We live in the age of speed where everyday essentials such as food, travel and even reaction times have to be quick, if not instant. There are many households in which the oven remains as pristine as the day it was fitted, the inhabitants now conditioned to salivate at the ping of the microwave and perspire at the sight of a vegetable, or any raw ingredients for that matter. We drive 200 metres to the cornershop and ‘going for a walk’ has become an organised weekend event!
The media warns us that obesity and heart disease are growing epidemics. Perhaps most worrying is the news that many of our children are now stressed, depressed, overweight and frighteningly unfit. Whichever way you look at it, the modern lifestyle tends to prioritise speed and convenience way above health and happiness.
It is time to teach our children to value and respect their good health and happiness habit for life!
Eating to live
During the early years of life, children have a natural tendency towards eating to live rather than living to eat. Sadly, with the best of intentions, parents gradually destroy this by encouraging children to overeat for fear that they will otherwise become skinny and undernourished. Good transportation has made food readily available whatever the season, the choices are endless and rationing is non-existent – these all contribute to us forgetting that food should actually be a necessity and not an indulgence. We often force ourselves and our children to eat simply because its dinner time regardless of actual levels of hunger. Perhaps, if we took more notice of the messages our young children are trying to send us we could avoid some of the mealtime disasters that often occur…
Don’t make a meal of it!
Remember what we just said, let your child eat to live rather than live to eat. Young children often regulate their calorie intake over a couple of days, eating less today and compensating for it by eating more tomorrow, especially if tomorrow is a more active day. Just be sure to monitor it and to step in if your child just isn’t eating enough!
It’s just a phase
Fads, by definition, are temporary. For a young child everything is new and is usually either an instant like or dislike. This is especially true of food – a colour, texture or smell can make for an instant hit or an instant disaster. However, if you just assume that a disaster is a phase and don’t make a big deal of it, the odds are that next time its presented they’ll be in a ‘love it’ phase.
It’s not genetic!
Your own food issues, phobias, likes and dislikes need not and should not be passed on to your children! You might, for instance, detest Brussels sprouts but your children may feel that they make a Christmas dinner extra special. Your children need not know if you are trying to lose weight, you can make healthier meals and serve a smaller portion without drawing it to anyone’s attention. Children should be encouraged to make healthy food choices but they should not become neurotic or worried about food! Similarly, if your food habits are unhealthy you are free to change them and to set a better example!
Offer a variety of healthy foods.
Praise good table manners.
Praise your child for eating well.
Praise your child for stopping when they have had enough!
Enjoy bonding, nurturing conversation to create positive associations with mealtimes – it’s not the time to complain about untidy bedrooms or other family issues.
Choose good role models. Remember that children learn from everything that they see and hear! As always, choose role models who exemplify the behaviour you wish to achieve. This includes family members, friends, peers, television characters and even books. There are children’s stories written with food issues in mind where the characters enjoy healthy foods. Use them as needed!