I realize that as a mother of a 6 and 4 year old, I'm still very new to this parenting journey. I'm beginning to think that we will only truly know what good parents we were when the kids are 30. Till then I waiver between wondering what power we really have to help the Superstars become upstanding human beings and what things really have nothing to do with our "failures" in parenting, but are battles they will fight in some form or fashion for the rest of their lives by virtue of their personality. One of the battles that I hope we help them win is the one of good healthful eating habits.
I talked with my Mom the other night about the phenomenon of kids eating habits. My kids pretty much eat whatever we eat. They love raw veggies including broccoli, bell peppers and cauliflower, all types of fruits, baked fish, clams, beef, chicken, pretty much anything we put before them. They eat Indian food, sushi (they love smoked eel), Italian, German, Korean, Thai, and will try most things at least once - the catch being, if Mom and Dad eat it too.
And it's with that I had an "AHA" moment, because if we've heard it once, we've heard it a thousand times, "It's not what you say but what you do." When I searched on line about how to fixing food for kids I see tons of lists suggesting WHAT to feed them, HOW TO disguise good foods in "fun" foods and WHAT a balanced diet looks like. What I rarely see is the kids' point of view - and I don't mean "How does your kid FEEL about what they are eating?" but "What do your kids see YOU do?"
Do you fix your kids macaroni and cheese for dinner and eat something totally different with your spouse? Do you ask them to eat their veggies because "it's good for you" then push your own vegetables to the side? Guess what? They totally notice (yeah, that's a throw back to my So. Cal. upbringing...totally, Dude!).
Kids seek the approval of their parents. Goodness, at 40 I still want to know that my Mom & Dad think I'm smart, a good parent and a self-assured woman! How much more do our children look to us to help us make sense of this crazy world we live in?
What you as a parent think about food, defined by what you fix for your meals and theirs, how you serve it (on the fly or sit down meals), and the choices you make when you eat out, are viewed by your children as "the food laws" or "that's just what we do when it comes to food in our lives."
The other day when Daddy was out of town we ate sushi. I watched Superstar #1 close her eyes and relish the taste of the sushi she ate with a sigh. What 6 year old does that? Uh, mine, because I realized that I often do the same thing when I eat something I love. She was just mimicking me. Now just because my daughter enjoys sushi does not make me a better mom by ANY stretch of the imagination, it just shows the power we have as parents to help mold our children's view of food.
And for that I have MY parents to thank. My Dad, a Japanese-American soldier, met my Mom in a disco in a small fishing village in northern Germany back in the sixties and was the first to introduce her to Habachi-grilled steak and prime rib. My Dad, in turn, ate my Oma's (grandmother's) traditional German food with gusto and asked for seconds. A few short years later my Mom & Dad moved back to my Dad's hometown, the colorful and diverse melting pot of Honolulu, Hawaii.
My Mom dove into the various ethnic cuisines with relish learning how to prepare Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Korean and Hawaiian dishes from the numerous family potlucks that define much of Island life. If the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, my Mom came, saw and conquered so proficiently that she earned "props" from my Dad's side of the family as well. Food has always been an adventure, a way to get to know people and cultures better, and I hope we are teaching the Superstars the same.
If you're not there and don't want to be, well, then there's not a whole lot I can say to convince you that eating healthy, even small choices to be healthier (choosing the apple dippers without the caramel versus fries with the McDonald's kid meals) and helping your kids make those decisions has a long term positive outcome on the longevity of your child's life (and yours!). Your children are less likely to deal with excessive weight or tiredness. They will be healthier, and you're less likely to deal with drama of sugar highs and crashes.
If you want to be there, but it's overwhelming, don't worry! It's not an overnight thing, but each little decision you make and talk to them about "No, Mommy/Daddy doesn't like spinach, but hey, Popeye did and it seemed to help him. Let's just try this together because it's good for us" is a step in the right direction. Because, let's face it, nothing is more endearing to a child when a parent shows that LIFE IS A JOURNEY and it's not about being right all the time, or doing the right thing all the time, but being willing to learn and grow.
The key is to find what works for YOU, your family and your shopping habits. Everyone has parameters within which they work. Maybe your child has food allergies, maybe your child hates everything but bread, maybe you don't have time to start something new because you're so overwhelmed with what you already have - just start where you are with baby steps.
In the coming weeks I hope to spend more time on savvy food savings and healthy (yummy!) eating not just for your Superstars but for you too! I'll be interviewing a sweet woman named Vui whom I met on one my trips to Whole Foods. Vui use to own a restaurant in Atlanta, Georgia and I can't wait to share some of her ideas and tips to cook and eat healthy with lots of flavor and fun.