veggie toddler - a young child learning how to walk and eat vegetables, not necessarily a wobbly vegetarian.


Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Talking to Kids About Nutritious Food

If I have learned one thing about being a parent it is that my kids outsmart me every time. They may not figure out my tricks today or next week, but soon enough, they beat me at my own game.

Let’s take my daughter’s blanket, for example. When our first child was born, a good friend gave her a soft, satin-edged, pink blanket. Embroidered all around the satin edges were our daughter’s name, birth date, birth weight and length, etc. It was a beautiful blanket and a thoughtful gift so we gave it to our baby girl to enjoy.

Our daughter took to the blanket so much that soon she not only slept with it every night but had a difficult time falling asleep without it, even for a short nap. She tried to say “blankie” but it came out “bobby” and so began the story of Robert B. Blanket, as my husband and I affectionately referred to it. Everything seemed to be smooth-sailing with our daughter and her blanket until one night she threw up on her faithful friend. We put Bobby in the washing machine for a good cleaning while we changed our daughter’s pajamas and attempted to put her back to sleep. It turned out to be the longest wash, rinse, spin and then dry cycle of our life. Our daughter cried her eyes out until clean, warm from the dryer, Bobby was returned to her.

This event occurred every time Bobby needed to be washed. I tried to strategically plan the blanket’s wash time when our daughter was pre-occupied with toys or a play date. But sure enough something would happen, a skinned knee, or a bump on the head where she would all of a sudden go looking for Bobby.

“Bobby is getting a wash,” I would say. That was all she needed to throw herself into a terrible tantrum that didn’t end until Bobby was returned to her.

When our son was born two years later, I decided that although I may not be able to fix the mistakes I had made with our first child, at least I could learn from them and not make them again. Our son didn’t get a fancy embroidered, one of a kind blanket to sleep with. Instead I went to Target and purchased not one but two identical, inexpensive satin-edged green blankets. “One for my son and one for the wash,” I thought, satisfied that I had solved my biggest problem.

For the first 18 months my plan worked beautifully. Spilled milk on blankie? Who cares. Dragged blankie through the mud? No problem. Each time I carefully swapped out the dirty blanket with an identical clean one and our unsuspecting son happily went to bed. I should have known, however, that all good tricks eventually come to an end. One day our son spotted his green blanket edge sticking out of the laundry basket in the hallway awaiting the trip down to the laundry room. He pulled the blanket out of the basket and held it up for a moment. Then he went to his bedroom and retrieved the second blanket from his bed. He showed them both to me and happily said, “two blankies!”

“No reason to panic,” I thought. When he started playing with his toys again I took the dirty blanket and threw it in the washing machine. That night at bedtime our son held up his one blanket and cried “two blankies” to me over and over again.

I stood back in amazement. “No way,” I thought to myself as I made the trip downstairs to the laundry room and retrieved the back-up blanket from the dryer. I handed the second blanket to our son and he happily cuddled up with, not one, but two satin-edged green blankets.

That night I learned a lesson about parenting. If I lie or trick my kids, they will eventually beat me at my own game.

When it comes to nutrition, trickery will eventually fail you just as my secret blanket trick did. You may not be able to predict the outcome, but rest assured, it won’t end well. Instead of using trickery or bribes, I tell them the truth. Sure I may embellish with an imaginative story, but at the end of the day, I haven’t actually told them something that flat out isn’t true.

Talking to kids about nutrition is just as important as getting them to eat it. Tell them why we are eating nutritious food rather than attempting to sneak it by when they aren’t looking. Kids want to know how the world works. Tell them!

“Here are some apple slices, it will give you energy.”

“Have some carrots, they make your eyes shiny.”

“Finish your milk, it is good for your bones.”

“Try this, it tastes just like sweet potato.”

Sure maybe some of my statements are old wives tales or circle around the truth, but at least it puts a positive image in their heads while they are eating nutritious food. And perhaps the explanation doesn’t always convince your child to take a bite. However, giving kids reasons (beyond bribery) to reach for healthy food will only inspire more healthy choices down the road.

“Mom, look how long my arm is,” exclaims my son after eating a banana, “did it grow yet?”

Some things in life you just can’t predict. When in doubt, tell the truth in an imaginative way and hope for the best. My son curled up in his bed, hugging two identical blankets, is my nightly reminder that my kids will outsmart me every time.

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