Monkey See, Monkey Do

A problem that many active kids and young athletes face is learning about and actually wanting to eat healthy foods…Like fresh fruits and vegetables. So many young, active kids & athletes gravitate towards high sugar sports drinks, juice, pop or pizza & hot dogs for post-competition snacks, believing this will allow them to perform their best and stay healthy.

Many parents face the struggle of “picky eaters” that are astoundingly creative at getting what they want…Skipping the salad or veggies on their plate and grabbing a granola bar or other high sugar snack in lieu. Parents  wonder what what to do, or often they just give as the stress of constant temper tantrums and fights is too much on their maxed out nerves.

So where does this behaviour come from? 

What most of us parents do not realize that our children are really just copying exactly what they see us do. So the question we should ask ourselves is: What are my eating habits? What are my lifestyle habits? What are the habits of the other adults and children in the house, or those they spend lots of time with? 

Your children are copying your every move, or those of someone else in your home. This is not to say that anything you or others in home do is “bad” or “wrong”, it is just an opportunity to gain present awareness of what is influencing your children’s choices….

My own experience has taught me how to address this exact challenge:

I have a 5 year old boy and a 3 year old girl. I am a Holistic Nutritionist so nutrition is very important at my house on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I do have days where we do not eat as well as I know we can, but for the most part we stay on track pretty good with healthy eating choices. A good ratio would be 80-20: 80% clean eating (lots of fresh fruits veggies, whole grains, etc), 20% fun food (more sweets, etc). 

80% of the time we eat clean & healthy meals while the other 20% we eat with less concern for the specific nutritional content.

  • I teach my kids that its okay to eat meals like pizza occasionally, like at a party, or on one of those days. that you just feel like having a pizza.
  • I teach them to pay attention to how they feel when they eat something: are they tired, are they agitated, are they moody, are they full of energy, are they bloated and gassy, or are they feeling good? This is their body communicating to them that what they choose to eat has in good or bad impact on their daily lives. 
  • I also teach about nature’s foods and what each food will do for their body (ex: carrots are good to help us see better).

You don’t need to be a nutritionsist, but you can choose a different food each week, to educate yourself on, and then teach your kids.

Here’s a great example:

Last year my son was sick with a bad cold. He couldn’t go to his best friend’s birthday party and he was devastated. A few days later at the dinner table I told him to eat his peppers, he said to me, “No! I don’t like peppers.”

Like most kids, I knew he did like them, but was in a phase where he just refused to eat them for a while.
So I said to, “Jacob, you remember the other day you couldn’t go to your friend’s birthday party? Peppers are loaded with vitamin C which helps you fight colds by boosting your immune system so if you eat your peppers all the time you have a good chance of being able to go to many more birthday parties in the future.”

He was so surprised, and this made perfect sense to him. He know had his own purpose for eating well…From that day on, he has been eating his peppers and many other vegetables without resisteance.

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We know use this technique for all the foods he is unsure about: I tell him why we eat that food, and how it will help his body. (Ex: we eat protein to build muscles; to have big muscles like Daddy.) It works every time. 

If your child doesn’t like something…don’t give up!

  • It takes about 10 introductions to a new food for a child to become used to it and to be sure whether they like it or not.
  • Keep serving it weekly and encourage them to take at least 2-3 bites. In most cases, they will end up enjoying it.
  • Be creative! At Christmas this year, Santa left my son a message saying, “Don’t replace a healthy snack with  cookies!” This left him knowing Santa wants healthy foods too…So on Christmas Eve he told me we needed to put out pomegranate, veggies, crackers, and hummus for Santa and his reindeer which w we did. He was so proud of himself, telling me that Santa would feel energized for his long night … How cute!!! 

Bottom line: Teach them by doing it yourself and you will start seeing big results with your picky eaters and the whole family!

By Jessica Girard, RHN, Personal Fitness Trainer, Triathlete

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