The Chicken Nugget Challenge
“But I can’t get my child to eat veggies. All he wants is chicken nuggets.”
Getting children to eat healthy can be a challenge at times. However, a parent must always remember that he or she is responsible for teaching a child about healthy living. In fact, the biggest contributor to childhood obesity is the parents’ lifestyle. As a nutrition coach, I devote my time to helping parents develop healthy eating habits in order to establish a good example their children will follow. Those who neglect teaching their children a healthy lifestyle are
setting them up to become overweight, chronically sick, or diabetic as adults. While it isn’t always easy to convince a child to choose broccoli over chicken nuggets, the effort is worth it in the long-run.
Here are four simple principles parents can follow as they teach their children healthy habits:
1. Make exercise a fun, family affair.
Although they’re wildly popular, video games are detrimental to a child’s fitness level. Limit the time your kids spend playing in front of the TV and spend quality time together doing something active. For example, one of my clients set up a volleyball net in his backyard and made it a tradition to have a family volleyball game every Sunday. They all have a blast and don’t feel like they’re being obligated to exercise. Kids love games. Using something simple such as a
ball for outdoor games, or small obstacles to maneuver around for indoor games, and encourage your kids to run, jump, skip, and crawl to burn off energy!
2. Be a good example.
Do you have a section in your cupboard that’s “for the kids?” If so, why? Oftentimes, parents buy goldfish crackers, fruit snacks, and other empty-calorie foods for their children, knowing that they shouldn’t be eating those snacks. Yet, why would you want to have separate food sections for you and your kids? Shouldn’t you both be eating healthy? Children will emulate their parents. They’re watching you, so be sure to set a good example by choosing healthy snacks such as fruits, veggies, and nuts, so they will follow your lead.
I once did an experiment where I brought whole apples to weekly a potluck event for young people. Hardly anybody touched the apples. The following week, I cut up the apples and arranged them nicely on a plate. They flew off the plate so fast that shortly after arriving, I had to cut up more apples to replenish them! Do the same thing for your family. Cut up fruits and vegetables, display them on your kitchen counter, and make them easily accessible for your kids
4. Avoid using food as rewards.
As adults, we often use certain foods as “treats.” When we’ve had a tough day, we look for comfort food or if we’re celebrating an accomplishment, we go out to dinner. While eating is one of life’s pleasures, is it possible that we were conditioned to see food as a reward during our childhood? It’s important that we don’t reward kids with food for completing their chores or getting good grades. Usually the food isn’t healthy anyway, unless you think your kid is going to be motivated by celery sticks! Choose activities such as a movie night or, even better, a bike ride or pickup basketball game as rewards for a job well done.
Unfortunately, I have too many clients who hate vegetables and exercise. A guy once told me, “The only vegetables I like are the ones with bones in them.” Aversions to healthy foods and physical activity started during a person’s childhood. And since chicken nuggets don’t have bones in them, they (and low quality foods like them), should be replaced with healthy options that your kids will continue to enjoy as adults. Parents have the great responsibility of teaching their children healthy eating habits, as well as an active lifestyle. This responsibility should not be taken lightly. So, making exercise fun, being a good example, keeping healthy snacks handy, and using activities versus food as rewards can lessen the challenge of healthy living and make it a way of life.
Priscilla Friedlande, Director
Holistic Health Corp.