As many of you know I do not have children but I have do have a niece and nephew and many friends with kids. I know how hard it is to keep your kids healthy when they are in day care or at school and you are working full time. I think about this a lot because I see how our habits and diets from childhood tend to carry on into adulthood. If you didn’t eat vegetables as a child chances are you won’t as an adult. People who eat poorly as children are much more likely to develop serious illnesses and cancer later in life — not just because the habits persist but because most illnesses, cancer included, take years to develop.
Many of the following tips are from Luise Vindahl and David Frankiel of Green Kitchen Stories, my favorite foodie blog. They seem to be wonder parents to their two beautiful children so I couldn’t resist sharing their ideas.
1. Breast feed for as long as possible.
Breast milk is the ultimate wonder food. It improves immunity and creates a healthy microbiome which prevents intestinal issues later in life. People who were not breastfed as children are far more apt to suffer from intestinal issues as adults. Cow’s milk is no substitute for human milk especially since it often contains hormones and antibiotics. Many baby formula's contain corn syrup, GMO vegetable oils and MSG so be sure to read the label.=
2. Don’t let your kids eat sugar, candy, cookies or ice cream until they are two.
It starts them off on a healthy track and keeps their moods in check. Remember sugar is highly addictive so if they get on a sugar binge when they are young it will be hard to get them to eat vegetables and other healthy things. Get your friends and family on board with this early. There is plenty of time for sugar later.
3. Start kids eating vegetables when they are very young.
Mix sweet vegetables like sweet potatoe and butternut squash with green vegetables so they are more appealing. Green vegetables are bitter to the untrained palette. Generally the more bitter they are the higher in phytontrients and antioxidants they are — the better they are for you. The taste of green vegetables takes some getting used to because historically, bitter foods were often poisonous and sweet foods were safe, so it is a natural response for children to resist bitter tastes. So how do you get around that? Sweeten them up and try, try again. Some children need to try a green vegetable as many as 10 times before it tastes good to them but repetition does work. I even heard one pediatrician recommend putting honey on green vegetables so that kids would like them. You can reduce the honey as they start to like them or maybe they'll like a green smoothie sweetened with banana.
4. Have healthy snack options with you.
Always have healthy snack options or treats with you if you are out somewhere. (Carrots, almonds, hard boiled eggs, fruit, homemade power bars.) That way you can avoid giving in to candy and junk food. (FYI, gold fish crackers are not healthy.)
5. Limit dairy and gluten when they are young.
Wheat and dairy are hard for many people to digest and this is especially true for toddlers. 70% of the world’s population is lactose intolerant so your kids may be too.
6. Don’t make separate meals for your kids.
If you start them eating your food at a young age and limit their sugar and junk food intake you should be able to keep that going as they get older. Also if kids think they have another option like pasta or chicken nuggets they will always take it. In my family our only other alternative was a peanut butter sandwich (no jelly) which my sister and I didn't like, so we were stuck with whatever was on the table. As painful as that was at times I am so thankful that I was exposed to so much good and healthy food at a young age.
7. Be a good role model.
Kids want to do what their parents do so if they see you are eating junk food or sweets they will want to as well. Make a family dinner a priority so you are all eating the same food and your children see you eating vegetables.
8. Let them walk.
Children should be able to walk a mile for every year old they are so a 3-year old should be able to walk 3 miles. I kid you not. It is so strange these days how people push 4 and 5 year-old kids around in strollers. This is completely unnecessary if you just get them walking early. Maybe it’s partly our weird affluent society where we drive everywhere so we can’t imagine our kids walking anywhere either. In my neighborhood people have strollers for 3 kids with the baby, 2-year old and 4-year old. Seriously do you think our mothers pushed around 4-year olds in strollers? We are doing our children a great disservice, turning them into stroller potatoes and just creating headaches for ourselves. If you spend anytime in less affluent neighborhoods you’ll notice that toddlers are all walking with their parents perfectly well — hardly any strollers.