featured image showing various vegetables laid out on a cloth covered surface

Healthy Eating

How many parents struggle every day to get their kids to eat healthier?  Undoubtedly this is one of the major battles taking place at the dinner table on a nightly basis…a battle many parents feel they are losing.  It seems pretty well established that forcing a child to eat broccoli before they get ice cream just ends up making broccoli even more hated and ice cream that much more loved.  And how is such a power struggle going to ever encourage children to make healthy choices for themselves?  I think the informal data is pretty clear – it doesn’t.  But that doesn’t mean we should give up hope!  Children are not destined to give salads the stink eye or stick their tongues out at spinach.  In fact, there are plenty of children and adults who appreciate and even love to eat healthy foods.  The biggest issue at hand is not the vegetables themselves, but the fact that many parents are treating it as a battle in the first place.  Power struggles, or worse coercion, rarely result in positive change and more often lead to a bigger standoff and lots of resentment.  A new approach is needed if we want our children to make positive changes for themselves – engaging children in taking ownership over their relationship with food.  What exactly do I mean?  I will use an example from my own experience as a psychologist.  Many times I have parents bringing their children to me and telling me that I need to change their children, to have them “behave” or “be more respectful” or “listen”.  But these words have no meaning to children and adolescents, and they are just as likely to listen to me repeating these commands as they have been to their parents.  Children only begin to make changes in therapy when they set their own goals and can clearly see how these goals can make a positive difference in their lives.  They are really no different from adults in this sense.  Eating 3 more pieces of broccoli before ice cream is the adult’s goal, and the child really had no say in any part of the process, and therefore no ownership.  A different approach would be involving a child in the entire process of what it takes to bring a meal to the table.  Take them to the supermarket and give them the power to choose a vegetable that looks interesting to them.  If you are unsure what to do with it, look up recipes with them online and let them choose which one to try.  Even involve them in the cooking process (of course at an age-appropriate level), because food tastes better when you cook it yourself (http://time.com/4162095/people-like-food-more-when-they-make-it-themselves/).  And finally, let them decide if any changes need to be made to the recipe.  In due time they will no longer see vegetables as their pathway to ice cream.  Instead they will see that section of the plate as their special contribution to dinner, and something to be proud of and enjoy.  That is a lesson they can take with them for the rest of their lives!

Dr. Blake Kirschner