“Stop! Don’t eat that!” warned my 4 year old Allison. Our family friend paused with the pizza right at his lips. “It has pepperoni which is a brain killer!” We all laughed and moved on with the night. Then another day arose when my dad offered my children some candy. “No thanks, they contain high fructose corn syrup.” We didn’t laugh as much on this one but there was more of a silent pause in the family as everyone thought about it. And then the awkward moment arrived at a family party when the cake was being handed out and one of my girls asked loudly, “Does this icing have dyes in it?! I can’t eat dyes!” This health thing wasn’t helping our relationships with those we loved. We needed to have a family talk.
Our healthy lifestyle was obvious to those around us but it wasn’t being communicated with ease. Furthermore, I knew our kids felt the tension as they would strive to obey only to have others roll their eyes, to sit at events with nothing to share in the social world, or to feel rude to those who tried to share a treat with them. So we had to decide to give up on being healthy and let the kids do whatever they wanted, or we needed some basic understandings that put everyone at ease. We decided to stay healthy and do what is fitting for all.
- Role play how to appropriately handle your family’s health decisions without making others feel inferior. We spent a few talks on this because it took time for the children to understand health manners. We determined we would ask questions about the food privately to one adult rather than announce it to the whole table. We would not tell other people what and how to eat nor make a scene on what our family has decided to eat. We would be sensitive to the giver of the food and accept it if the person’s feelings were on the line but not necessarily eat it.
- Decide what truly is not allowed. If the lines are gray it can be difficult for the child to know when to say no and when to say yes. For us, we choose to avoid MSG, high fructose corn syrup, and dyes completely. These are three things the children don’t even have to ask about when deciding. And yes, that means most candy. But don’t feel too sorry for the kids. We can still do select cookies, cupcakes, chocolates, popsicles and frozen yogurt but something such as candy is just always a “nope.” This will cut out the pleas and sad faces of “can I mom?!” in moments when it’s hard. My kids just know, don’t even ask! In addition, we decided we would only do one treat a day (or none!) but would allow for two treats at parties and holidays. If they want more they can save something for the next day. This causes them to be aware and carefully select their items.
- Teach the children the reason behind eating healthy so they understand it is to help them. My younger kids are still learning this but my older three ages 8, 10, and 11 are at a place they don’t want the junk because they understand what it does and what it can lead to in life. Their taste buds have adapted and if they do eat unhealthy they don’t feel well and know why. This has helped them make their own wise choices when we aren’t there to guide. Once a child has their own convictions it takes quite the burden off of the parents because they trust the child knows and will do what is right.
- Keep healthy treats readily available as an option. This has worked wonders in our family. We take a trip to the local health food store and let the children pick out several fun and tasty treats! It may even include the “candy” stuff just without the dyes and high fructose. These items are something they really like and when school, church, friends or extra activities offers treats there is a back-up plan to be able the moment. I have items in the car, in my purse, in the pantry at home, and in their backpacks ready for any switch off!
- Be consistent in the decisions but not obsessive. “Mom, at the sleepover there was a game that used Skittles that we had to catch in our mouths and if I didn’t play then we wouldn’t have had equal players so I decided to go ahead and do the game but I wondered if I made the right decision?!” In this situation, we let it go and assured our daughter that we were proud she was aware and that it isn’t a habit she gives in to often but that we understood the predicament. There are times something will come up and you may have to let it go. Just look at the overall pattern of the decisions made and whether or not there is a direction of consistency.
Yes, we have come a long way since our kids would correct others in what they were eating or announce to parties what wasn’t allowed. This generation most likely knows more about health than what my friends and I were aware of growing up but I want it to be communicated and understood in wholesome expression for all involved. Although, I will say having my four year old yell out “brain killer” to people who eat pepperoni is a favorite memory!