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I went overboard policing my kids' diets.

Forcing children to eat healthy can cause more problems. Picture: Supplied

Forcing children to eat healthy can cause more problems. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 2, 2017

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Ten years ago, my husband became sick with an

autoimmune disease, and nutrition played a significant role in his recovery.

What did I do when he got better? 

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I became the food police, imagining that if I

could control the food he and my kids ate, I could keep us all healthy and

safe. I figured this made me a magnificent mom and wife as well; if my family

was guzzling artichokes and homemade soups and never saw candy, I deserved high

marks.

I literally threw out everything that I deemed

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unhealthy and made quinoa and kale daily diet staples. I talked about nutrition

constantly and took every meal as an opportunity to teach my kids about healthy

eating. Meals were no longer fun, they were lessons. If it isn't obvious, I

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took it way too far.

And not surprisingly, my kids suddenly became

pickier and more resistant instead of embracing all the wonderful health foods

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I was parading in front of them. When I realized what I was doing, I had to

actively re-calibrate, especially the way in which I talked about food to my

kids and the frequency with which I talked about it.

Of course it was beneficial to teach my children

about which foods help them grow and which ones should be consumed in

moderation. But making my goal at every meal to get them to eat as many healthy

foods as possible, and to cut out all the unhealthy ones, was missing the

point.

As parents, we should focus on creating independent

eaters: kids who have a healthy relationship with food, who can self-regulate

sweets and who enjoy all kinds of foods without a parent persuading them to

eat.

It took a while for me to change my ways, but I

did. I still feed my family mainly whole foods and tons of vegetables, but our brownies are no longer made with

black beans and beets; they actually have some chocolate and sugar in them. And

I am not sweating it.

What happens when parents focus too much on getting

kids to eat?

Every time we talk about food while eating, whether

to encourage children to eat more vegetables, praise them for finishing a

healthy meal, or comment on the amount of sugar they are consuming, kids feel

they are being watched and judged. Kids take these comments personally; they

feel they are "bad" if they like unhealthy foods, and worry you are disappointed

that they don't like the healthy ones.

It has been shown that restricting foods makes the

controlled foods more desirable, and rewarding kids for eating healthy foods

makes them like those foods less. The message here is that too much pressure on

kids can make their eating habits worse.

Most kids inherently know how to eat without a

parent pressuring them. They also know how to stop eating when they are full.

Actively persuading kids to eat confuses their natural self-regulation. It also

complicates the parent-child dynamic, creating an unnecessary point of

conflict.

So even though I am in the business of healthy

food, and love nothing more than educating families about nutrition, I have a

New Year's resolution for parents who are guilty of adopting the food police

role:

Stop talking about food. If your child doesn't want to eat breakfast,

don't force her. If your child doesn't like broccoli, don't promise him it will

make him big and strong. Even if you are excited she ate a healthy meal, don't

cheerlead. And definitely don't entice him to eat a healthy dinner with the

prospect of dessert. 

Then follow these pieces of advice. I bet you will have a

delicious, less-pressured 2017 and your children will be eating well, all on

their own.

How former food police can reform:

-- Stop talking about nutrition, especially during

meals, unless your kids specifically ask a food question.

-- Set regular meal times.

-- Serve healthy foods for meals and snacks.

-- Model good eating habits.

-- Let your child decide whether he wants to eat

what you have prepared and how much he wants to eat.

-- Do not get emotionally invested in your child's

food intake.

-- Do not be a short-order cook, customizing meals

for picky eaters.

-- Never shame or tease your child for being picky.

-- Do not demonize food, for instance calling it

"bad," "toxic" or "junk" (all words I have used,

I'll admit).

-- Have fun at the table so meals become positive,

relaxed experiences, for both you and your kids.

 Washington Post

 

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