I have a fierce passion to turn my kids into diverse, healthy eaters who have so much interest and curiosity in the world and their abilities that they naturally live active lives…
Without even realizing it.
I want healthy to be their “default.”
I’m not a parenting expert, that’s for sure. Like every other parent alive, I’m figuring things out as I go along. There’s not doubt I’ve made my fair share of mistakes — anyone else a yeller? Man, I’m bad at keeping my cool but I’m working on it. I’m a big softy when it comes to candy and treats. I can’t help it. Normally, I’m the one asking if they want ice cream! Oh, and their rooms! Constant pigsties. Constant.
But when it comes to raising “healthy” kids — we can argue what that means but I’m focusing on diverse eating and an active lifestyle — I have 5 things I strive to do and I think, I HOPE, it’s making all the difference.
1. Involve them in EVERYTHING!
This is my strategy for parenting and life as a whole. but when I apply it to healthy living I specifically involve them in food choices, food prep, and all my fitness endeavors.
Here’s the kids getting in on my #yogaADay action…
Post race (this one happens to be the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler when The 9-Year-Old was 4)
I don’t do as many running events as I used to but when I started he was always there. Here’s the half-way point of my marathon run where I got a much needed hug from him.
The more they are involved in my fitness activities the better chance they will grow up doing similar things. I feel the same way about cooking.
Sure, we make a bigger mess and it would be a lot easier if I just cooked myself but the experience of them helping is invaluable. The 3-Year-Old now asks to make “blueberry water” regularly.
And the 9-Year-Old is (kind of — more on that in a minute) embracing his responsibility to cook 1 meal a week.
(I’m trying to start a video series on GreenLiteBites where I document our cooking together. Click here to check out the first one.)
When you involve your kids not only in the doing but the decision process as well, it makes a huge impact on them. I routinely ask what they want for dinner and we, together, decide what vegetable to serve or how to cook the chicken I defrosted. The 9-Year-Old now buys his lunch at school but when he was younger we planned lots of his lunches together and now I do the same with the 3-Year-Old. It gives me a chance to reinforce how important it is to include vegetables and fruit and teach them what a balanced meal looks like.
2. Don’t be afraid to be the “Bad Guy.”
So going back to the 9-Year-Old embracing his new cooking duties, of course it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. He stomps his feet and complains that his friends are online playing Minecraft while he is “stuck in the kitchen” cooking. I’ve also overheard a conversation he had on Skype where his friends were making fun of him for cooking. They didn’t believe he actually had to leave to help me.
It’s not easy to be the bad guy but it’s a necessity when you are a parent, and I have to constantly remind myself (and him) it’s worth it. We have a saying in my house and it’s now become an adolescent-induced eye roll moment. Ever since The 9-Year-Old was a toddler I would ask him what my job was. He would, of course, look at me like I was crazy. Moms don’t have a job, they are just Mom!
My response, however, was/is always the same:
My job is to keep you safe and prepare you for the world. So anytime I’m asking you to do something (or in my case yelling) it more than likely falls into one of those two categories.
To this day when he doesn’t want to do what I’m asking him to do I’ll ask him what my job is and he’ll roll his eyes and say, “To keep me safe and prepare me for the world” in that awesome 9-year-old tone we love SO much.
But whatever — I have successfully brainwashed him!
I’m willing to take on the bad guy role because I know it gives my kids the best chance at growing up healthy. So when he doesn’t want to take that half-mile run with me after school or if cooking dinner results in foot-stomping disappointment that he has to leave his computer I make him do it anyway.
And you know what normally happens? After 5 minutes we’re having a blast! It’s almost like you only have to be the bad guy for a moment and then you are immediately rewarded. Our runs after school give us 5 minutes to connect and after his initial complaining he starts talking my ear off. And dinner? Well, with all his complaining you can tell he actually enjoys it. Just check out our video.
Incentives are my secret weapon when it comes to getting my kids to try a variety of foods and I’m convinced the power of raising good eaters is in the trying. Kids are fickle, one day they like something the next day they ate, and then all of sudden it’s their favorite food in the whole wide world!
