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Hey, I am a med student who likes to write. Each week I provide a handful of tips that will help you in your quest to become healthier.

Are Your Kids Eating Junk? Develop Healthy Eating Habits In Your Children

Written: 11/12/2007

The other day I watched a very informative documentary "Vive La Cantine!" (Long live the Canteen!). There was a chef and a dietitian who went to 2 canteens in France to see the condition in which children, about 8 years old, were served food. It was really appalling.

What do you think your children are served at school? The children were served chips and other "junk foods" (powder and water for soup!) on a daily basis. They shunned any vegetables placed on their plates despite genuine efforts made by the cooks at the canteens to make them food from fresh vegetables. Wastage of food is an enormous issue in these canteens.

Also I received an email from a reader who had a similar problem.
Hello, Yan. I was just wondering if you could help me...
I'm 14 and I always wanted to eat more vegetables, but I have this image in my brain that its taste suck. was wondering if you had any particular tip to get that image out of my brain and make the vegetables more tasty.

Thank you,
Victor.
This email gave me food for thought because this is a very grave issue when children at this tender age, still in a stage of active physical growth, do not eat vegetables. This article will be focused mostly on vegetables because these are the main foods which are a problem for children.
  • Educate your children about the different types of vegetables
    Try the following experiment. Take some junk foods like chips, burgers, nuggets, etc... and add a few vegetables like beet, spinach, watercress, celery, or choose any other vegetables from this list of culinary vegetables and ask your kid the names of each food item. I'll bet you that your child will know ALL the junk foods and will fail to know the names of about 30% of the vegetables you'll place in front of him/her. Educating their children about the basics of healthy eating is an area where most parents fail. So the first thing I'll recommend is to familiarize your kids with the different vegetables there are, their tastes, their textures, their colors, their flavors in food. Let them actually experience the joy of fresh vegetables and hopefully this will help them get rid of the bad image vegetables ingrained in children's minds.

  • Stop rewarding your kids
    Most parents try to bribe their children into eating vegetables by coaxing them with rewards. This kind of behavior will instill the idea that vegetables are something that they are forced to eat for a reward. If there are no rewards, your children won't bother eating the vegetables. Believe me kids do think like that. (I used to when I was a kid.) If you are doing this, you must STOP it now because you will only be fooling yourself and your kids for a "short period". How long do you think you can bribe your kids to eat vegetables. If you want your kids to gain healthy eating habits for the rest of his/her life, you must start by explaining to them why eating vegetables are good for them. They won't be able to understand this at first but be inflexible (not forceful). Explain each time that kids must eat vegetables to stay healthy and smart.

  • Stop punishing your kids
    Like the rewarding kids, there are some parents who go to extreme measures in order to make their children finish their meals. These experiences will make the children create an aversion for vegetables. Don't shove the vegetables down his/her throat but rather be patient and take the time to explain to your children that vegetables will do their health good.

  • Actually cook them food
    Most parents actually buy foods for their kids or just microwave something they put together like the "powder and water to make soup" food. First of all, outside food does not equal home cooked food. You have no control of the ingredients used to make the food, basic stuff like salt, sugar, oil. No, you must not put your kids on a diet but it doesn't hurt to have a control on health enemies like this especially as the rates of obese kids are escalating. Also, most of the instantaneous foods which take just a few minutes to cook are actually junk foods. Let your kids taste a real carrot soup with real carrots in it instead of just powder and water. If you are like me and don't have enough time on your hands, just wake up one hour earlier to cook food and get your spouse to help you if you are married. The following site on 101 Simple Meals Ready in 10 Minutes or Less will be of use to you. You may also want to cook in large quantities and freeze the food. Next time you want to serve the foods, just heat them. If you do not know how to cook, it's never late to learn. You can learn the basics of cooking at Cooking 101.

  • Limit the pocket money
    Kids today have too much money and not enough control. Teaching kids how to manage money is one of the biggest challenges facing any parent. If you can teach your child the difference between needs and wants, how to budget and how to save, your child will know more than many adults. Limit their pocket money so that they don't buy candy or a chocolate bar every time they are hungry. Prepare them a healthy lunch meal instead of giving them money to buy food to eat.

  • Limit the chocolate, biscuits and other junk stuffs
    Look at this typical school day of the child of my friend. Her mom sends her to school with a healthy lunch meal... but also adds some biscuits to the meal and a chocolate bar. At 10 00, the kid gets hungry. He eats the chocolate bar and the biscuits. At lunch time, he is not hungry enough and so eat only a few mouthfuls of his food and leaves about 3/4 of the food like that. At home, about 4 pm, he starts feeling very hungry. Unfortunately for him, food is not ready at this time. His mother has not even started cooking food at this time. So what does the poor mother do? She feeds her kid with lots of biscuits again to allay the hunger. Come dinner time and the kid only nibbles at his meal, leaving almost all his meal like that. And the mother wonders what is wrong with her son and why he is not eating.

    In order to avoid this from happening to your children, you must limit the junk food you give your son/daughter and to prepare a size meal he/she will actually be able to eat at lunch. If you give him too much or too little, this will delay his eating time and create a disturbance in his eating pattern.

  • Give your kids healthy snacks
    Instead of giving him two chocolates, two candies, or one chocolate and biscuit, why not treat him to a chocolate and an apple or a yogurt and some biscuit. Kids must eat sweets but also healthy foods. So create a combination of sweets and healthy foods and each time he wants a chocolate, give him an apple dipped in some chocolate or a chocolate cake with oranges in it. He will like it and also eat healthily at the same time.

  • Hide the vegetables in the dishes
    Despite your various attempts and you find your kid still not enjoying the vegetable you have cooked for him, then it is time for you to resort to some guerrilla tactics. You must try to hide the vegetables in the dishes you prepare for him. You can puree vegetables for pasta sauces or you put the vegetables on a pizza. You can also make shakes and smoothies from fresh vegetables. There are many sneaky ways to prepare dishes with vegetables which are not so apparent. If you are discovered by your kids, you may be accused of "cheating" but at least you are sacrificing yourself for the goods of your children.

  • Encourage family meals
    Children get some motivation and actually love the family atmosphere where everybody sits around the table for a meal. Even if you are busy all day, at least take some time to enjoy a meal with your children. Learn to know what and what they are not eating. Encourage them to eat by telling them how such a vegetable will benefit their health.

  • Make them watch educational cartoons on food and nutrition
    Children are easily influenced by what they watch on tv. The proof a cartoon from Ireland known as Food Dudes is already getting children hooked on vegetables. The Food Dudes are 4 preteens called Razz, Rocco, Charlie and Tom who fight against the evil Junk Punks (General Junk and his sidekicks) who are depriving the world of fruits and veggies! The teens get their superpowers by consuming healthful foods like raspberries (Razz), broccoli (Rocco), carrots (Charlie) and tomatoes (Tom).

  • Be a model to your children
    And last but not least, be a model to your kids. Avoid bad eating habits in front of your children as children are very intelligent persons and they can learn very quickly to emulate your eating habits. Also if you’re practicing healthy eating habits, it’s a lot easier to convince children to do the same.
Kids are very smart nowadays. You will lose many battles at first but you will win the war eventually if you stick to the above guidelines. Use your imagination and if you know of some other ways to encourage children to eat, please share it with other fellow readers in the same situation as yourself.- Gyanish


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