5 Reasons You Should be Teaching Your Children About Nutrition and Tips for How to Do it.
The other night my husband and I were relaxing after a particularly long day and watching a show about people learning to master their diet to meet their particular goals. In this case, it was a bride who had bought a wedding dress a year prior when she had been a dancer for a famous routine. Back then she was slim, trim and athletic. Since then she had taken a desk job with free access to a buffet where she ate whatever she felt like eating. As you may have guessed, her dress did not fit. This isn’t what disturbed me the most. What disturbed me was that she literally knew absolutely nothing about nutrition. I mean like not even the basics, eat more veggies…it wasn’t that she tried to diet and couldn’t, she literally knew nothing. Again this wasn’t even the most disturbing thing about this interview with this young woman. The most disturbing thing I found was her mother. Her stated that her daughter was “busy” growing up and didn’t have “time to learn anything domestic.”
Now we live in the age of technology. I am currently making a page of all my sources for the research for my articles that I will post shortly after this but that is my point. Yes, I am a nurse and I have access to more of a data base of information and studies then the average population but there is tons of information out there. So much more then when I was a child and my mother taught me what she genuinely felt was the best nutrition. Times have changed, research has changed, and new truths about the sources of our information has changed. Much the like evolution of the tobacco industry, new lights have emerged when it comes to the “food pyramid” we have all been taught to show that much like the tobacco industry who paid millions to lobby their products as “healthy”, the meat and dairy industry has paid out vast quantities of money to have their products also labeled as healthy. The images of eggs and bacon for breakfast that we have all come to love as a “healthy traditional breakfast” was nothing more then marketing at it’s finest. Everyone fed their kids exactly what they had been taught and the research they gave to back it was often swayed to show favouritism to that product they were selling. But times are a changing!
I took a statics course in midst of my nursing degree as well as statistics in research and development and I was utterly amazed at the the way that one can sway the outcomes of research. It’s really not that difficult but boy learning it was! No wonder our populations are so confused about whats healthy! One minute coconut oil is a miracle, the next its demonized. Eggs are good for you, no wait bad, no wait good, no wait bad if you eat the yolks, no yolks are good, no they are bad altogether. Confusing! Thats why as as a prudent mother, wanting the best for my kids, I take the time to do the research, look at the studies and make decisions as a result. Here are my big reasons why:
1) Nutrition is a Key Life Skill– Yesterday, my youngest son whom I love to pieces but is full of adventurous spirit climbed up the piano bench, onto the keys, up the book rack to literally the top of the piano (an upright piano and he is not quite 2) in search of pens that were up there as he wanted to colour. I very quickly remedied the situation and explained to my boy that this was dangerous, he could fall and get hurt. My other son had asked me the other day how to write his letters of his name so I went through an taught him slowly and with much patience. Nobody would argue that teaching a child about safety and about writing are necessary skills needed both as children and adults. So why is nutrition, something that they will need probably more than anything throughout their entire lives simply left out? Sure we command our children to eat their veggies but have you ever taken the time to explain why we do the things we do? Why does preventative health fall to the bottom of the list? In our home, nutrition is talked about daily along with our other life priorities such as Jesus and social skills and critical thinking etc. So here is the tip: As you are cooking or eating with your children (thats right, I said with, not in front of the TV) encourage your children to ask questions about why they are eating what they are eating and why its important.
2) Nutrition is Critical for Proper Development– This should be a “duh” yet we find that many children are seriously lacking in good diet and its causing both short term and long term effects. Arthritis in children is on the rise in North America along with diabetes, attention disorders and mental health problems. Our kids are growing up sick and becoming sick adults who are not living to their full potential. It breaks my heart to hear about children sick with serious illness that likely could have been prevented if we had taken the time to teach kids about importance of nutrition. Heck, it breaks my heart to hear the same about adults. Let’s give our kids the best start to life with healthy diets rich in nutrients so that their brains and their bodies can grow and function to the best of their abilities!
3) Teaching Our Children Nutrition Often Teaches Ourselves As Well– It goes back to the best way to learn a new skill is to teach it (and by this I mean math not skydiving). My son asked me the other day about new fruit that he wanted to try out (dragonfruit) and why it was good for our bodies. I have no idea what nutrients there are in dragonfruit. So I had to do some research with him to see that dragonfruit is extremely high in vitamin c, releases probiotics which is good for gut health, contains important antioxidants and those little black seeds in them? packed with omegas! I joined in with my son on eating this fun little treat! New information is amazing but also as a mom, you need to study up on the information in general! I took a few hours of nutritional training within my nurses training but so very little. Most of my knowledge comes form personal study. I looked at the kids menus and what I was being told to eat and noticed a huge gap. Why is it perfectly ok for my kids to eat chicken fingers and fries but it was not advised for me? That seemed really backwards and the questions keep flowing as I got heavier and heavier into the research of nutrition. I have a great understanding of the human body even to the cellular level but now to be able to apply nutrition opened up a whole new world!
4) Safe Guarding against Illness– None of us will argue that schooling is important and kids being physically at school will help them learn the important lessons that they will need for the next stages of their life. Kids these days however are missing so much school because of sickness (colds/flu etc) that could have likely been prevented or shortened with good nutrition to build the immune system. My kids are rarely sick and when they are sick, it’s much shorter then many of my peers children. We can’t safe guard them against everything but good nutrition will build walls that will allow our kids to fight off the yearly cold and flu. Right now I give my kids their food and they eat it because they are at that age where they do not have the wisdom to choose the best foods for their growing bodies but soon there will come a time when they will be able to make those choices and I want to give them the best knowledge base to make those decisions. This leads me to my next point.
