How I Made My Child Eat Healthy — Practice, Patience, and Persistence

My Bariatric Life Health Guide
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    Healthy eating and activity became a natural way of life for Madison.


    How I Made My Child Eat Healthy — Practice, Patience, and Persistence

    This is the final chapter, part 5 in a multi-part series that explores “Raising a Normal Weight Child in an Overweight Society.”


    To recap from part 1 of this series, many mothers feed their children readily-available convenience foods, just as I did when I raised my child, unknowing these foods are calorie-dense and low-nutrient and contribute to overweight. 


    Currently 1 in 3 children ages 2-19 is overweight. My adult daughter, Crystal, who is a wife and mother, has beaten those odds and raised a normal-weight child. So I asked her to share with readers how exactly she instilled healthy eating and activity habits beginning when her daughter was in the cradle, and raised a 5-year-old child who loves raw veggies and playing outdoors.

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    Crystal and I breakdown this complicated topic step-by-step in this multi-part series so as to share helpful advice on rearing normal-weight children in an overweight society. 


    My Bariatric Life: How did you manage through the challenges you faced instilling healthy eating habits in your child?

    Crystal Wyatt: A huge trap I hear a lot of parents complain about is that their kids won't eat "that" or they just plain won't eat.  Okay, your child is not going to starve him/herself and yes, they can be very stubborn when it comes to asserting their independence over food.  I truly, honestly did not make separate meals for Madison when she was old enough to partake in family dinner (not eating baby food) unless it was something she couldn't eat because it was too spicy or whatever.  If she didn't finish her dinner, we wrapped it up and put it in the refrigerator.  And yes, that meant that there were times she would call us into her room after she'd gone to bed complaining that she was hungry.  


    There are numerous studies detailing how one of the problems in the U.S. with obesity (and parenting in general) is the instant gratification.  Parents walk around with snacks in purses and backpacks so the instant their child is hungry, out come the granola bars, fruit snacks, pretzels, goldfish, what have you. The French culture, however, is strictly set on meal times, and there is no snacking in between.  Now that Madison is older, she will occasionally get a snack of yogurt or something healthy when meals are delayed due to some conflicting activity, say an athletic class or playdate. However, as a toddler, Madison used snacks as a 'get me out of jail free card' to avoid her meals.  Now if a kid has an appetite to still eat lunch/dinner after snacks, then I don’t have a problem with eating in between meals.  But for Madison, even small snacks ruined her appetite for dinner.  


    What I made for dinner was what was for dinner, period.  If Madison didn't like it, then her daddy and I told her that she wouldn't have to eat it again, but she had to finish what was on her plate. That does NOT mean she never ate that food item again, it means she didn't have to eat that dish again.  I would prepare the same food item a different way for her to try since you may have to present a food a few times before a kid will like it.  If Madison didn't finish her dinner, then she had to wait until breakfast to eat — we don't run a 24 hour diner in our house, sorry.  It isn't good for your body to be digesting food right before bed anyway.  And you better believe the next day her leftovers came out of the fridge for her to eat.  What's for lunch?  Leftovers.  Don't want it now?  Guess what's for dinner?  Again, kids won't starve themselves.  They are stubborn, but when they get hungry enough, they eat.  And she did — and don't worry, it wasn't quite the the level of Mommy Dearest.  Her food was bug and mold free.  Leftovers were usually eaten the next day, the following at the latest.  We definitely threw them away long before there was even the possibility of food borne bacteria.


    As a baby, her all time favorite food was hummus veggies.  I used to buy steam-in-bag vegetables — either broccoli, cauliflower, and carrot mix or the green bean, carrot and corn mix, or potatoes, broccoli and red peppers.  Pop that in the microwave, then cut up the veggies nice and small for tiny mouths and mix it in with store bought hummus. Gasp, a healthy Mom that doesn't spend ALL day in the garden or kitchen!  I have a life, too, and I'm often pressed for time like any other Mom.  That doesn't mean I reach for the chicken nuggets, ramen noodles, or bagel bites though... there are healthy options!  Madison devoured hummus veggies and had them probably at least every other day.  That was during her picky phase when she only ate a few foods: sushi (she has always loved salmon and tuna nigiri and seaweed salad), ham (I used to buy a baked ham, slice it up into individual portions and store them in individual freezer bags so we always had ham ready to go after 1-minute in the microwave without having to worry about a huge ham going to waste,) yogurt, hummus veggies and a handful of mixed, steamed veggies, SOMETIMES baked chicken or fish. Keep trying and only offer your child healthy choices, especially when they are young. 

