Forget my own cravings and weight loss, raising healthy kids has been my biggest challenge by far! My kids have seen me slowly change most aspects of my life over the years, many of which have of course impacted them, but let’s face it, kids are kids and they have minds of their own.
Below are some of the techniques I’ve learnt and applied (some more successful than others) over the years to try and create a foundation of health that will stand them in good stead for the future*.
*This is quite a personal post because children’s health is a minefield and I’m letting you in on important aspects of my parenting style. I must stress that the information below is based purely on my own experience with my own children. I offer the tips merely as a summary of my experience, not as advice or recommendations. You know your kids better than anyone and what worked for me and mine, may not work for you and yours.
If you have any other suggestions please feel free to share in the comments because I know lots of parents interested in this area, and we can do with all the help we can get, it’s a tough environment out there now.
EXPLAIN WHY. From my studies I am able to talk to my daughter on a certain level about the physical effects of different foods on her body. With her I have a very real example to demonstrate the point because she suffers from eczema sometimes. I’ve managed to resolve it each time (eventually) and I explain to her the certain foods that can affect her (mainly gluten and dairy) so that when I’m not around she knows what to question. I’ve even told her about leaky gut, antigens in her bloodstream causing problems and why she is taking some supplements. She nods ‘yes mama’ 😁 I’m hoping it’s all going in and she will be able to recall it in years to come! #educatetomotivate.
BUILD CONFIDENCE. Goodness knows we need it when we are challenging so many of the things that are accepted as normal in the health and medical world that exists today. This doesn’t just go for health and food, I try to show my kids that being different isn’t a bad thing and that questioning something you don’t understand until you are satisfied is far better than going along with something you’re not sure about and not knowing why. I know my daughter faces questions about going to school with a packed lunch among other things, but so far she’s doing a great job of standing up for herself and attempting to explain, even if she doesn’t get it quite right .
BE TRANSPARENT. I don’t avoid topics to try and distract them, I’m open and honest. For example, we’ve talked about sugary foods, how sugar comes in different forms and that we need it for energy to do everything. I’ve emphasised the difference between natural sugars like in fruits and vegetables, and unnatural/unhealthy ones like in sweets and flavoured drinks so that they are not confused and fully informed. They are allowed sweets and chocolate on occasion but they know how I feel about it and why, so I give them the choice. Sometimes they choose not to and that makes me proud and happy.
INVOLVE THEM. I involve them in the whole process of food preparation from selecting the fruit and vege at the farmers market, to peeling and cutting fruit, getting messy mixing by hand and stirring pots over heat. I spend quite a lot of time in the kitchen so they’re used to seeing me there and often ask to help. My daughter was able to start cooking us two course meals mostly on her own from the age of 8.
MAKE IT SIMPLE & EASY. I use repeated phrases to stress the important points. For example, ‘green is for go (energy) and green is for grow’ so they know why I harp on about this! Another favourite is ‘green eggs and ham’ which I’ll explain below. I stick to one overall principle and that is: we want to live as naturally as possible.
TRY AND TRY AGAIN. Kids have a habit of changing their minds on a weekly, daily and even hourly basis (especially my son!). If they first say no then I will keep trying, hopefully until they say yes! I use the ‘green eggs and ham’ approach once they’re old enough to understand the principle behind the story, they’re not allowed to say no to something unless they’ve properly tried it (easier with daughter than with son so far).
BE CONSISTENT. My husband is on board and very supportive, but he still likes to play good cop and treat them sometimes. By default that can make me feel like bad cop sometimes saying no to things, but I remain stubborn and determined. I’m grateful for him that I’m not being undermined. We say the same things and consult each other on our approach. For example, meal tactics: we know the boy will always eat a sausage before anything else on his plate so we keep them out of sight until he’s at least eaten some vegetables.
FOCUS ON HEALTH not weight or body image. When my daughter talks about people looking or being different I always bring it back to whether or not they’re healthy and how they feel in themselves because that’s more important than what they look like.
PLAN AHEAD. This is the most time consuming and requires effort, but with the best rewards. We always carry healthy snacks (nuts, homemade energy balls and muffins, fruit etc) and a water bottle so we are not caught out buying the wrong things.
This also goes for attending birthday parties. I would take a lot of the enjoyment out the parties if I didn’t let them eat what the other kids do. I’m saddened by what is served at these things but I fill them up before we go on food I would prefer they ate and make sure they drink water as often as possible so they feel full! The one thing I do refuse is cordial/squash/fizzy drinks, I have never offered my kids these and they usually always ask for water so I make sure I always carry it.
I try and show them how DELICIOUS HEALTHY FOOD can be. I’ve made healthy versions of popular (unhealthy) dinners and snacks e.g. sweet potato pizza, fish and chips with sweet potatoes and salmon, baked sweet potatoes, zoodles/courgetti instead of pasta (spiralised courgette), lots of chocolatey snacks with raw cacao including chocolate milkshakes and iced lollies etc
I tackled healthy snacks and BREAKFAST first. I want to set them up for the day feeling good so they don’t crave anything a few hours later, and if and when they do want a snack I can give them better options than biscuits and cakes with no nutrients. Gluten and dairy seem to aggravate their skin and mood so I’ve removed these (as well as unnecessary added sugars) which has the biggest effect on breakfast and rules out boxed cereal. I have my staples that I rotate because I believe in variation so they don’t get bored.
I don’t worry when they won’t eat and I don’t offer alternatives. They might come home from school with most of their lunch uneaten, but their health and energy levels are fine. They always have a large breakfast, usually seconds of dinner and boy do they make up for it at weekends! Who says we are supposed to eat to a clock anyway? I don’t stress about it anymore (I used to) but I might offer a SMOOTHIE to tide them over if I want to get some goodness into them albeit hidden! I’m amazed what they’ll actually drink through a straw when they don’t know it’s in there (wheatgrass, beetroot, broccoli, spinach, kale, spirulina, avocado etc).
I NEVER order food from the KIDS' MENUS in restaurants anymore. They are notorious for loading these with added salt and sugars which is ironic and just plain wrong. I will order half portions of the adult meals when we do go out (rare) and I choose those places very carefully so we don’t have to be limited when we get there.
I’ll admit that by making this lifestyle a priority for me and my family I have had to give up many things. This is my choice and my priority, others will choose differently. I’m not sugar-coating it (pun intended), it has not been easy, I face criticism, I do not get to see my friends as much as I would like, I haven't always had time to do some of the things I really want to do and it can be very tiring. But...they're worth it.
The benefits of the hard work are now paying off, preparing food is easier and faster with well stocked cupboards, there is less confusion and easier choices now we are more educated on true natural health, we all have more energy, less illness, my husband and I have experienced significant weight loss (though this is not our motivation), I have shed the guilt that came with trying different diets and not feeling my best, and replaced it with a deep-seated holistic happy healthy feeling that can only come with knowing I’ve finally found my way and paved the way for my kids to enjoy too.