Does your child run for the hills when you mention the word healthy?
Do you feel like you’ve lost the battle and celebrate when your kids eat canned green beans and apples slices with caramel dip?

My kids often complain, “why does my mom have to be a health coach?”  Transitioning to a healthier lifestyle has been a journey for all us of.  There has been (and will continue to be) many ups and downs along the way with lots of teachable moments.

I’ve been there.  I’m still there.  That internal struggle at the grocery store…  Do I buy the processed foods that are inexpensive, easy to prepare and eagerly accepted by everyone?  Or do I buy real food that I will spend much more time preparing and will no doubt get ungrateful remarks and snickers at the dinner table? I’m not perfect.  I do both.  But I continue to increase the amount of real food and (usually) purchase only the highest quality, least processed foods to use for those times when cooking a meal from scratch isn’t going to happen.

This is what I have learned in helping my children learn to appreciate real food.

Don’t Overuse the Word Healthy

Talk about the nutrition real food provides and give specific examples how it can help them.  For example, you can tell them carrots have vitamins that help their eyes see better.  To make it more fun, show them a cross section of a carrot and ask them if it looks like an eye?  It is not a coincidence!  You could also tell them nuts and beans have proteins that make their muscles stronger and their legs run faster.  Fish has good fats that make their brains smarter.  Who doesn’t want stronger muscles and smarter brains?

Teach Kids to Read Ingredient Lists
Ask them if they know what aspartame is?  Can they pronounce butylated hydroxyanisole?  Yellow #6 and Red #40- do they want to eat food or numbers?

Help Children Understand the Ingredients Listed
If they are old enough, tell them to google it.  If they’re not, you google it and help them to understand what they are putting in their bodies.  They have a right to know!

Avoid Using Calories and Fat Grams to Identify Healthy Foods
This is hard for children to understand and can lead to unhealthy choices.  This can also perpetuate unhealthy body images in young girls.  Real nutrition is found in real food.  Calories are unimportant.  Fats have been demonized and are poorly misunderstood.  Healthy fats are critical for growing bodies.  The best food choices are the foods that do not come with an ingredient label.

Take Your Kids to a Farmers Market
Introduce them to the farmers.  Explain to them how the crops were grown and brought to the market by the farmers.  Let them explore and taste the different varieties of fruits and vegetables.  Help them learn to appreciate the process.

Start Slowly and Gradually Increase Real Foods

For some families, drastic changes can cause an unwanted revolution.  Make one small change.  Stick with it.  Then make another.

Take It Easy On Yourself
Be a positive role model.  Make the best choices for you and your family.  Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect.  Be proud of the changes you are making.  Your family will thank you one day.

Children can be picky eaters.  They may not appreciate your efforts to make healthier choices.  Meal planning, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning up are hard enough.  Who wants to listen to their children complain about the meal you just spent a lot of time and energy to prepare?  Children are moldable.  Change their perception!  They can learn to appreciate real food.

What is one small change you can make?  How will you help your child(ren) to understand why you made the change?

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