When working with kids and teenagers there can be a lot of challenges when it comes to motivating them to make healthier choices. Kids and teens are not usually interested in getting a lesson on reading food labels and understanding the effects of processed food and chemicals in their diets. What they usually care about initially is pretty simple. They are hungry. They want food that tastes good. Done.
Parents often feel at a loss for how to get kids to stop eating so much junk. The problem is that it isn’t their fault! Our bodies are hard-wired to prefer sugary, salty, fatty foods and these highly processed foods are designed to be addictive. In fact, food companies spend hundreds and millions of dollars making those foods impossible to resist and difficult to consume in moderation. My advice is to stop assuming these foods can be controlled! Instead focus your time on stocking up on healthier foods, making them as accessible as possible. Kids actually LIKE a lot of raw vegetables and fruits they just don’t want to cut them up to eat when there is a box of Oreo cookies readily available on the shelf.
At basketball practice this week I brought a container of chopped up fruit and a giant cake sized oreo cookie to share with the kids. When they ran over to the food they all dove in for the fruit. Of course, they ate the cookie too… but they all dove in for seconds and thirds of fruit and in the end, I was left with half a cookie and not one piece of fruit.
If you have a picky eater don’t fret!! Give your kids a chart (see below) of all the fruits and vegetables found in each color of the rainbow. Ask them to pick out 1 or more fruits and vegetables from each color of the rainbow. If they only pick 1 that is fine!! Now instead of worrying about getting them to try new options, encourage them to eat more variety of colors in the day. For example, if they like strawberries, oranges, bananas, cucumbers, blueberries, and grapes then don’t worry right away about getting them to try other options in each category at first. Get them to try eating more colors in one day.
Each color in fruits and vegetables is caused by specific phytonutrients, which are natural chemicals that help protect plants from germs, bugs, the sun’s harmful rays, and other threats. And each color indicates an abundance of specific nutrients. According to a 2009 phytonutrients report (based on data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys), 8 out of 10 people in the US are falling short in virtually every color category of phytonutrients.
Based on the report,
• 69% of Americans are falling short in green phytonutrients
• 78% of Americans are falling short in red phytonutrients
• 86% of Americans are falling short in white phytonutrients
• 88% of Americans are falling short in purple and blue phytonutrients
Start there and then work on trying 1 new item from a color category each week. Small steps are best here!! Small steps like this create more comfort and control for you child.