"Exposure Equals Preference" - JJ Virgin
I once read a story about Rhode scholars. Apparently, the one common connection between all of them was that their parents read to them every night, and they ate dinner together... at the table (not in front of the television). The time we spend with our children is the greatest investment we can make in their future. How we influence their health while they are young is the greatest long term gift we can give them.
My husband and I got used to the snickers and smiles we would get from people when they would see our daughter, Chloe eating salmon and avocado at three years old, or the comments we get from other parents when they see her snacking on red bell peppers and hummus in the airport. Often, these parents want to know how on earth we got our strong-willed child to eat anything other than fast food and juice.
Simply stated, it has never been an option. Sure our daughter is exposed to it, just as all children are. She doesn't live in a bubble, nor do we want her to. We are teaching her to make healthy decisions for herself. But when she was really little we didn't provide it for her. And at home, we don't have it available, so she doesn't think of it as a natural choice. She never developed the taste for it or the tendency to reach for it! Chloe's natural tendency is to reach for healthy, nutritious, energizing foods.
Chloe is a normal seven-year-old. She loves the same things all kids love. If I had cake and ice cream in the house all the time, she would be eating it on a regular basis within a matter of weeks. It is my responsibility to nourish her and guide her, to teach her about what is good for her. We even play games at the dinner table, "This Is Good For My Brain Or Bad For My Brain." She gives us a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" sign.
Of course this is easier if your children are young and you are in control of shopping and what they eat. If you have older children and you are just beginning your journey into a lifestyle of healthy eating, it may be a bit more challenging.
Probably the best thing you can do is to lead by example and not have junk food around the house. I would not make it easy for my child to be unhealthy. At the same time, I would not force them to eat foods that they hate or be mean about it. You will likely do more to make them resent your new changes.
You may want to consider introducing several new healthy dishes each week, and continue to serve one or two of their familiar foods (the most healthy of them). Quickly eliminate the worst things, and slowly begin eliminating the other foods, replacing them with more wholesome choices like fruit and raw, home made desserts, salads, soups, smoothies, baked chips instead of fried, etc.
CHLOE'S FOOD GAME
Is this good for your brain, or bad for your brain? We play this game going through every food we can think of. For example:
- Avocados- two thumbs up (God's butter!)
- Blueberries- two thumbs up (God's candy)
- Ice Cream- two thumbs down
- Soda- two thumbs down
- Whole Grain Bread- One thumb up, One thumb down... she already knows grains aren't great, but that whole grain is better than white bread. She often does without the bread.
- Fresh squeezed orange juice- one thumb down (the sugar). We make a smoothie instead and use the whole orange.
EXPOSURE EQUALS PREFERENCE!
Because I didn't have unhealthy food in the house, and had fresh fruit and vegetables instead, that is what she learned to enjoy. Exposure equals Preference! It is not a God-given right that your children should be allowed to eat poorly! It is not good for them! What you expose your children to is what they will learn to appreciate, what they will develop a taste for. You don't have to force them. It's best not to force them. That will only cause them to develop the same issue around food that many of you may have... the same ones that lead you to purchase this book. And let's face it, you can't be with them 24/7. It is far more effective to teach, guide and empower them to make the healthiest choices possible! Help your children develop a connection with their bodies, an awareness of how food affects them and makes them feel.
I get so frustrated when I take my daughter to church or school and discover that they have given cookies and candy to the kids without asking the parents. These are places that I trust to be teaching our children, not making them unhealthy. If every time you take your children somewhere they are rewarded with junk food, it doesn't take long for them to develop an association with... junk food! That is not what I want to teach my daughter! And we wonder why we have an epidemic of obese and behaviorally disordered children?
People often criticize my intensity on this subject, because after all, it's "only one doughnut." All those single doughnuts add up... and your kids end up developing a sugar addiction. Why can't they give the kids grapes or strawberries? Chloe is convinced that blueberries are "God's Candy."
The best thing you can do is get your children invested in their own health as early as possible. Get them involved in learning about what brain health means... what it means to their life, how it helps them and why it's important. Here are some practical tips to get your kids on the right track to brain healthy nutrition starting in early childhood.
BRAIN HEALTHY TIPS FOR KIDS:
- Only keep healthy foods in the house. Food should be a good experience for kids.
- All foods that kids have access to should be foods that are nutritious and energizing.
- Don't have any foods that are "taboo.".. just get rid of them!
