Kids and Nutrition

In spite of video games, cell phones, and other toys of distraction, kids are still kids. They still are going to run, and jump, and scream, and play, and do all the physical things that make being a kid so enjoyable. So whether or not they know it, most kids already have a tremendous underlying understanding and appreciation for exercise (learning to enjoy exercise is made difficult later in life by making it a class (P.E.) that involves grades).

However, where the trouble begins with for most children in leading a healthy lifestyle is there indoctrination to unhealthy eating. Since they are just children they can’t really be blamed for this, as children are undeveloped social creatures whose environment is controlled and monitored by us (the adults). We must then point the fingers of blame at ourselves and realize that it is our responsibility to help our kids understand the importance of nutrition and change the environments our society creates that compel children to make such poor choices in eating.

The main thing we need to change for our children is understanding what they are eating – the way most Americans were typically raised (and still are according to studies), is that desert was included on a regular basis with meals and was considered a “reward.” So if the child was good that day (did his/her chores, got to school on time, etc.) he/she would be “rewarded” with desert at dinner that evening. If the child was bad that day (talked back, left his/her room a mess, etc.) they would be “punished’ by not being given desert.

Without even realizing it the child is being indoctrinated to want to eat desert as much as possible – after all, if desert is a “reward” and not getting desert is a “punishment” then it only makes sense for a child to get as many rewards as possible. This plays a major factor later in the child’s eating habits, as usually children aren’t socially-developed enough at this point for there to be the risk of social ridicule (i.e. getting made fun of for being overweight). The child also learns to associate being “good” with getting desert – this means that as long as the child has been behaving “good” according to the standards set by his/her parents, the child feels that they are owed the reward of desert and if they are not given one will see fit to obtaining one themselves (from a friend, from a vending machine, etc.).

I’m not advocating “no desert” for kids – in fact, desert can be a great way to teach kids about the importance of nutrition. What I’m advocating is for parents to change the way they give desert to their kids so that they don’t associate sweets with being good. Additionally, what is being given as a desert should include healthy, sweet tasting items so that a child learns to appreciate healthy foods. So instead of always giving chocolate pudding or a cookie for desert, the child could be given apple slices or celery sticks with organic peanut butter intermittently. Lastly, parents need to set an example by eating healthy in front of their kids – you are your child’s biggest role model whether you like it or not. Kids are smarter than they realize yet, and if you tell them to eat healthy while you eat junk food they will either learn to distrust you, eat the junk food anyways behind your back, or perhaps even both. While kids typically too young to understand calories and nutrients, they do understand action – eating healthy with your kids and trying to set the right example is the strongest impact you can make as a parent on determining their future behavior.