If you are a mom, and are wondering how is this possible, take a look around and try some of the ideas that work best for your family and remember the 80/20 rule.
Get it right 80% of the times and let the kids get it right 80% of the times!!!
American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following Daily Healthy Habits for children and their families:
5 or more servings of fruits and vegetables,
2 hours or less of screen time for 8 yr olds, 1 hr if 4 to 8 yr olds, 1/2 hr if 3 yr olds, none if less than 2 yr olds and Never with Meals,
1 hour or more of vigorous physical activity, and
None to rare of Sugary beverage intake.
It is easy for doctors to say what people need to do, and if you think about it, most adults know what they need to do, the difficulty is in applying it to daily life and sustaining it for the rest of their lives! So how does one apply something like that to the child as a parent?
I found out the difficult way…
I am a parent, and a practicing pediatrician and there is no handbook on this and I did not know how to go about making this happen.
I read a lot of different type of articles/ web sites on the web promoting weight loss.
—Some suggested food restriction, others suggested exercise, some put you on a liquid diet and others on frozen food offered by their company.
—We gave up the food we made at home for the special bars, protein drinks, frozen food.
—We saw gains but the gains were short term and worked in the short run.and
—In the long term neither the food restriction nor exercising was the right answer for the family, since it left us craving for real food and our way of life back.
—Not to mention, my daughter would not want to do something, that she did not see us doing first, [talk about the fact that first role models for DD child are us]. We had soda/juice and chips in the house and we wanted her to eat the the “healthy food”, this just did not work.
Through trial and error, we came to the conclusion we had to find a way to do this that worked for all of us and for all of us to make changes for my daughter to eat healthy.
I realized that the most important first step to move towards Healthy Habits for kids is:
Healthy habits for the whole family. If it is hard for you, it is even harder for the kids.
- To do this, we looked at our family’s habits and then made changes by swapping out unhealthy items for healthy items [ see Eat this, not that] and here’s how we tried to do it:
- In the first week, we made a list the family’s healthy eating habits, it helped that my daughter named it ‘ Growing foods’. We identified the healthy things we were doing and wrote it down, under breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and beverages categories. We decided to shop or pay for more of these.
- For the next 1 week, we made a list of the family’s unhealthy eating habits, a.k.a. happy foods’ that we were interested to change, again under breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and beverages categories. We decided to shop or pay for this rarely.
- We checked the two lists and see what we could swap in the different categories that will be acceptable [no stress, no fights], to most family members, easy for me to swap and then prioritize.
Only one or two, small, easy changes every 2 to 4 weeks.
An example of such a list:
Growing foods Happy Foods
Fruits Fruit juice, strips,bars
Vegetables, Nuts, Seeds, seaweed Chips/fries
Whole grain/sourdough tortilla, bread White tortilla, bread, 3 Cs
Milk and water Soda
Plain yogurt Sweet yogurt
Eating at home Eating in restaurant
[3 Cs= cake, cookie, cereal]
We looked at our list, both DH and DD did not want the sugary beverages to get off the menu. I wanted the chips o stay. Yogurt was the easiest change for us and we all agreed to eat plain yogurt more often. We were eating sweet yogurt at home on weekdays and plain yogurt on weekends. We decided to swap out our sweet yogurt with regular yogurt a few times a week.
- We love Daniel Tiger. We read the one about trying new foods [pick it up from a public library, walk to it if you can to add to your daily step count] and we watched a Daniel Tiger episode of “When we try something new” on Amazon Prime. The book and the episodes taught me how to approach it with her.
- Before making a change, I spoke with her that we will be making a change from sweet yogurt to regular yogurt and that the change will help her bones be stronger since it has no sugar. Buy in: She loves gymnastics and the idea of stronger bones appealed to her and she was on board and she agreed to try it with us.
- I started it for once a week and slowly increased it to the new normal of eating regular yogurt three times a week for all of us.
The first few times, she must have eaten one to two spoonfuls and slowly, it went up to 2oz of regular yogurt once a week in the next 3 weeks. We replaced the third one in 3 weeks and in another 3 weeks, yet another. Soon we were all on a comfortable schedule of eating plain yogurt.
We follow the 80/20 rule! Growing foods 80% of the day/ week/ month.
As a family, we made many changes in how we do things, we worked on:
- Grocery shopping with my daughter, we only travel the produce section together, she points out what she would like to eat in the week.
