While I am sure my parents did the best they could to teach me to be healthy, I do feel I would have saved myself a lot of trouble as an adult had I engaged a lot more with mindful eating habits as a priority when I was a child. Of course, times were different, as we did not know of many options and ways that are accessible today.
However, now there are plenty of resources available to us. We have a lot of information and there is easy access to knowledge from all over the world. Using this creatively, parents today can help their children build the healthy habits. Here are some thought starters:
1. Influence not dictate: The most important place people are picking up information is from their home. While we encourage kids to ask questions in school and reading books, the same is going to apply here as well. Children tend to pick up habits from us and when we start preaching to them a set of rules that we, ourselves, don’t follow, it confuses kids. The message they pick up is that I can do this when I am older, so they don’t integrate healthy habits for life. Most of the healthy habits have to be a family choice so they see this as a lifestyle.
2. Rewards for their emotions: One of the biggest places where eating junk food happens is emotional eating. I was handed out chocolates and candy when I did well in an exam or when I would cry because of having fallen off a chair. My relationship with junk food depended on me being emotionally happy or sad. The connection sustains for a long time. We have to break that dependence and that does not mean there’s a pizza treat or a candy treat involved. Not emotions, but moderation.
3. Creativity with healthy habits: Fried chips can be replaced with baked chips and that too made with kale or sweet potato or carrots. If they create it themselves, they feel like adults and therefore consume it. Creativity with healthy food can be a fun activity and should be included in the weekly plan. Children can visit a supermarket store to pick up the ingredients of the dish they intend to prepare, so even in the store, they consciously seek those items. It can also be done as a fun class with their buddies. My niece has done quite a bit of shopping of this nature because she sees me make it and engages with me.
4. Through their dolls and teddy bears: One of my chapters on integrating healthy habits in kids for my health coach course showed how a father taught his child through her teddy bear! Since children love their teddy bears and dolls a lot, how would they take care of them? What would they make them snack? What would make them sick? His daughter consciously picked those items when she went for birthday parties and even shared with her friends.
5. Healthy snacks: Snacking is a big challenge even for adults who are trying to lose weight, so this is one area that we must instill well in kids. If we tell them to eat roasted chana, then we must also share in an easy way why are they good. For example, ‘mamma eats roasted chana because it has protein’. Protein builds your muscles and makes you run fast. When we tell the ‘why’ of the food benefits, they register the information much better than just letting them know this is healthier. Our kids are the future of the country and the world. We have an innate responsibility to build their thought process and habits differently so that we have a better tomorrow. Key area is food and eco system so this is not just their health, but health of the future. Instilling healthy habits is no more an option. It is a necessity and needs to be integral to their learning process.
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