During at least some of childhood the grass is definitely greener elsewhere. One of the biggest challenges to your family’s healthy lifestyle is your children’s perception that other people are privileged simply because they eat differently. The parents’ strategic awareness and preparation for the child’s fascination with the Standard American Diet (SAD) is paramount.
Adults also fall into conforming to SAD just because so many other people are doing it. To which I respond: what law states that you must conform 100% to all majority cultural practices, including some of those practices that are kind of dumb?
At no time is the parents’ advantage greater than in earliest childhood for understanding the crucial role of food in setting the course for either chronic disease or a lifetime of good health. At no other time is the parent’s advantage greater for establishing a healthy routine. By the time the child is ready to start school, he or she is already developing a strong interest in being like their friends and doing what their friends are doing.
Use your advantage of a head start. You care way more about the quality of your child’s food for several years, including pregnancy, before your child begins to feel pulled by the influence of those outside the family. Use that time to create a bubble of a near-perfectly healthy lifestyle that your child will get used to and will associate with home and family for the rest of his or her life. Changing to a whole food diet can of course be accomplished later, at the expense of tantrums, grumbling and other exaggerations of angst. The earlier you do it the easier.
An easy, healthy routine is your greatest strength, because when you start getting used to buying, preparing and eating whole organic foods, and when you make such foods the first thing that you reach for and the first impulse for meal preparation, then you are teaching your children their basic foundation diet and fulfilling their expectations of healthy good food being a part of their daily lives.
The goal is for your children to reach for whole rather than processed foods, to value those produced without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, MSG, sweeteners and preservatives. They learn from familiar experience to appreciate the great energized feeling that they get from a glass of raw milk or a handful of carrot sticks or a meal with dark leafy greens. If you are just now transitioning to a whole food diet, let your children fill up on as much whole healthy food as they want. The practical advantage of eating whole fresh foods is that they substitute, by their sheer bulk, the chemicals and denatured food derivatives that we might otherwise eat.
Starting Your Children Off Right
My suggestions for starting your kids off right are as follows:
- The earlier you start the easier and the more effective your efforts. Breastfed kids have huge health advantages. You will never again have the opportunity to make such a strong health impact in such a short amount of time, and for less effort and expense than formula feeding. Even if circumstances only allowed you to breastfeed your child for a short time, the advantages are enormous and will be manifest throughout your child’s life.
- The first solid foods should be whole foods: cooked squash, carrot, broccoli and other vegetables, avocado, banana, watermelon, etc. Snacks and meals for toddlers and preschoolers should be entirely whole foods. The beverage is water, and that’s it, until you find a raw milk source. And even then, the main beverage is water. Toddlers do not need to know that things like pasta and ice cream exist. Parents who exclaim, “But how can I feed them healthy food when macaroni and cheese is the only thing that they’ll eat?” have started off with the wrong items in the kitchen, and are going to have to go through some tantrums in order to establish a better way of eating. This will be made easier if you keep your television away from them.
- TV teaches a processed food and pharmaceutical lifestyle. The messages are delivered continually: either eat out, or open a package to get your ready-made food, pour yourself a glass of colored liquid, and your life is just not happy until you take a pill. If you have to keep de-programming what the TV is programming, you won’t be able to compete; nobody can. TV is so flashy and persuasive that you’ll be like Sisyphus always having to roll his rock back up the hill.Either get rid of the TV, or keep it in a room that always remains locked, to be viewed together only occasionally, when an appropriate movie is to be seen. Kids raised without TV are easily spotted by their teachers. They’re the ones with good focus and lengthened attention span.Some families who decide against TV after their kids are already hooked resolve things this way: One day the TV becomes mysteriously “broken,” and they just don’t get around to buying a new one. Or the TV has to make way for some new bookshelves and ends up on a high shelf in the garage. Anybody who wants to watch it has to go stand next to the car to do so. Suddenly the flashiness loses a lot of its grip on your children’s minds.
- Your children’s first friends will tend to be those whose parents you befriend. In other words, almost any two little kids close in age who spend time together will end up playing together, but you are the one who has the discretion to choose your friends wisely. So make your choices of your child’s playmates before your child gets around to it. It is very important to your efforts toward a whole food household to bring into your lives moms and dads who are committed to roughly the same kind of diet you are, especially if you also must battle junk-food peddling relatives or school administrators.When your children see others outside of your family eating healthy food, they will understand that it is not just some weird quirk of yours, but that there actually exists a community of like-minded healthy people. When enough of these friends have been gathered into your lives, it will also become obvious to your child that the whole food people look a whole lot healthier than the junk food junkies.If you don’t have a big enough sample size to convince your children of this, take them to the biggest health food store that you know and have them observe the customers. Then take them into a typical supermarket, and have them observe the customers. After you leave, let them discuss comparisons. In which store were people generally heavier and more fatigued-looking? In which store did they see more energetic, moderate weight people of all ages? That kind of powerfully persuasive evidence would even give pause to a teenager who is tempted by fast food eating peers.
- Keep junk food out of the house. Naturopathic physician Dr. Kenneth Proefrock says the battle over good food is won or lost at the supermarket. If you can walk past processed food at the supermarket and keep on going then you’ve won. But if cookies made it into your shopping cart, they will make it to your cupboards, and you will end up eating them all and regretting them. Do yourself and your kids a favor. When you’re all shopping together, don’t even bother going down the processed foods aisles. Shop the periphery where the vegetables, fruits, meats and dairy are, and that’s it. Involve your children by letting them make choices among all of those. Pears, peaches or plums? Spinach, mustard greens or romaine? Poultry, fish or red meat? Their choices will be all the tastier when you get home, because each of them got to make those choices.
- Self-esteem is important to your children’s comfort with their diet. Your children also have to participate in social structures involving a significant number of children who eat differently. The challenge is to help your children maintain their self-esteem and to honor the food choices of their family while also being respectful of others’ food choices. All this should be accomplished with a minimum of awkwardness and isolation. One family shops for mostly organic food, but also at large warehouse supermarkets, where various appetizers are offered to the shoppers around the store. Their five-year old daughter summarized her family’s food choices by saying,” Look, hot dogs. That’s okay, Mommy. We don’t eat that. We eat different food, and that’s okay too.” Regressing from the wisdom of this five-year old, the older child’s fear of being different will be fairly calamitous, especially in adolescence, unless there is a strong awareness and self-respect regarding the individual’s right to eat differently than most, and the good reasons for doing so.Talking to your children is the most important. The more that differences become obvious to your children between their diets and others’ diets, the more talk is needed. It is very important for your children to know that their healthy lifestyle is at the vanguard of the direction society is moving in, not at the rear. For example, it should be explained to your children that processed food companies are using much less of trans-fatty acids than just a few years ago. Also, fast food chains are offering healthier options now, following their comeuppance from the film “Supersize Me” and other public criticism. School districts are getting continued pressure from parents to disallow soft drink and junk food vending machines in their children’s schools. Consistently, a majority of parents surveyed oppose such machines. Now also, a majority of adults surveyed said they would prefer to eat organic food if it were available in their area at a comparable price to non-organic.Let your children appreciate that your family is way more advanced than many others just because you know how vital it is to eat right. It is gratifying to know that the world is moving in a good direction. Organic food is growing at 12% per year. Even the mighty McDonald’s bowed to the public outcry for healthier food. Now your children just need to practice patience as the rest of the world catches up to your trend setting.