- Meal planning with my 4 yr old. I give her options to put in the meal plan which I know I have in the home and she chooses. I check with her what she wants for breakfast: oatmeal or Larabar, apple or banana and milk and water. I pack her lunch in the morning and check with her: tortilla or rice, beans or lentils, bell pepper or cucumber, yogurt or cheese and so on.
- Cooking together as a family: I have my 4 yr old wash fruits and vegetables, measure and pour, stir and taste, making a salad, roll tortillas, make sushi, all of which we cook and eat! We had to make time for this! We still struggle with this…
It is not easy. We follow the 80/20 rule. I want to do this 20% of the time. Small steps. Currently, we do this just on weekends and maybe none to one time in the week.
When she was 3 years old, we worked on:
- Eating food at the table only.
This was most difficult for DH, he had to stop eating in front of his computer on the couch because DD told her dad that it was not fair he got to do that and not her! I just did not want food crumbs everywhere in the house, attracted the ants.
- We ate at scheduled times and at the table only. If she did not join us, I would tell her in a kind and matter of fact voice, ”Just so you know, your next meal is at snack time and no food till then if you choose to skip lunch.”
I felt conflicted, even guilty, tell me if you do not feel that way sometimes as a parent! Saying that she would not get any other food, at any time or location, made her cry, she had hangry tantrums and this did not feel like a smart plan at all. I persisted. Not easy but then whoever said parenting must have no kids!
- She drank only water, juice was allowed at kids birthday parties, with cup/cake and chips too. We spoke to her that these were foods and drinks for special occasions only.
When she was 16 months old, to 3 years of age, she started daycare;
- At the daycare, she was offered cereal, crackers, cookies with juice for snacks twice a day.
I asked the daycare not to offer her processed food for snack or juice, and just offer her fruit for snack and water or milk.
Can you imagine the eyes rolling at this? It was tough, the caretakers were not happy, on a daily basis, they told me she looked sad because she she was the only kid that did not get cookies/ cereal/ crackers/juice and such, like the other kids.
I persisted. I explained, in life there is going to be a lot of things that she will not get and this challenge will teach her how to be resilient.
Not only, she is going to have to cope with being different from everyone else [we are very brown skinned, black haired and brown eyed, living in a community of fair skinned, blonde haired and blue eyed folks].
Facing challenges makes kids resilient, if the grown up, presents the information accurately and authentically.
I can imagine it would be hard for a daycare person to say “I can’t serve you this because it is not healthy.” But, I was the parent and I get to decide till DD makes her own choices.
- Anyways, at home, she wanted to eat cereal for dinner everyday, it took 6 months of coaching her daily, in a calm voice that cereal is breakfast food, it is dinnertime and I will give her cereal at breakfast only.
She cried, she fussed real loud, she refused to eat dinner. I repeated the same sentence in a calm voice. It was hard for me to see her go through this and I persisted. I had to believe, that in the long run this was for the best. To this day, she does not ask to eat cereal at snack or dinner.
- She drank only water.
- We ate chips. crackers and cookies, when she was not around!
Yes, yes, do you see the double standards here? We did not want to make any changes if we did not have to.
When she was less than a year old, to 16 mo of age, while she was at home;
- Her meals included fruits and vegetables everyday since 4 months old of age.
- She ate her meals with her grandparents, who loved to eat vegetables and fruits with their meals.
- She was offered only water.
So what is all this fuss about sugar in the kids foods, cereal have had to cut back on sugars, very few of them, have more than 13 grams, approximately 3 teaspoons.
Sugar introduced before 5 years of age prevents critical development of taste for eating vegetables.
I experimented with this with my DD. You can try it too. I gave my DD daily 2 teaspoons of sugar for 1 week after she turned two.
Guess what happened, she did not eat vegetables the whole week. I freaked out, it was terrifying to say the least, my vegetable eating DD had stopped eating vegetables.
The next week, no sugars and my DD was back to eating vegetables. I did this a couple times, it is all my heart can take and the cycle kept repeating.
I have since figured, sugar has a strongly sweet taste, it prevents kids from appreciating the subtle sweetness of vegetables.
So guess what, DD was back to being off sugar, getting it only at birthdays in school till 4 years. In the last 6 months, she eats sugar, upto 3 tsp a day few times a week, and I make it count. It is in her oatmeal and her lentils! She also eats chocolates, actually, Nestle’s Smarties. She manages the small toy baby bottle we got as a favor from a baby shower. I fill it up with 10 Smarties every 2 weeks and she eats it over 2 weeks.