By Jackie Rainford Corcoran EBS Health Columnist
Perhaps the most effective way for Americans to deal with obesity and diabetes is prevention. Teaching our children to eat well will keep them from the physical and emotional struggles that come with unhealthy weight gain and unbalanced hormones.
As a health coach, after weeding out all of the macro and micro advice on how to eat well, it comes down to a few simple guidelines: eat mostly plants, eat clean meats, drink clean water (hopefully not from plastic bottles that end up in dumps, which ultimately pollute your water), drink alcohol and sweetened drinks sparingly, and limit deserts and processed foods to occasional treats.
I like the 80/20 rule in which you eat and drink healthy foods and beverages 80 percent to the time and allow for wiggle room the other 20 percent of the time.
But the problem I often hear from parents is that it’s hard to get their children to eat whole foods—especially vegetables. If this is a challenge you face, here are a few tips to set your children on the right course.
First and most importantly, set a good example. Children often mimic the behavior of their parents. If you have a great diet, you will directly influence theirs.
Give them choices and let them help with meal prep when possible. We all love having choices and autonomy. Not only does this promote buy-in and a sense of empowerment, it also teaches kids that they can cook for themselves rather than relying on fast and processed foods.
Enforce the one bite rule. If you’re introducing something green to the plate, it’s helpful for children to know that all they have to do is give it try—one bite. This requires patience but it highlights the importance of being open-minded and it builds trust. When the rule has been followed, praise them for their willingness. This will create a positive emotional response in them and help the next time around.
Be conscious of pairing. If you’re introducing broccoli for the first time and it’s next to French fries, the green stuff is going to seem much less appealing. Also, after eating the hyper-palatable crispy fries, the taste of broccoli by comparison might even seem wretched. Consider leaving the other side dish off the plate until the “one bite rule” has been followed.
Talk to kids about “eating the rainbow.” Who doesn’t love a rainbow? The benefits of eating the rainbow are that colorful plants contain anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. They’re also naturally high in fiber, which will help children maintain good gut health and regular bowel movements. Many health experts agree that good health begins in the gut.
Get creative. Turn kale into kale chips. Make zucchini noodles (a.k.a., “zoodles”) by using a simple and affordable spiralizer. Cauliflower is easily transformed into “rice” with a good old-fashioned hand shredder. Carrots and snap peas are fun to eat with hummus or a yogurt dip and apples and celery are delicious with nut butters.
The better kids eat, the healthier they will be throughout their school years and throughout their lives. It’s not uncommon for learning, emotional and physical problems to be traced back to nutrition. Let’s give American kids a huge advantage by teaching them great eating habits from the outset.
Jackie Rainford Corcoran is an IIN Certified Holistic Health Coach, culture consultant and public speaker. For a complimentary health consultation, reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.