I belong to an online community for healthy eating and the other day a lady posted a story where she had sat down to dinner with her healthy, yummy tilapia and brown rice, and then was overcome with guilt when she looked over and realized that her kids were eating greasy grilled cheese sandwiches. Was she being a bad mom taking care of herself first, she wondered? She was just starting to figure out this clean-eating thing for herself and she hadn’t yet incorporated it into her family’s lifestyle.
Sadly, the first few responses she got to her post were chastising her, saying that she was the one who brought that food into her house, and that she should put the fish and rice in front of the kids and give them the ‘eat it or starve’ ultimatum.
At this point I had to speak up and defend my poor fellow-mom. After having my first child I still believed that whole "don't give them a choice and they'll do it", because he was an easy kid.
Then my daughter came along.... She will fight to the death. She will go days without eating. If you say YES 100 times, she'll say NO 200 times. If she chooses not to eat dinner I will find her at ten o’clock at night crawling up into the cupboards to get something – no kidding! She is so smart and so resourceful it’s scary. I know this strength will serve her well some day but in the mean time she’s mine to deal with it.
It has to be about baby steps. For my kids, I focused on what they WOULD eat. I told my son he has to have vegetables in his school lunch every day, he said he likes red peppers; he gets red peppers... every day.
So they eat a lot of the same things over and over, but they're actually ok with that - they don't need a lot of variety.
And then slip in new stuff here and there. If they won't eat it one day, try again next month, it might work! One thing I would caution against is saying things like, “Oh, Johnny doesn’t like eggs, I can never get him to eat them” in front of them to other people. It ends up being a self-fulfilling prophecy, and Johnny spends the rest of his life thinking “Nope, don’t like eggs, haven’t liked them since I was a kid.”
Most of all, kids are people too, and nobody likes having the law laid down on them. If somebody told you that you have to eat something or starve your first reaction would probably be “I don’t have to do anything, I’ll show you!” Work together to become a healthier family. Have your kids pick out what looks good from a healthy magazine or cookbook like Tosca Reno’s Eat Clean Diet for Family & Kids. And then, let them help you prepare it!
The most important of all is to be a good role model. It’s harder when they’re younger but as they grow up, if you consistently demonstrate healthy eating habits, which include the right way to indulge, you will have done everything possible to raise healthy kids into healthy adults.