- When kids are small, have a "snack shelf" that they can reach that has only "parent approved" items. See list below for suggestions.
- Play games with kids to help them understand how food affects their bodies and brains.
- Teach them to be responsible for their own nutrition as early as possible... at school, church, birthday parties etc.
- Teach your kids about specific effects of certain foods or ingredients as early as possible such as sugar, red dye, msg, etc. (and where they are found).
THE TOOL OF EMPOWERMENT
One of the most empowering tools you have is to allow your children to experience consequences. I, like many parents, find this very painful and challenging at times. But thanks to a great program called "Love and Logic.".. and the help of my loving husband, I came to understand that entitled children (or people for that matter, can never be happy), and the best gift you can give your child is one of empowerment. Unfortunately, the best way to empower a child is to allow them fall once in a while, experience the pain and learn from the lesson... and be there to hug them, but not rescue them.
As a wise teacher once said, "Let them learn while the lessons are cheap." As this relates to food and nutrition, it means that they will not always make the choices you want them to make when they are not with you. You can teach them and they will not always do what you want. If you force them, they will likely rebel. But if you are consistent, you will probably be surprised by the outcome.
I have often been overjoyed by the choices my daughter has made as young as five and six-years-old. Her wisdom and ability to listen to her body already far surpass what it took me decades to accomplish.
Once when I was volunteering at Chloe's school on Halloween, I was put in charge of helping the children decorate cookies... with icing! When they were finished, they were allowed to choose one cookie to take to lunch with them. Most of the children were trying to take more than one. Chloe refused her cookie. Her teacher told her three times to go get a cookie, but she refused. Figuring it was because I was in the room, I told her she could have one. She said loudly, "I don't want a cookie now. It will make my tummy hurt and I will feel sick. I will take it home and eat it after dinner if I want it."
I was happy for several reasons. She clearly understood how the cookie would affect her body... and she listened to her body, she did not give in to "group think" and stood on her own, and she did not allow anyone to influence her when she knew something was good for her (not even a figure of authority).
SOCIETY WITH "FOOD ISSUES"
All you have to do is look around to see that we live in a society seeped in "food issues."
Childhood obesity is increasing at alarming rates. Ten percent of preschoolers are overweight. It is estimated that one of every three children born after the year 2000 will end up with type 2 diabetes. We look to food for comfort, fun, love, relief... well for almost everything. We now know that this phenomenon is the combination of both psychology and physiology. We have already discussed what happens with total melt down in communication of your hunger/ satiety hormonal system if you eat the wrong combination of foods.
But if you develop an unhealthy relationship with food and learn to use food for comfort, reward or punishment, it is also possible to begin to dissociate from the feelings of hunger and satiety. It is no longer a hormonal issue, but a psychological one. It is very important to remain firmly rooted to the "mind/ body" connection during early development and to learn to listen to the signals your body is sending as it relates to hunger, fullness, and how different foods make you feel.
Kid Tip: Have your children earn television time minute for minute by doing physical activity. Better yet, do it with them!
HELPING KIDS DEVELOP A HEALTHY RELATIONSHIP WITH FOOD
- Focus on health risk and reward... not physical appearance!
- Teach about healthy eating and nutrition, not dieting... ever!
- Help kids make connections to how they feel and what they eat. When they eat nutritious food ask them how they feel and help them give it a name, "energized," etc. When they eat sugar, point out when they "are more hyper or get time out more often."
- Avoid using food as reward.
- Avoid using food as punishment.
- Never make children eat when they are not hungry (unless there is a medical reason).
- Don't allow sugary desserts if they choose not to eat... give them back their nutritious meal to eat first.
- Get kids involved in cooking early... and make it fun!
- Allow kids to experience consequences for the choices they make. If they make less healthy choices, don't nag them but be clear about why they may have a "tummy ache."
- Remember to give thanks be grateful for the food we are blessed with and the nourishment and energy it provides.
"RED LIGHT" FOODS TO AVOID
- Red Dye
- White bread
- Processed foods as much as possible. This necessitates making lunch when possible. Most of the food in school lunches are not nutritious.
- Muffins and cookies
- Potato chips
- Fast food
- Fruit Juice (yes, even 100% pure!)
- Pizza (maybe rare occasions)
- Jelly and jam
- Hot dogs (this is pseudo food!)
