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FAMILY HEALTH: YOUR CHILD IS WHAT YOU EAT! STARTING EARLY WITH GOOD EATING HABITS

     Home  >  Articles  > Family Health/Fitness/Safety
by Tom Kersting, Ph.D.

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I want a cookie! I want candy!

Do these words sound familiar? What about I want grapes, or I want an apple? Do you hear these words from your child's mouth?

Sure my 2 1/2-year-old son, Matthew, asks for cookies and ice cream sometimes, but more often he asks for grapes, pears and apples. Why - Because that's what my wife and I expose him to. And believe it or not, he likes them. Make no mistake: Parents are the biggest influence on children's eating habits. And what they learn when they are young can become a lifelong habit that can be difficult to break.


The overweight epidemic in our country has reached epidemic proportions, and itï¿?s not just an adult problem any more. It is affecting our children, full force. Today's kids are more overweight and unhealthy than at any other time in our history. This is a problem that we need to address immediately, and we need to be proactive about it. Certainly we can point the finger at the food industry with its overabundance of convenient, low-cost foods. We can blame school lunch programs, computers, video games, and friends, too. But what about ourselves? Ultimately, we decide what our kids eat, especially when they are young.

One thing my wife and I learned from our son is that he eats what we eat, plain and simple. If your child is a "bad eater" and will only eat pizza, fries and hotdogs, sorry to be the bearer of bad news, folks: It is your doing.

Here are some guidelines that will help you get your child on a healthier track.

Watch-out for sweetened juice drinks.

Imagine opening up the cupboard, taking out a 5 lb. bag of sugar, and repeatedly spooning teaspoon after teaspoon into your 3- or 4-year-old's mouth. Every time you give your child one of those juice boxes, that's precisely what you're doing - feeding him pure sugar water. One 6 oz. carton contains five teaspoons of sugar, on average. What if you gave your child several of them a day? You do the math. Do your tot a favor. Give her water, not juice drinks. She'll get used to it. Trust me, you're not depriving her of anything. In fact you'll be helping her immensely.

Watch our for kids menus.

Have you ever taken a long hard look at the kids' menu when you go out to eat? Do chicken fingers, french fries and macaroni and cheese ring a bell? Well, unfortunately this is what a lot of us feed our kids when we go out, and these kinds of foods offer no nutritional value. In fact, they are downright harmful to your child's health. What's more, your child will start to crave and demand these foods, and before you know it, you'll have a fussy eater on your hands.

One of the problems we run into when we feed our kids outside the house is that unhealthy foods like fries and chicken nuggets are just accepted. They are the norm. We become used to this because it is what everyone else seems to be doing.

Several months ago, my wife, Matthew and I were dining at one of our favorite restaurants. Matthew's grilled chicken came out, accompanied with a heaping portion of french fries, which I didn't order. When I asked the waitress to take away the fries, she looked at me like I had two heads. If I could read her mind, I would swear she was thinking what a mean man I was not to be giving that cute little boy french fries.

But here's what parents and even the waitress probably don't realize. Restaurants are not in the business of protecting your kid's health. They are in the business of making money, and foods like french fries and chicken nuggets cost them pennies to produce. The profit margin is huge.

The next time you go out to eat with your kids, ask for vegetables on the side instead of french fries. Better yet, don't order anything for your kid. Give him some of yours. Your portion is probably enough to feed three people anyway. Just make sure it's something healthy. You do not have to give in to what restaurants offer. You are the customer. Your kid will get used to it with time.

Watch out for grandparents.

One thing I've learned from my research on weight loss is that our minds associate food with pleasure - and it is painfully obvious. About a year ago, my wife, my son and I were visiting the grandparents. My father-in-law was feeding Matthew some grapes, which Matthew was thoroughly enjoying. Suddenly, my father-in-law asked, "Matthew, do you want a cookie?" It was how he said it, though - sort of seductively. Matthew's eyes lit up, he put down his grapes (the ones he was very much enjoying), and said, "Cookie, cookie, cookie!" So much for the grapes. I asked my father-in-law why he would offer Matthew a cookie if he was enjoying the grapes so much. I think he got caught up in the moment.

Make sure that whenever your child is away from your presence or visiting friends and relatives that they know you do not approve of them feeding your kid junk food. They probably don't mean any harm, but most people just don't know any better - which is why it has become customary to feed kids sugary, high-calorie snack foods. Ask them to offer your child something more nutritious, like a piece of fruit or whole-grain crackers.

Watch out for your own eating habits.

So you don't leave the kids with grandma and grandpa, you never go out to eat, and you don't pump your child full of sugar water. Terrific! But what do you eat? If you eat lots of pizza, Chinese food and burgers, there's a good chance your kid is doing the same. If vegetables don't appear on your plate, they probably don't appear on your child's plate either. If you're really committed to feeding your child healthfully, you have got to lead by example. After all, they mimic everything you do.

Keep in Mind . . .

If you want your child to live a healthy lifestyle and greatly reduce his chances of being overweight later on, it is critical that you start him off with good habits when he is young. Children get very used to sugar drinks, fries and cookies. They also get used to water, fruits and even fish. You are always in charge, no matter where you bring your child - whether it's the grandparents' house or the local Outback Steak House. Perhaps the first step is for you, the parent, to analyze your own eating habits and make the sacrifices you need to ensure that your children are getting the proper nutrition they need.


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