Creating Healthy Eating Habits In Kids

Advice for parents (particularly parents of young children): Don’t force your kids to eat food they don’t want, or make them feel obligated to clean the plate you, or someone else, loaded for them.  Yes, I’m dead serious.

Think outside the box. Have rules about trying a bite–just one bite. Fight that fight. Do it by always having something visible they know they like. Use it as incentive to get them to try one bite of whatever you’re eating or want them to eat.  Be satisfied with one bite, and have them try the same food two or three times in a year.  Be willing to accept that they won’t like certain things.  If they actually gag, move on.  Don’t offer that again. Offer healthier choices whenever possible, but let them have a say in what they eat, and let them stop eating when they’re full (no desert until at least an hour after dinner–no exceptions.)  If you don’t make it a power struggle, it won’t be a power struggle.  Say “would you like chicken or pasta?”  instead of “do you want chicken?”  Don’t ask “yes/no” questions when one of those choices isn’t acceptable to you.  This way you maintain the structure you want them to have while still letting them feel empowered.  

Our generation is walking proof that “you’ll eat what I cooked whether you want it or not, and you won’t leave the table until your plate is clean” teaches poor eating habits.  It creates adults with serious weight management issues who eat when we’re not really hungry and die of heart disease way too young.

We sit down to a family meal most every night, but we don’t necessarily all eat the same thing. Really, this is less of a big deal than you might think. My kids are now 14 and almost 12. This is how I’ve fed them their whole lives. It isn’t always simple, but I’m observing something really important. They eat only when they feel hungry, and they stop eating when they feel full. They know exactly how much food will satisfy them most of the time, so there is rarely much waste. They don’t eat out of boredom or for comfort. Food is nothing more or less than sustenance to them. They will even stop eating a treat and save it for later once they feel satisfied.

It is actually much easier to throw together an extra something I know my child will want to eat, than to fight with him and dole out consequences for not eating something he really didn’t want.  I’ve got bigger fish to fry–pun intended.  I also don’t care for the subconscious message we send when we say they have to take whatever is offered to them even if they don’t want it–think cigarettes, booze, drugs, and sexual advances.  Kids need to feel empowered to say no when it is appropriate (or imperative!) that they do so.  It’s not a concept, it’s a practice. They learn what they live.  Like everything else, it starts at home–good or bad. 

There is no perfect diet. There is only best case scenario.  The meat and poultry in this country are loaded with hormones and antibiotics. The fruit and veggies are loaded with pesticide and wax.  Most of the fish is farm raised and loaded with artificial color and preservatives.  Everything is loaded with sugar, salt, oil, and flour. Truly healthy food costs a fortune and is nearly impossible to find for the vast majority.  The best we can do for our kids is end the romance with food.  If we teach them discipline and reward them with choice, we create adults with tools for living right in multiple aspects of their lives.


Does Summer Fun Equal Learning Loss?

The short answer is YES!  With nothing resembling education, they lose the momentum they gained week over week all through the school year.  But, we don’t have to rain on their parade in order to maintain their academic success.

Like every parent out there, I want my kids to have a really fun summer.  Like every parent out there, I want my kids to get a great education.  NWEA testing at my son’s school a few years ago showed that students gained 1.7 years of educational growth during the school year, and lost 1 year over summer break!  As someone who works with students in remedial reading, I can tell you that my typical student loses 1 to 3 reading levels in just 2 months of summer break.  This is something that plagues the hearts and minds of every educator I know.

Much to my dismay, I can’t make my students exercise their brains over the summer. However, much to their dismay, I have begun to take a look at my own children. : ) I could just enforce a certain amount of time they must spend reading a book every day. That goes a long way to helping maintain their educational progress, so I’m not slinging mud a that!  If my students’ grown-up(s) would just do that I’d be on cloud nine!  I have to reign on my own kids like a Spring storm all summer long to make daily reading happen.  So if that’s what I have to do anyway, this year I’m trying something a little different.

I gave the boys a few weeks to relax while I furiously wrote four really intense papers on cognitive development in order to finish up my own college term after my last day of work.  I told the boys to read something every day; I watched to see what they would do without me riding them.  They didn’t pick up a book; not once.  So, today I assigned a research project to each of them.  One child laughed at me; the other one cried.

I’ll tell you a little secret; there are things kids think they hate but once you get them to start doing it, you can’t get them to stop.  PowerPoint is a fun program.  It has progressed to the point that it is pretty easy to use.  And you can make things spin, wobble, fly around, and explode complete with sound effects.  Kids like that.  Kids LOVE that.  And it’s an extremely valuable skill for a vast array of jobs!

So, my 9th grader is researching political parties.  His goal is to find out how and when they started, what they believe, who leads them, a few famous (or infamous!) members, what they use as their symbol and why.  By the time he enters college, it is imperative that he know the difference between education and indoctrination.  High school is his opportunity to ask questions and build on this foundation, so he needs to know what questions to ask.

My 6th grader is gathering all of the base data on every US President since 1960.  I have given him a list of what I want him to find out about them; it isn’t brain surgery and it’s easy to find. I want to know: their name, the names of their wives and children, date of birth/death, dates in office, President # i.e. Obama is our 44th President, political party, and one or two things that we remember about their Presidency.  He has to include a picture of each of them.

Let me repeat, there are things that kids think they hate until they start doing it; then you can’t get them to stop.  Whenever I assign my students a Venn Diagram they moan and groan and the mentors look at me like I’m nuts.  Then they start comparing and contrasting.  When class is over I can’t pry them away from the thing.  “OK, Mrs. W, hold on. I just remembered that this is different and I don’t have it on here.  Can I take this with me?! Can we do this again tomorrow? PLEEEEEASE??”  Everyone is laughing and communicating and comparing and contrasting and learning.  The kids don’t hate me anymore. The mentors stop to thank me on their way out the door for making the time so fun.  It’s all in how you set up a task.

So my sons have to give this one hour per day, only on the week days.  All of their research can be done on the internet.  Do you know how fast an hour goes when you’re Googling and scanning for facts?  Do you know how many skills and brain activities are being used and developed here?  Their final presentation is to be in PowerPoint which they both LOVE.  I expect to see things floating and flying, sizzling and spinning.  They have to create one artifact that is tangible.  It can be anything that relates to their topic–something they draw, or cut out, or glue together, or find somewhere.  This project is due the day before I go back to work (July 29th), so they have plenty of time.

Last night they reluctantly started their research.  Guess what.  They found facts!  They came to me with lists and they were proud of what they had.  They had questions!  When a kid has questions, they’re interested.  So they don’t hate me anymore, they’re not laughing at me, and they’re not crying. Best of all, they’re thinking.  One of them just came to where I’m sitting and writing this with news on in the background, and started asking me intelligent questions about the public figure being interviewed on the TV.  It’s someone he recognizes as a former Vice Presidential candidate.

I believe that this summer project will wind up being interesting for them, and will help maintain their education level, while not sucking all of the fun out of their summer.



Happy Mother’s Day, Mom

Dear Mom, I know I wasn’t an easy kid to raise.  I think that’s why God gave me to you; He knew you could do it.  And you did!  I’m far from perfect, but I’m way better than just OK.  You taught us what truly matters in life–love, loyalty, family, faith, education, and moral standards.  All things no amount of money could ever buy.  You led us by example. You ARE the Grandma you set out to be.  Their sun rises and sets in you.

Thanks, Mom.  I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day.

(Click the “Play Button” on the bottom right)