The 3-Year-Old was like this with avocado. He LOVED it at a young age and I always gave it to him as simple baby food. Then, for whatever reason, we stopped buying avocados. When I tried to reintroduce them he didn’t care for it but I stood fast on my 1-bite rule and, guess what, now he loves them again. Last night he ate a whole half simply cut in chunks. I don’t even like avocado like that!
The 9-Year-Old is the opposite. He never liked avocado but now he’ll tolerate it in dishes (last night he had it smeared on a quesadilla) because he learned that resistance is futile.
I kid! But it’s the truth. I make my kids try everything on their plates every day and if they don’t want to do it, I incentivize. That’s right, I promise them a piece of Halloween candy or a cookie or whatever if they simply take the bite. Why? Healthy and diverse eaters are created when you constantly expose them to different flavors and textures. So that one bite may not mean anything in the moment but over time my kids have tried everything from avocado to zucchini.
They have likes and dislikes, of course, and I honor them, but there is no reason they can’t try a bite of something they don’t like at dinner.
I should add, incentivizing isn’t foolproof! There have been many tears, screams and sitting at the table until the one bite happens but after a few weeks (months) when I’ve proven to them that yes, you really will get that cookie if you try this mushroom, it gets easier. The 9-Year-Old doesn’t even put up a fight anymore! The 3-Year-Old, well, let’s just say we’re in the throes of it now and he has a longer list of things he doesn’t like than his brother ever did!
This is my approach and it’s working for us. I know it may not work for everyone and I’m not trying to say it’s easy by any means. Getting kids to eat is a battle most parents know and know well. I have an older post on GreenLiteBites where I talk more about my approaches — if you are interested click here.
Oh! And incentivizing isn’t reserved only for food. I’m not ashamed to say I tell The 9-Year-Old he could have extra time on the computer in exchange for taking a short run with me. As I said, he always ends up enjoying the run but you know how it goes. The hardest part is getting out the door!
4. Take them on Adventures!
I wrote a post on the travel blog about why I make travel a priority for my kids — click here — but I didn’t really focus on what I think the healthy byproduct is. Regardless if you have the means to travel the world or only take short, day excursions to local parks, I think the more adventures you take kids on the more they will naturally see the benefits of being fit and active.
For example, a few months ago I took the boys to a local park. We hiked to a small water fall and picnicked — click here to see the whole post.
We had a blast! And from their young perspectives it wasn’t hard or tiring or physically exhausting — it was nothing but super fun! I actually had to pull them out of the creek when it was time to go. They would have walked and explored all day! It’s just what kids want to do, but for some reason, when we age, we lose this type of excitement over something as simple as a hike in the woods. I see it all the time with my friends and even The Husband.
Sure we grow up and mature (most of us), but I want to do my best to raise my kids with a sense of adventure and awareness that being fit and healthy allows them to experience all the world has to offer.
That’s why taking the white water trip a couple of years ago was so emotional for me. There was a time when doing something like that would have seemed physically impossible to me or at the very least VERY uncomfortable but I’ve recaptured that child-like desire to just experience things and I’m going to do my best to raise my kids never to lose it by taking them on as many adventures as I can.
5. Be the example
So many people have asked me how I stay motivated. How did I make the lifestyle changes to not only lose weight but keep it off for so long? For me, one of the biggest drivers comes down to this last point:
I want to be the example.
I thrive off being the example.
My kids have never known the old, lazy me. The me who hid in the baggy clothes, who didn’t do things she loved because she was ashamed of her body, the me who drove instead of walked, ate fast food instead of home-cooked, waited for things to change instead of doing what I could when I could to reach the goals I’ve set out for myself.
My kids will never know that person because she doesn’t exist any longer. And she doesn’t exist any longer because of them.
I don’t think we even realize how much power there is in simply being the example.
Yesterday, unsolicited, The 9-Year-Old asked if I would make him a sign so he can work on them too.
If he didn’t see me actively working on my goals would he know to set his own at his age? I really don’t know! In the grand scheme I’m new to this whole parenting thing.
All I do know is I will continue to lead by example and continue to influence him and his brother as much as I possibly can. It keeps me going and I can only hope it gives them the best shot at a healthy, long life.