While parenting may come naturally for some, many parents find it challenging to deal with the tantrums, back talk and frankly being ignored by their children. One point of contention for many families (including mine) is about getting children to eat healthier. So this week I got some insight from Sophie Barcant, a parenting coach and a mother of eight children, on how to navigate this important life lesson.
Teaching your children about eating a healthy diet is important, however in our focus on getting them to eat their vegetables, or in some cases just to eat, parents can go too far. Sophie shared that parents sometimes make the mistake of “bribing their children or being too rigid and unrealistic. This can cause kids to sneak and deceive the parent, especially when by friends or at school, trading healthy snacks with junk from friends.” And of course the constant “preaching, lecturing and nagging” adds to the conflict. Instead, we should try to create a positive environment, where children are free to make some choices so they feel included. Sometimes we get so focused on them eating tonight’s dinner, that we forget that developing a healthy relationship with food takes time.
One way to do this is by offering choices such as "would you prefer carrots or green beans, broccoli or cucumber, watermelon or banana?” Only offer two choices that are pleasing to the parent so that you can be satisfied that at least your child eats one healthy vegetable or fruit.
Sophie believes it is important to “respect the child’s preferences, especially if they do not want food to touch on the plate and not to ridicule your children. If they only like white meat (chicken) then try to give them what they prefer.” As a picky eater herself, Sophie shared, “I was able to empathize with my daughter a lot as I was even more fussy than her as a child, so I did not give her a hard time. As she grew we simply encouraged her to try new things and gradually, she has started eating new foods. Friends also encouraged her to try new things and she did.” It is important to not give up on our kids and keep offering them healthier choices as they open up their minds and their taste buds to new foods.
As adults, we may choose to eat plain steamed vegetables or salad with minimal dressings to lose weight or simply based on our preferences, Sophie suggested that we are more flexible with children. She says, “I always offered salt and butter on plain boiled green string beans and broccoli and cauliflower as this is how they prefer it. I prepared cucumber chow with lime and salt, and the table always had multiple salad dressing options to cater to the various palates to encourage them to eat salad.” Children are very creative and getting them involved in coming up with their own dressings and toppings is a great way to channel that creativity and allow them to have some input.
Sophie shared that, “eating together as a family,” is one way to help kids develop healthy habits. But she also shared that developing good habits does not always start at the table, “Limiting TV, doing things together on weekends such as taking drives in the country, exploring new places and picnicking, playing board games together, baking together, helping mom and dad in the kitchen and age-appropriate chores,” are all important foundations of a healthy family.
And just like trying to teach kids manners, children learn more from what we do than what we say. According to Sophie, “parents must accept that everything they do and even don’t do is noticed and often imitated by their kids. If parents are curious and explore a variety of flavours their kids are likely to do the same. It helps if parents are honest with their kids and express that they too don’t like certain foods. This shows kids that parents also have taste issues, but are still brave and open to trying different things.”
Sophie can be reached for parenting courses, workshops or personal coaching consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org or 799-9933.