- Peanuts and Peanut Butter (See Nerd Note)
"YELLOW LIGHT" DON'T OVERDO THESE FOODS:
- Limit breads as much as possible. Go for whole grain or Ezekiel. I know it's tough, just do your best. Check ingredients for sugar and high fructose corn syrup!
- Pasta: It's basically sugar. Try to use Shiratake noodles found in the refrigerated section of health food stores if your kids will eat them. At the very least use whole wheat pasta which takes a little longer to digest.
- Oatmeal: This isn't terrible for breakfast, provided you use steel cut oats. Rolled or instant oats convert quickly to sugar. Try putting a half a scoop of protein powder (I like vanilla flavored pea protein), chopped nuts or seeds and some berries in the oatmeal for a more balanced meal. It will give your child focus and energy for a much longer period of time.
- Freeze dried fruit snacks with no sugar added (not fruit roll ups!). Don't confuse this with dried fruit. These are a lot lighter. I save these for play dates so I'm not known as the "weird mom" who only serves avocados!
- Baked sweet potato chips: Again, saved for rare play dates
- Rice: Use brown rice. White rice is pure sugar. Get them started early on brown rice so they don't notice the difference. Brown rice is still sugar, but at least it takes a little longer to digest.
Remember, it's always better for your children to eat starchy carbs with some kind of protein so they don't get a bolus of sugar, then a sharp drop in blood sugar. This affects their focus... and their behavior!
"GREEN LIGHT" CHOW DOWN!
- Veggies, veggies, veggies
- Nuts and Seeds, except peanuts: For children over 2 years old who don't have allergies
- Raw Nut Butters, except peanut butter: For children over 2 years old w no allergies
- Wild fish
- Lean, grass fed, antibiotic free, hormone free meat
- Baked Sweet Potatoes
- Homemade "raw desserts" like "Avocado Gelato"
- Brain Boosting Smoothies: These are my favorite treats. They taste great and I can hide all kinds of healthy ingredients without my daughter knowing.
- Raw "Flax Snax." These are great snacks found in the raw food section of the health food store. They have pizza flavor, coconut flavor, and many others. They are fabulous and nutritious.
- Raw macaroons: Found in the "Raw food section of the health food store."
** Get familiar with your health food store. Most stores have a raw food section that has great snacks. But beware, some of them are just another marketing scheme for more sugary desserts. You have to read the labels.
It turns out that the battle of the wills to get your child to eat greens is a biological one. Have you noticed that your kids don't hate all vegetables? Usually it's the really green, bitter ones like spinach, kale, and sometimes broccoli (unless we camouflage the taste). My daughter loves red bell peppers, carrots, squash, cauliflower... pretty much any vegetable except the green ones. This bothered me until I understood the reason.
The same qualities in bitter vegetables that make them "good for you" also slow down rapid cell growth… which is exactly what children are doing! It seems that the taste buds receptors for bitter foods are not usually activated until around the time that people stop growing. This is also the time that cancer usually becomes a real threat... Cancer is also rapidly growing cells! Apparently God had a plan! Since it is important for your children to eat vegetables, do your best by being creative, flavoring foods to taste good, provide less bitter vegetables, offer fruit and relax. There is no need to get into a battle of the wills with them. It is futile. It will happen when it happens.
ENTICE YOUR CHILDREN TO LOVE VEGGIES
- Add greens and other nutritious treats to fruit smoothies. They will never even know!
- Make cauliflower mashed potatoes
- "Creamed spinach" with almond milk
- Add small amounts of veggies to some of their favorite foods
- Cook veggies more to soften them up
- Be creative with spices, etc.
- Add a little "Earth Balance" to enhance the flavor.
- Combine greens with another vegetable that your children like.
- Use raw almond butter on celery sticks or red bell peppers as a healthy snack.
DAILY SUPPLEMENTS FOR KIDS
- Multiple vitamin with calcium
- Fish oil: 1 Gram/ day, balanced with EPA and DHA. Some children's formula's have higher levels of DHA for young children. But school age children should get equal amounts. I give my daughter 2 Grams/ day.
- Vitamin D: about 1000 IU's/ day. While the USRDA is 400 IU's, these recommendations are usually quite low. Since vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin, be sure to have levels checked if you are ever having your child's blood drawn. Low levels of vitamin D are associated with obesity, depression and certain types of cancer.
**Remember that the multiple vitamin you give your child probably has some vitamin D included. Take this into account. Also take into account the amount of time your child spends in the sun and whether or not they wear sunscreen on a consistent basis.