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Thursday, July 8,2010

Teach your children to eat well

By Heather May Koski

What did you eat for breakfast this morning? Oatmeal, toast or eggs perhaps?

Now rewind several years to your childhood. What did you eat for breakfast then? Chances are, your response might be similar to that of your typical breakfast today. The same observation could be said about your entire diet, in fact.

Children’s food choices and practices are reflective of caregivers’ own diets and knowledge of nutrition. Numerous studies link parentchild feeding relationships to the development of an individual’s relationship with food. By teaching children healthy eating habits, a healthy weight and diet can be easily achieved and maintained. The eating habits children develop when they’re young will often help them maintain a healthy lifestyle as an adult.

Sue Van Raes, a nutritional therapist and life coach at Boulder Nutrition, says the most effective and important technique for teaching children healthy eating habits at a young age is modeling.

“Parents have to walk the talk,” Van Raes says. She says that using food to reward or punish children is not necessarily the best tactic for teaching proper nutrition. Van Raes emphasizes that the language around food and meal rituals is equally as important as parent modeling.

“Do we make time to enjoy a meal, or is it always rushed?” she asks. “Are meals cooked at home or picked up from a restaurant? What conversations occur during the meal?” The manner in which a family creates and eats a meal can affect adult eating habits. Providing a variety of healthy food options in the house will allow children to learn how to make nutritious food choices in the future. Involving children in food shopping and meal preparing will generate a better understanding of nutrition and kitchen accomplishment.

Estee Culbreth, who visited Boulder over the Independence Day weekend, grew up in south Florida with balanced, home-cooked meals.

“I learned how to cook because I cooked with my Mom in the kitchen, growing up,” Culbreth says.

When she attended Emory University in Georgia, Culbreth says, she ate more junk food and drank more soda than she would at home because of its presence in the university cafeterias.

“The difference between me and other students was that I know how to cook, so I had the ability to go to the store, get raw ingredients and cook something, so I didn’t have to eat processed foods. The problem was that cooking was time-consuming and, as a student, you don’t have a lot of time.”

Societal trends in the United States and other developed countries reflect that there is less time spent on food preparation and increased reliance on prepared foods and fast food. With the ample number of drive-through restaurants and packaged, ready-to-eat food in grocery stores, it is easy to see how convenience often overpowers nutrition.

Van Raes offers ongoing nutrition programs at Boulder Nutrition, where she holds lectures that examine diet, lifestyle and how food plays such an important foundational role in our lives. She says people can easily alter existing eating habits to conform to a better, nutritional diet through four simple steps:

• Create a basic foundation with a diet of whole foods, free from processed foods and sugars that could trigger cravings.

• Determine your metabolic type, because people digest food at different speeds. Van Raes says your mood and brain chemistry will shift accordingly once your unique metabolism is verified.

• Practice intuitive eating.Van Raes says once you learn what feels good in your body, you can determine what your body is craving, when you’re hungry and when you’re full. She says this step can be abused if you’re eating a diet that’s high in processed food, because your body will crave the food you’re consuming.

• Develop a ritual of pleasure around eating, when food can be a celebration to slow down and enjoy your meal.

Kelly Hosner, a Boulder resident who enjoys a diet of fresh, live foods, says she eats for the pleasure and fun of meals. A vegetarian since the age of 8, Hosner says she grows sprouts, basil, lettuce, spinach, turtle beans and kim-chi, a fermented food, to supplement her diet.

Hosner says she ate a lot of fast food growing up until she joined a gymnastics program in high school that emphasized the importance of a healthy diet and its impact on performance.

“I started making my own meals and becoming more aware of different forms of protein as an energy provider,” Hosner says. “Salads were the centerpiece of most meals.”

Growing her own vegetables and herbs for meals creates a relationship between Hosner and her food, a connection that is critical to a healthy diet, according to Van Raes.

“When you know the farmer who raised the chickens who produce the eggs you eat or the cow who produces the milk that you drink, you’ll be more excited to make your own fresh meals because you’re involved with your food,” she says.

For more information about Boulder Nutrition, visit www.bouldernutrition.com.

Respond: cuisine@boulderweekly.com

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