Life Lessons for Your Kids Start in The Kitchen
This past year, I have toured college campuses with my son, Noah, (more on him in a moment)…imagining him on his own navigating the four walls of university life without his parents to guide him (or bother him). I have had time to reflect and wonder how he will survive without someone doing his laundry. Will he be distracted by the crazy social life that is an integral part of the college experience...and, of course, what will he eat when left to his own devices?
As I thought about what I have done well (and not so well) as a parent, I ran a checklist through my head of nutritional principles I have instilled in my children: whole real foods, greens, a variety of colorful fruits and veggies, limited processed foods, lots of homemade meals, local seasonal and organic when possible, enjoyable exercise, stress reduction techniques…Phew! I passed.
But, as I went through my list, I realized that what you eat (even as an adult) will vary in a week, a month, or a year depending on the season, your level of activity, your current cravings, and a variety of other factors. Or, perhaps different foods that become the trendy "it" food of the moment (superfoods anyone?) suddenly have an alluring appeal.
Sure, it is our responsibility to educate and create awareness around which nutrients are going to help our children grow, think, move and be healthy, but there is more to this nutritional puzzle.
As parents, we have a bigger responsibility as diet trends come and go or shifts in thinking work their way into the minds of our nutritionally confused culture: we must help our children cultivate and enjoy a healthy relationship with food. And, as many of us know, this powerful relationship is often fraught with angst, fear or struggle.
Here are some simple ways to pass on one of the most important life lessons to the next generation whether they are going off to college or in their first year of preschool:
Give Your Kids A Voice (and Independence). Ask your children what they feel like eating? Teach them to listen to their body…are they hungry? Thirsty? What are the messages their body is sending them? Explain how they are the only ones to get these special signals, and that they need to learn to understand and decode them. Or, engage them with meal prep and planning, so they develop the tools that can help them decide how to nourish their own body.
I have some proud mom moments when my boys come home from being away on vacation or after an extended stay with another family (where optimal food choices may not have been as available to them) and they beg me to make something fresh, raw and delicious. (“Mom, can you please make sure we have TONS of fruits and veggies in the house when I get home?” Music to my ears.)
Be A Role Model. Yes, that sure is a lot of pressure. But chances are if you have a negative relationship with your body or view food as the “enemy”, then you will pass those things on to your children. If the kids see you frowning when you get a glimpse of yourself in a mirror or standing up eating over the sink or not eating your own meal on a plate or not eating at all, they will just view this behavior as normal. If you appreciate your body or pull up a chair and fill up a plate with whole real foods, then that is what they know and do.
Create Connection. Teach your kids about the power of food and that the food they put into their body has a direct consequence on the way they feel. Understanding how the right food can help them have extra energy for sports, give them brainpower to focus during exams or improve their mood (yes, you grumpy teenager!) is key. Once they start to realize that certain foods can impact their performance and behavior in a positive way and other foods can do the opposite, they’ll naturally start choosing the wholesome options on their own. This works a lot better than forcing them to eat their spinach.
Savor the Moment & Make Eating Pleasurable. I know you have heard me say it before, but having learned this lesson a little later in life than I would have liked, I have made this one of my personal missions to share with my family. The “Eating Experience” (as I like to call it) does not stop simply with the taste of the food. It goes much further…it’s about creating a healthy atmosphere and attitude to enjoy mealtimes together. Turn off the TV. Set the dinner table. Put the cell phones down. And savor the food, the family, the conversation. The “Eating Experience” is then connected with positive associations and behaviors that will be remembered for a lifetime by your children.
Back to my son, Noah…earlier in this post, I promised you that I would tell you more about him…well, I can’t share much just yet… but you can learn what he has to say about food and why he developed a passion for cooking when you watch him next Tuesday evening, October 2 as he appears on the Food Network on the very first teen episode of the show Chopped. You'll have to let me know whether you think he has the tools to enjoy and appreciate food.
Question of the day: How do you help your children cultivate a nourishing relationship around food? Share your experiences and insights below.