Teaching Kids How to Make the Right Choices

What do you think about when you look at this picture?    I often keep a bowl of candy on the coffee table in my family room.  This may surprise you that a dietitian would do this.  This candy bowl (I usually put M&Ms in it) can last for weeks, slowly but surely dwindling down.  Sometimes it gets depleted in a single day.  Those are usually the days my kids have friends over.  You would think these kids had never had candy in their lives and may  never be able to get it again.  Is it possible that being too restrictive with what we allow our kids to eat can backfire?  Of course, we have to guide our children and help them make good nutritional choices.  However, we must  be aware that being overly controlling or too restrictive may increase the chance that our kids will go nuts when they are in the presence of the food they are not allowed to have.  We need to teach our kids to have their own internal barometer.  Eventually our goal for them is to make decisions because they think it is a good decision for them – not to please their parents, conform to their friends ideas, or do what they think most people would do.

My mantra is everything in moderation.  An ice cream cake on a birthday is ok – it doesn’t have to be a tofu carrot cake.  Candy on Halloween?  It’s Halloween – what kid gets excited when they get an apple in their bag?  There is always talk about having mini-bran muffins, low-fat cheese sticks (you get the idea) at a school holiday party.  Really?   That sounds fun.  Heaven forbid the kids get a sugar rush!  Clearly, this is not desirable but there are worse things in life.  On the other hand, if these are the foods you and your children honestly prefer, go for it.   I think we all strive for that goal but for many it’s just not realistic.  When we make goals that are not realistic, we often fail.  I think the majority of people like to have an occasional indulgence – especially kids.

 We are human beings.  We desire and crave things that give us pleasure in life.  Decadent,  fat and calorie laden foods are one of those pleasures.  Remembering everything in moderation….there is a big difference between eating an occasional piece of cake and gorging daily on half a cake.  It is healthy to be trim.  It is life-threatening to be too thin with an eating disorder.  Having a nightly glass of wine or a beer is ok.  The extreme of that is alcoholism, which can lead to its own set of tragic outcomes.  Can we somehow teach our kids to eat a wide variety of food in portion appropriate amounts to promote lifelong good health?  To ensure good health are they never allowed to eat Oreos?  I’m not saying it’s easy to achieve the right balance.  I’m not saying I have all the answers.  I am saying an occasional “bad” food is not so bad.  Just like an occasional glass of wine is ok.  I am also saying we want our kids to make the same choices when we’re not watching them as they would if we were with them.  Realistic goal?  I’m not sure…

Modeling our own eating behavior, discussing food and nutrition with our kids (not talking at them), making sure you incorporate foods they enjoy into every day, and including them in making food decisions are some ways we can lead them down the path to opting for good choices .    But remember be cautious about being too restrictive or controlling with their eating habits.  This could just backfire when you’re not looking.

Eventually the child above is going to pick the apple over the lollipop because that is what they want – not you.   You don’t want them picking the apple in front of you but the lollipop when you’re not around.

“We are apt to forget that children watch examples better than they listen to preaching.”  Roy L. Smith