Resolve to become a better role model.
If they see you frequently pulling into the local drive-thru for a quick burger, guess where they’ll be headed once they start driving themselves?
Make veggie burgers something you enjoy. Make your children’s exercise – soccer, basketball, ice skating – your exercise (as much as your back will allow).
And if you have budding chefs, take them out to the kitchen with you. Share the fun. The earlier they develop healthy cooking skills, the better.
If your children’s school has a vegetable garden (more and more schools do), get involved. Volunteer to help the garden teacher. “The children get so excited when they see their parents digging in the dirt,” says Kathryn Kocarnik, garden teacher and healthy cooking instructor at an elementary school in Mar Vista, California. “It helps them realize that growing your own vegetables, and eating them, is something that’s really important in life.”
If your school doesn’t yet have a vegetable garden and healthy cooking curriculum, do your best to make it happen. For ideas, visit the nonprofit Garden School Foundation, which runs several successful gardens and cooking programs in elementary schools in Southern California.2
Start a new game of good grades for good food.
As your children head back to school in January, tell them you have a nifty new game the family will be launching, and it involves good grades but not a single (phew!) report card. Then, throughout each day, not just at mealtimes, have fun grading different foods together. Our family conversations often went something like this…
- “Mom, bacon is a ‘D’ or ‘F,’ right?”
- “Yep. It’s not only high in fats that hurt our hearts, it has chemicals that may lead to cancer.”
- “And I know cherries are an ‘A.’ But what about cherry pie? Is that sort of a ‘C’?”
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Children love trying to guess how to grade each food. That’s the game. The goal is their realization that they really do eat a lot of “A” and “B” foods. Very quickly, they start to feel like “A” and “B” kids. Those “A” foods, just like “A” grades in school, take on a certain aura, a mark of excellence. And children begin to feel proud of their healthy choices, and themselves.3
Set up non-food rewards.
Every time you offer your children fast food as a reward, you’re creating second- and third-generation fast-food junkies. The same goes for other high-calorie-dense rewards like candy bars and trips to the ice cream parlor.
Instead, treat them to a trip to their favorite park for a little calorie-burning fun. Or take 20-minute breaks from homework for a little “recess reward” time outdoors throwing frisbees, weather permitting. Instead of a night at the pizzeria, take the family out for an upbeat movie, concert, or sports event.4
Set new limits for television viewing, especially of kids’ shows.
Almost every commercial is for something they should not eat or do not need. For TV shows that they insist on watching, use the DVR and record them. That way, you can speed through all the commercials and all the sugary, fatty, salty temptations.
Try to put a lid on other screen time, too, from Wii games to Facebook. The less time they spend on the couch, the better.5
Resolve to carve out time to enjoy more family dinnertime at home.
Kids and teens don’t need separate meals at the local burger joint on their way home from sports or other extracurricular activities at school. They do need to be exposed to healthy food very early in life – and daily. Repetition fosters acceptance, then enjoyment.
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To enhance the pleasures of healthy food at dinnertime, create pleasurable conversation. Keep the talk upbeat. Ask your children questions like:
- What made you feel really good about yourself today?
- What made you laugh today?
- What’s your favorite veggie? Why?
- Tell me one thing you learned today.
What better way to end the day, and underscore the feeling among your children that good food is also about good living. It’s a mind-set we all can enjoy and benefit from in 2015.