How many times have you left the house without enough food to sustain you before you return? Gotten busy at work and eaten a granola bar for lunch or skipped lunch all together? Arrived home after a long day and make a protein shake or some crackers and cheese for dinner?
The struggle is real.
So are the behaviours, moods and body image perspectives that arise from these habits. And that is simply all they are. Habits. The good news is, they can be changed – you just need the will to do so.
Yes, I realize these occurrences are sometimes out of desperation as our only means to keep everything together while juggling an overwhelming schedule, however, the blurred reality is that if we actually fuelled ourselves better, we would think straighter, make better decisions, have more energy, and likely, lose those extra pounds.
But possibly the biggest reason to gain control of this area is because you are not the only person those habits affect.
It’s important to see and feel the physical and mental damage you are inflicting on yourself and realize the role you are setting for your own children. Being acutely aware of this can be the shift you need to change your attitude towards prioritizing your health.
Do You Know What Happens In the Lunchroom?
We can control what our kids eat until they get into the school system, where it becomes a new battlefield when the are surrounded by a wide variety of lunches (including various cookies and treats). Your kids might turn from foods they have always loved because it was mocked, it’s not uncommon to hear body image comments like “this dress makes me look fat”, they may one day randomly declare they are a vegetarian or vegan and they are suddenly aware of all kinds of attitudes and opinions that you did not instil in them. Even bartering can happen if not regulated and lunch requests at home become more about what they can trade for other’s goods than what they will actually eat out of their own lunch box.
At this point, the reality of our children not “choosing” to eat certain foods doesn’t seem as important as not eating well (or at all) because of peer pressure.
Do you know what your kids are eating at school? If you aren’t already, start talking to them openly and non-judgmentally to at least know the whole picture. (Read this article for great tips on how to initiate conversations). This can explain a lot about their levels of concentration, moods, energy levels, health and more. And remember, you are their number one model! So firstly, show don’t tell.
Return on Your Investment
Kids who are educated and invested in their meals will likely make better decisions. A kid who knows why a certain food is included in their lunch can feel empowered and a child who has made their own lunch can take ownership of it. Just like anything we do more of, we become more confident, more adept and less intimidated by. It may take some extra time and planning on your part as the parent, but in the long run, the results will be worth it.
The 3 C’s
You have the chance and the choice to make some changes.
You have a first-hand opportunity to be a positive influence and a role model. It starts when kids are young: they mimic everything you do from speaking to walking patterns, mannerisms, and more. Their attitude towards food and eating is no different.
Here are some simple ways to role model healthy lifelong habits that will bring up your energy levels, improve your mood, and keep weight gain at bay (even increase your chance of weight loss!).
- Food Prep: Get your family involved and on board with food preparation. This should not be your own personal struggle, and besides, it creates great family time together! Have your kids pick a day (or 7) to plan the menu. If you have younger kids, choose a food and give them 2 options. For example for dinner, choose chicken as the protein source and ask “do you want pineapple or BBQ sauce?” Then pick 2 veggies together from a list to pair with the meat. Visual lists or pictures can make this process more fun. For lunches, let them design their own. Use the same ingredients day to day and combine them differently to make life easy. To be successful on an ongoing basis, it’s important to shop ahead of time. The time upfront will save you wasted energy and frustration in the long run. “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” (Benjamin Franklin).
- Recipes: Get on the internet and search recipes together or go through a cook book. Kids love knowing it was their choice and they will feel more ownership and investment, leading to more involvement and ultimately less work for you (like when they can literally shop for and cook the meals)! Better Together recipes is great family focussed site.
- Teach kids proper Kitchen Etiquette. Have them help keep counters clean and tidy and teach them how to properly and safely use kitchen ware. For example, show them how to cut properly. Afterall, knives aren’t “bad” if they are used properly. My children have been using a knife since they were 2, granted it was a salad knife, but they can safely cut fruits and vegetables and love making appetizers and fruit salads.
- Plating: Outward appearance means a lot. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but proper plating can make any food look more appetizing (there is no shortage of inspiration on Pinterest). Choose a variety of foods, have several colours on the plate and get creative with the presentation. Here is an interesting article on what is visually pleasing to an adult vs a child.
- Use meal times to talk and more importantly, LISTEN. Listening to kids makes them feel like they have a voice. It empowers them and makes them feel special. Kids will love to tell you about their day if you let them and this is where you will learn about what is truly going on in their lives, but only once that trust is built and if it is maintained on an ongoing basis. Keep the conversation open and non-judgemental.
You don’t have to be a perfect role model, you just need the desire to prioritize. It takes so little time in the grand scheme of things and the long term benefits run far beyond just good tasting food. A few changed habits can go a long way.
So, if nothing else, do it for them if not for you. Healthy is hot and it starts with you.