5) I Will Not Be Their Cook Forever– As I mentioned above, at this time in my very small children’s life, I do not give them a whole lot of options as to what they can and cannot eat. Some people I was talking to were genuinely horrified at the thought of me “forcing” my kids to eat. I chuckle, for one, my kids already know enough to know that I choose wisely for them and two, I also do not let them decide if they will smoke or not. I simply choose that they will not be allowed to smoke. That’s ridiculous you might say, letting a child choose to smoke, after all, they don’t know the dangers. Yes, that is my point exactly…they don’t know enough to choose the right foods at this time in their lives. As they show me that they can make good choices, I do let them choose more. My eldest son has the most self control I have ever seen when it comes to sugar. My husband took our son to our local area to watch a game of hockey. The people sitting behind them thought he was adorable and asked if he wanted some of their cotton candy to which my 4 year old politely declined and stated that he had enough sugar today and if he eats too much it will make him sick. Have you ever met a four old who would decline cotton candy based on its ability to lower the immune system? I have not. I was so amazed that I now allow him to choose a dessert or a candy if he wants because he has learned moderation of sweets and practices it daily. As much as I want to be there for them through their whole lives, they will grow, go out with friends, get married and start families of their own and although I will always be a phone call away, I will not be makes these decisions for them. I want them to have the best knowledge base for them to make these decisions.
Ok so you are convinced to teach your kids about healthy eating! Awesome! Now what? Well here is some tips to get you on your way.
1) Do the Research Yourself First– Can’t teach what you don’t know right? Watch documentaries, read journals and articles and find great books on the nutrition! Everything you need is out there! You can even speak with a wholistic nutritionist about which foods do what and why. I actually don’t recommend your mainstream nutritionist because I have spoken with a great many of them and often times their knowledge base comes from what they learned in school (duh) which is most often backed by the meat and dairy industries. While of course, they have the same sturdy foundation of the body’s nutritional requirements, their recommendations on what to eat to meet those often involve meat and dairy which you totally don’t need nor do you want!
2) Eat Meals with Your Kids– This is what we do. It’s what we have always done in my family. Dinner together. Encourage discussion about the foods on their plate. Ask them questions about why they are eating what they are. I don’t quiz my kids every night but most days they have questions of their own. Take the time to answer and if you don’t have the answer, thats ok too, look it up together. This is actually teaching as well because they will learn how to find information themselves.
3) Practice What You Preach– Kids learn by example and as a parent, you are the strongest influence in your children’s lives. That comes with a lot of responsibility. Eat what you want your kids to eat. If they see you eating your veggies, they are so much more likely to reach for their own.
4) Give Them Healthy Options– As I said earlier, I don’t give my kids the option on what to eat terribly often but not at all at the beginning. They can have any veggies or fruit they want which now is a wide variety but at the beginning, my son would only eat tomatoes. He eventually grew to like a few other veggies and fruit and now he eats things like raw kale, cabbage and broccoli with a smile on his face. It takes time to train your taste buds and will take time to train theirs.
5) Get the Junk Out– Part of tip 4 but standing alone, if your child asks you for cheesies and you don’t have them, you can’t give it to them. This seems like a duh moment but when I first turned to really good nutrition and particularly a whole food plant based diet, not every person agreed with this choice in our home so we still had food around that was overly processed or dairy. My kids would ask and one person in our family or another would oblige. When we removed those items, my kids took time to adjust but now they ask for dates, raisins, apples, bananas etc. instead of a piece of cheese.
6) Teach Them At Their Level– While I could preach the nutrition on the molecular level to my kids, they would have no idea what I was saying. I keep the information at this point short and speak in a language they understand. I tell them things like, that broccoli guards them from getting sick and makes their poops softer (I have boys…we talk about poop a lot). My 4 year old and I have talked about the digestive system and the basics of how it works (Magic School Bus was very helpful for this) so he knows where his food goes and has an idea of how we get energy. This way over my 2 year old’s head so I don’t teach him that for now. But the time will come.
7) When They Are Ready, Give Them the Choice– Again, my 4 year old has an amazing understanding already of the human body but also I don’t shy away from talking to him about the animal industry because I want him to know where his food comes from. I don’t go into graphic details that are inappropriate for a 4 year old, I simply tell him that people aren’t nice to the animals and that they have to kill them for people to eat them. Hudson has decided that eating meat simply not something he wants to do at this point in his life. Will he change his mind? Maybe. But I will give him that freedom as well.
So what does my vegan 4 year old eat in a day exactly? Well Let me show you! This I would say is a typical day and although I did not take pictures, in-between his meals he did eat some apple, banana, pitted dates and raisins as well as handfuls of macadamia nuts and almonds (his favourites)
Breakfast: Oatmeal with chia,hemp and flax, frozen berries and raisins
Snack: Banana, almonds and a couple dates
Lunch: Homemade Veggie Sushi
Snack: Apple, Cliff Bar, and Macadamia nuts
Dinner: Veggie Soup with tortillas
Night Snack: Very Grainy Toast with homemade “jam”