.

It isn’t too late.
 We often hear parents of older children say, “It’s too late now for me to worry about this. What’s done is done.” However, research has shown that a change at any age can have an effect. In 1987, researchers at the National Academy of Sciences collected urine samples from suburban children. Biproducts of pesticides were found routinely in the samples. The researchers replaced all the foods the children ate with the organic version. Within 24 hours, the concentration of pesticides dropped significantly.

What I Teach My Kids About Food

Given all my obsessive behavior around avoiding pesticides, you may be surprised that I have never explained to my now 5 and 3 year old girls what organic means. I don’t want them to worry about that. I also never want them to be afraid to eat a fruit or vegetable because they don’t know if it’s organic. Instead, what we talk a lot about is whether or not something is “real” food.

My girls know that certain food provides nutritional value and helps us grow, and certain food is basically just sugar. They also know that even the just sugar kind of food is okay to eat once in a while for special occasions. I would never deprive them (or myself) of that. However, we have taught them that it is healthier to eat food that comes from a farm than from a factory. They are usually good at figuring out which is which. Since my purpose as a mother is no longer to only provide sustenance for my children, passing on good instincts about eating that they can carry on to adulthood seems to be the best thing I can do to keep them healthy in today’s world.