Pillow fights are nothing but fun — joyful, energizing and giggle-producing. Food fights with your kids, on the other hand, are stressful, crazy-making and can result in eating disorders down the line.
"No carrots, no cookies!" "Too full for broccoli but room for chocolate cake?" "OK! No dessert for you," ad nauseum...
"I've tried everything to get my kids to eat healthier," I hear constantly from well-intentioned moms and dads who prepare tasty and nutritious foods only to see them sit there on the plate like roadkill. "Nothing seems to work."
What's a savvy parent to do? Don't give up. Behavior change takes the time it takes. And don't forget that the real battle is against the billions of dollars spent by Big Food to entice your kid to eat products that aren't really food.
Those heavily advertised food-like concoctions are packed with additives, chemicals, toxins and other suspect ingredients that do damage to your kids' growing bodies and developing brains. Even Michelle Obama couldn't get the fake-food industry to stop. Don't get me started.
Now for the good news. According to the fitness experts at the American Council on Exercise, there are things you can do, and shouldn't do, to help your child evolve into a healthy eater, without going to war or ruining your day. But you have to have a plan.
My plan today is to share some of their best guidelines and advice, starting with the hardest one of all: being a role model!
1. Model healthy eating. Food is fuel, and you're being very fuel-ish if you don't see the connection between what you personally eat, how you feel and how your kids feel about what they eat. It's all connected and starts with what's in your fridge and on your plate. Walk the talk, and your kids will follow your lead.
2. Eat together. Family meals, eaten together in a calm surrounding, better promote health than do the grab-and-eat grazing patterns of many modern families. Take a stand! Sit down together at meal times, without devices and without drama.
3. Increase exposure to healthy foods. Repetition reaps rewards. Research shows that a kid may need to be offered a healthy food as many as 20 times before saying yes. So keep serving real food at your table and don't take it personally if it's rejected.
4. Let them choose the portion size. This is a great tactic that empowers kids and helps create an awareness of internal cues. Do they feel hungry? Full? Don't just shovel food onto their plate. Let them decide.
5. Don't use food rewards. "Eat your cauliflower and then you can have a donut" is a bad strategy for raising healthy eaters. It makes kids more likely to dislike the healthy food while increasing their desire for the reward food.
6. Refuse to be a short-order cook. If your kid rejects the meal you've planned and asks for a junky hot dog instead, don't give in, the experts say. It's more work for you and does nothing to educate your little one about the benefits of wholesome food.
7. Limit television time. No one said this would be easy. TV ads promote unhealthy, sugary, processed foods. And also — think football games — watching TV promotes unconscious snacking.
8. Exploit similarities. Let's say your child likes pumpkin, as in pumpkin pie. Good! The next step is to expose him to a new food that is similar, but different, like mashed sweet potatoes or roasted carrots. Think bait-and-switch, but in a good way.
9. Make healthy eating fun. Kids who get involved in growing food, in gardens or in pots, enjoy doing it and begin to shift their understanding of what real food is, and where it comes from. This helps them become healthy eaters. So does exposing them to the fun of farmers markets. Let them pick out fruits and veggies that look good to them. Extra bonus points if you get them involved in including the produce in your next family meal.
10. Skip the food fights. You're the adult. You're in charge. If you refuse to fight about food with your kid, all the drama will go away. The Buddhists call it non-attachment. You make your best, calmest effort, and then surrender to the results.
ENERGY EXPRESS-O! NO KIDDING
"Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are." — Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin
Marilynn Preston — healthy lifestyle expert, well being coach and Emmy-winning producer — is the creator of Energy Express, the longest-running syndicated fitness column in the country. She has a website, marilynnpreston.com, and welcomes reader questions, which can be sent to [email protected] She also produces EnExTV, a digital reincarnation of her award-winning TV series about sports, fitness and adventure, for kids of all ages, at youtube.com/EnExTV and facebook.com/EnExTV. To find out more about Preston and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.