Behavior & Development • Jan 14, 2016

6 easy tips for improving your family’s approach to food this year

2016 is here and talk of resolutions, health, improving your life is everywhere. Often, the changes proposed to make us happier, healthier people and better parents are so far from what we can reasonably change in one moment that they become fleeting thoughts, or they make you feel guilty. “I should try that. I should do that.” I have a list of Facebook posts and other articles that I hope to someday go back and read and consider using in my life. Will it happen? “Uh, maybe,” is my most optimistic answer.

6 Concepts to Implement

They will change the way you approach food and the way you teach your children to think about food. And we all know “you are what you eat.” Healthy food in means a healthy body in return.

  1. Think about and talk about food in a positive way. Language such as, “That will make you fat,” or worse, “That will make you fatter,” should be removed from your vocabulary. Focus on the concept of “Health.” Try phrases such as, “That is not a healthy choice.” “This is a healthier choice.” Our goal is to teach our children how to make healthy choices now and in the future. We are not teaching them to just be skinny or look any certain way. This attitude should extend to other people: celebrities, pets etc. You can talk about how people can make healthier choices but avoid shaming them. Shame can create more serious problems with body image as well as misuse of food.
  2. Healthy choices apply to both food and activities. It is a healthier choice for you and your kids to go for a walk together or to the playground rather then sit and watch TV. Too Cold? Too Dark? Play a silly game of “Simon Says.” It is fun and active. Any movement is healthier than no movement. Even 10 or 20 minutes a day can make a huge difference in concentration, attitude/behavior and overall health.
  3. Know your child’s health status. Pay attention to your child’s growth. Take your child for a check-up once a year. A sick visit is not the same thing since the focus is on the illness and not your child’s complete health. If the doctor tells you that their weight is exceeding their height on growth curves, ask to see the pattern and write down the numbers. Discuss with your pediatrician if your child is gaining weight too quickly or too slowly and for specific suggestions on what your approach should be.
  4. Do not force yourself or your child to eat a full plate of food. If they tell you their belly is full, then so be it. Children are born with internal calorie counters that help them stay at a healthy weight. Often we loose this ability by the time we are adults. If you give kids healthy options, they will usually eat what they need. If you mandate that they finish their plate in order to get a dessert, etc., they will be more likely to overeat in order to obtain that reward. You didn’t know that you were rewarding your child for overeating, but that is an unfortunate consequence of this approach. If you have a child who is sensory averse, has food anxieties, or is extremely picky beyond what is expected for their age, speak with your physician. Extreme picky eating can lead to nutritional deficiencies and your child may need specialized help to improve their diet and nutritional status. Most kids will get there in their own time.
  5. Avoid using sweets as rewards on a routine basis. Treats are that. Just treats. I am not talking about potty training or very specific circumstances like that. In general, everyday life, food rewards can lead to other unhealthy attachment to food and eating. Alternative rewards with sticker charts, family outings, choice of the next night’s healthy dinner are just a few ways to provide positive reinforcement. There are lots of good things that come in life by making good choices, working hard, and doing the right thing. They don’t all need to come with sugar.
  6. Remove sweet beverages from your home. Not just sugar-sweetened beverages, but most all sweet beverages. None of us need soda, punch, or juice. Milk and water should be the beverages of choice in your home. Even diet soda and other drinks with artificial sweeteners can increase your desire to overeat on snacks and at meals. You won’t even know it is happening. These drinks have no health benefits and should not find their way into your child’s daily life. You would be amazed how juice and other sweetened beverages can affect a child’s weight and overall health risks, from their teeth to heart function. Special occasions aside, this simple change will be money saving and health saving.

I wish you all the best for a healthy and happy new year!