There is an eye-opening Ayurvedic proverb that says: “When diet is wrong, medicine is of no use. When diet is correct, medicine is of no need.” This proverb alone sums up the importance that healthy nutrition has for our well-being. Yes, we do live in an age where everything is fast and instant, including food, but, in our whirlwind lives, we seldom stop and think about long-term consequences of eating inadequately. Junk or fast food, regardless of how tasty, affordable and easy to get it is, is non-food. By eating it, you are feeding potential disease and this is certainly not something that you want for yourself, let alone for your children.
In the US, food and beverage industry spends over $2 billion per year on marketing products for children, while the fast food industry alone spends $5 million per year on marketing that is also aimed solely at children. Unfortunately, it is working. Processed sugars and fats make almost 40% of children’s diets and only 20% of children in America consume the recommended five servings of fresh fruits and vegetables a day. According to a survey conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, at any given day, “34% of children and teenagers in the United States, between the ages of 2 and 19, eat some type of a fast food meal”.
The statistics are even more frightening when it comes to childhood obesity. The data collected by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention says that, in 2012, “over one third of children and adolescents were overweight and obese” and that childhood obesity “has more than doubled in children in the past 30 years”. The possible consequences of childhood obesity are as equally alarming – as for immediate health effects, they range from cardiovascular disease, pre-diabetes, bone / joint problems, sleep apnea and even psychological problems such as low self-esteem and peer rejection. Long-term effects include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer (breast, colon, thyroid, ovary, and prostate cancer, in addition to multiple myeloma and Hodgkin’s lymphoma).
Start Early and Stay Focused
So, what is the solution? How can we protect our children from the paws of the fast food industry and instil in them the appreciation for healthy and balanced food? The first thing you need to do is to start early, and by early we mean as soon as the child starts eating solid foods. Believe it or not, a child as young as two has already formed food preferences. You, as a parent, are your child’s idol, and role model; it all begins and starts with you. They will model their food behavior after you and if you make healthy eating a priority, they will follow suit.
Tips how to get children interested in healthy eating
- Include them in the entire process of buying and preparing food. Bring them to the grocery store with you and teach them how to select fruits and vegetables. Offer very young children a choice – “Do you want grapes or bananas?” Explain to them why certain foods are good for them, and if they old enough to understand, teach them about the importance of vitamins and minerals.
- Engage them in the cooking process in an age-appropriate way. Allow them to be your helpers. Get them a little chef’s apron and a hat to make the entire process more entertaining. You can even name the dishes after them like – “Lisa’s Mashed Potatoes” or “Taylor’s Fruit Salad”. Again, give them choices – “Would you like sweet carrots or broccoli for dinner?” Make the dinner time as fun and as engaging as possible. Commend your child in front of everybody and thank him or her for their help in the kitchen.
- Try not to talk about your dieting habits or your wish to lose weight in front of your children. Rather than focusing on losing weight, talk about making healthy food choices and eating healthy in order to increase child’s energy and improve their health. Please, DO NOT offer candy as rewards.
- Tell your children that it is OK to have a treat once in a while. Popcorn at the movies or ice-cream on a hot, sunny day is perfectly acceptable.
Patience and staying focused is the key here. If your child is accustomed to eating unhealthy food frequently, change will probably come in small increments. But be persistent and steadfast and, given some time, your child’s eating habits will change for better and for good.