Establishing Healthy Eating Habits (and Setting a Good Example) for Your Kids

Mama Greenest tackles the challenge of being a good example (and setting healthy eating habits) for her toddler

I’m really bad at planning ahead. Though I may not be the world’s most impulsive person, my compulsive need for immediate gratification means that I just stink at making choices to serve future needs. I’m horrible at saving money, my schedule is always a jumble of appointments made without consulting the schedule, and when it comes to my parenting, well, let’s just say that I am an unwitting fan of the quick fix. Which is really kind of the antithesis of good parenting — we are cultivating human beings here. I read over and over in parenting books how it’s so important to remember that our jobs as parents is to educate our little ones, to arm them with the emotional and social tools they’ll need to function, and function well, as adults. Which is why repeated shortcuts can leave them at a serious disadvantage, the kind we probably won’t see until they’re adults themselves. But it’s hard to remember all this when you’re tired, busy, and spend your days putting out fires set by a tiny tyrant.

I had a sudden attack of consciousness pertaining to this very foresight issue a couple nights ago. I was making Coraline pasta for dinner (again). She wanted to eat and watch Caillou (yup, my kid watches TV). First I said no. Then I said, “Ah, what the hooey, OK,” even though I knew that it was not the responsible choice; eating in front of the TV is like epicurean blasphemy. But she was content, I was tired, and it was the easy choice. I make irresponsible choices like this often, but in this particular instance it dawned on me that, while I pay a lot of attention to what Coraline eats, I don’t give enough consideration to the relationship she is developing with food. And then this moment of clarity snowballed into a moment of obsessive panic as I considered that perhaps our unstructured meal time routines (how’s that for an oxymoron) have sabotaged Coraline’s chances at having a healthy relationship to food. This isn’t something I usually consider while we sit on the kitchen floor sharing a bowl of cold quinoa and strawberries out of the colander. I think of that as just going with the flow, being easy. It is just the two of us after all.

To address this panic — which persisted well after she was in bed — I did as one does in these technological times: I started Googling. I wanted a concrete list of do’s and don’ts, and was delighted to find just that. I was right: eating in front of the TV is a big no-no. Sitting down for meals as a family, of course, is very important. One article from the Washington Post cautioned referring to any foods as “bad,” because of course, those will be the foods your kids want; instead, it suggests deeming junk food “sometimes food” since that’s really what it is. In the same vein, the article discouraged the use of “treat” (along with bribing kids to eat their dinner to get one, a sin of which I am definitely guilty) as it programs them to see healthy food as something displeasurable to be endured, and the junk as the good stuff.

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While some of these finer points were novel suggestions, one of the biggest to-do’s is no surprise: set a good example. Which is, ultimately, what us parents have to do with everything, right? So while kitchen picnics and hummus for dinner seems apropos of our quasi-bohemian lifestyle, it is now my official mission to make sure that Coraline and I sit down at the table together for meals from here on out. I’m looking at it as my first conscious investment in her future. Starting her college fund is next on the list.

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