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    Their pallets start small, but they grow from what you provide, so lay a good foundation. Cave in with frozen fish sticks, chicken nuggets and french fries and don't be surprised when your kid develops a pallet for high sodium, over sugared, nutrient low foods.  


    The "I'm full" argument.  Okay, obviously no one wants to teach their child to overeat, but sometimes you know when your kid is full of it (and I don't mean food). Sometimes I did put too much on Madison's plate, and sometimes it was a tactic for her to not eat her vegetables. My husband and I have a rule: You have to at least finish your vegetables. That's fine if you look at the plate and say "whoa, too much," but the veggies need to go.  The rest we wrap up and save for leftovers. Don’t worry, we eat leftovers too!  


    Errands ran long and now it's lunch time. Let's face it, sometimes you wind up being out longer than expected and instead of being home for that healthy lunch, you're in Target or on the highway.  Pull into McDonald's or Starbucks, I'm totally serious.  Smoothies were my gift from the fast food gods.  I looked online to see what was in those smoothies from McDonald's and Starbucks. Was I going to run in horror over dairy by-products, ice cream, etc.?  Nope, they are surprisingly healthy: win!  Frozen fruit, water, fruit juices and the only real offender was the usual list of preservatives, but at least there were no artificial sweeteners.  Madison LOVES smoothies and it was something I could get for her guilt-free. She even got to pick from a small variety of flavors.  There are enough calories in the small smoothie (and they are filling enough) as a meal in themselves for a kid. Now that's a happy meal and a happy Mom!  I will warn that Starbucks stopped labeling the protein powder in their smoothies, but you can ask them not to add it without any issues.  And Target, that one is super easy.  Hit the grocery section to grab some cheese and deli meat (look out for additives and check out their organic options), fruit and veggies — done!  


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    What your child eats when you're not there... daycare, preschool, school, playdates and parties, oh my.  For some of these events you can pack your child's own food, but some of it is out of your control, and that's a good thing.  You definitely don't want to be the crazy Mom that never lets her child eat or drink anything.  Don't show up to her friend's birthday party with your own snacks and drinks or deny your kid any of the party food.  What message does that send?  It just makes that food more tempting, makes your kid feel left out, and doesn't foster the relationship with food that you are going for.  Yup, Madison chugged juice boxes like a champ at birthday parties and probably had 2-3 individual bags of chips and junk.  It's a special occasion and as parents we always reinforced that.  We laughed it off with her at the parties so she had the same outlook on it.  The idea wasn't to demonize food or have her feel guilty for eating it. That was not a cycle we wanted to create for her.  It was a treat at a special event, enjoy it and move on.  But we still didn't serve the same items at her or our parties.  And we were always adamant about no soda. Oh don't even get me started on soda!  


    Now that Madison is older, she often chooses water over juice and always goes for milk, juice or water over soda. Yes, she has had soda when someone else gave it to her or whatever, but I can count the times easily on one hand.  We are open with her about it. We tell her outright, my husband and I really don't drink soda, it has no nutritional value and it is bad for you. It's a major player in the obesity game.  Oh, and snack time at daycare/preschool which is pretty much juice, cookies or other crap choices — let it go and adjust your options accordingly.  Madison gets juice 1x/day and for us, dessert isn't an every day thing.  So since she gets it at school, she doesn't get juice at home and desserts are next to non-existent (outside of holiday goodies like Halloween candy, birthday cake, Easter basket goodies, etc.). Again, the point isn't to make the child feel left out or like she is missing out.  We tell her she gets her desserts at school and any more is too much. It’s really as simple as that.


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    The bottom line

    You really can instill healthy eating and physical activity habits in your child starting from birth. It takes practice. It takes patience. And it takes persistence. Before long, those healthy eating and activity habits become a natural way of life for you and your child. The battle is over and has been won. Instead of craving cookies, your child reaches for a handful of baby carrots and hummus. Raising a normal weight child in an overweight society isn’t easy, but it is worth it. Children who are overweight face bullying and exclusion in their youth and are at risk for growing into obese adults with a host of obesity-related illnesses like diabetes and heart disease. I know. That was my life before gastric bypass surgery. I urge you not to let that be your child’s life.

Published On: December 19, 2014