As you can imagine, my kids have not been spared my health-&-nutrition-for-all mission. If you are a newcomer, you may not know that my kids were adopted from Ukraine at ages 8 and 11 in May 2011. This matters mostly because they weren’t ruined by the Standard American Diet until they were 9 and 12 respectively. So when it became clear that the SAD was not healthy for me, they came along for the collateral ride to a whole foods diet without much ado.
To this the average parent might have an eye-bugging-out response. It ain’t easy parenting adopted children, but I sure did dodge the food bullet with them. So, I hear ya’! I’ve. Got. It. Easy. And you don’t. I know. But I got strategies & suggestions for you.
Here’s why I’m riffing about this. Nearly every parent I have every spoken to about food has serious pangs of guilt over what their kids are eating. And I do realize what a sensitive subject this is. It is way worse than your own diet. WAY worse.
And you should be concerned. We should all be concerned. I am concerned right there with you.
Childhood obesity is on the rise. The last 30 years have been abysmal to the waistline of everyone: children (in 2012 nearly 18% were obese – more than double the percentage 30 years prior), adolescents (21% – more than quadruple), and adults (one in three adults is obese). Frankly, children & adolescents hardly fair better than adults (more than one third of children and adolescents are overweight or obese). To be fair, there is a distinction between overweight and obese but the distinction does not necessarily translate to health outcomes. In plain words, overweight people and obese people are generally equally sick. So, for the sake of argument, we’ll leave overweight and obesity lumped together. They’re both undesirable for a plethora of reasons which you can read about here.
Weight-related health issues are not the only concern linked to diet. There’s compelling science and data strongly suggesting its impact on behavior including hyperactivity and Attention Deficit Disorder. All the chicken-and-the-egg stuff hasn’t been worked out yet. In other words, who knows if sugar & processed foods directly effect behavior or possibly indirectly effect behavior through nutrient deficiency or gut microbe disruption. Point being, food matters!
I’m going to go out on a limb and assume that no one is arguing that childhood (and lifelong) nutrition doesn’t matter.
Do I think my kids get their junk on while I’m not looking? Of course they do. Hard as I try, I am not scary enough to wrack them with non-stop crap-food fear big enough to win out over the almighty Skittle. The sugar battle’s too big. Even for me.
So at some point, I had to ask myself, “If I can’t dole out every bite they eat, what’s the best thing I can do for them?”. For me, it boiled down to this: 1-I can educate them and 2-I can re-educate them. And then, as painful as it is, I must relinquish them to their own inner voice of wisdom (that is still a work in progress).
So what does their “education” look like? I talk about protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, prebiotic & probiotic foods, and other difference-makers in real food that don’t exist is faux-food. When they eat super healthy, I point out how awesome & strong they feel! And when they eat sugar and act crazy (I won’t rat out the one kid of mine to whom I am referring), I point out their nuttiness (and lately said kid has even keenly observed his own behavior to be “a bit much while on sugar”). When they get pimples (which neither of them get when they eat clean, whole foods but always get on processed foods/sweets), I suggest that what is happening on the inside of their body has to be at least 100 times worse! Ewww!
When athletes eat well, we capitalize on the real life example (I can’t thank you enough, LeBron, for going Paleo! and our very own Max Schrock who did the hard work this summer) and put our kids in the same position. We give them the hypothetical edge. And they love it!
We talk about how, as a family, we are significantly healthier (hardly a common cold is caught in our house and no one takes a single prescription medicine!) than many other kids at school.
In short, we do what we can to bring good nutrition to life for them. To make it matter. With kids, it’s not easy. We’re up against the almighty Skittle. Our work’s cut out for us! So we talk a lot about food and how it can either help them become bulletproof (not really, but sorta) or turn them into a target for injury, illness, and disease. We don’t fear monger. We talk. We point things out. We draw possibly less than obvious conclusions. Maybe, on occasion, we exaggerate. Hey, we’re up against the almighty Skittle.
You know what else we do? We cook! And we eat!! And when we’re really good, we grow some of our own food (this is powerful!). And when we’re not as good, we go to the farmer’s market (and sometimes we go directly to farms) and we meet the people who grew our food (and it drives me berserk when they’re eating donuts & croissants while selling their grass-fed beef, pastured chickens, organically-grown greens & fresh ginger – smh!). We also honor our food, enjoy cooking it, and relish eating it. We give food its due.
All of these suggestions & strategies make a difference and I hope you are doing at least some of them, but the single biggest thing we do for our kid’s future nutrition is model good choices for them. And sometimes, we have a treat and eat ice cream with them! Don’t forget you are your child’s super hero!!