Sugary, high carbohydrate foods are everywhere, especially this time of year with Halloween and the winter holidays around the corner. So many of us want our children to consume a well-balanced diet of protein, whole grains, dairy, fruits, and vegetables, but admittedly, it’s hard.  Packaged treats are admittedly the easiest things to grab – at the grocery store and especially on the go – with everyone’s busy schedule. The reality of the situation is that preparing healthy, wholesome foods for the entire family can be a challenge in itself, let alone getting your children to eat them.  However, it is up to parents to provide both healthy foods and keep their children informed on the immediate and long-term benefits.

As I frequently say to my own kids, “All I can do is offer you the healthy food, but it’s up to you to eat it.”  I always try to have cut up fruit and vegetables available in the refrigerator for snacking.  In my house, we also spend a lot of time talking about how different foods make us feel.  When we eat nutrient-dense nutritious foods, we feel satisfied longer.  When we eat high sugar foods, we often get hungrier much sooner.  I also believe that the best way to get your children to do something is to model the behavior yourself.  For example, if you don’t want your children drinking soda, then it’s best to get in the habit of drinking water with meals.  Also, it’s a good idea to limit the amount of sugary, processed snacks that are in the pantry.  If those types of foods are not in the house at all, your children will not be tempted to eat them when reaching for a snack.

And what about the effects of sugar on a child’s behavior?  The reality may surprise you.  In fact, in one study, 35 5-7 year old boys were all given a beverage with no sugar, but half were told they drank a sugar-laden beverage. Even though none of the kids actually received a beverage with sugar, their “tricked mothers” reported that their children were hyperactive following consumption.  Bottom line: it was all about the expectation of what their child consumed.

Does this mean it’s okay to load your child up on sugar?  No, I recommend teaching your children to consume sugar in moderation. I believe it’s important to engage children in healthy food choices.  Decide together how many times a week your child can have sweet treats and keep track.  Making a chart is often helpful.  This teaches them to plan ahead—if they know there is a birthday party on Friday, perhaps dessert on Thursday should be fruit.  Aside from limiting sugar consumption, it’s also good to get in the habit of encouraging children to try new foods on a regular basis, even if they only take a small bite.  It is estimated that small children need to try a new food at least 15 times before incorporating it into their regular diet, so try not to get too impatient when at first your child won’t eat his broccoli.

If you have a very picky eater in your home, bring him to the store with you.  Let him choose the healthy foods he likes to eat.  Make going through the produce aisle an adventure and let him pick out a vegetable that looks interesting and fun.  Even let him help you prepare the meal.  He will be much more likely to eat it if he feels pride and ownership of the food.  I know my own children’s palates expanded greatly once they started cooking with us.  Give it a try—it’s really quite fun!

Bon Appetite!