My kids were born in the sleepy town of Lyons Colorado, population 1500. Our house was 1/2 block from a peaceful park with a beautiful, meandering river. This was quite different from the suburban Connecticut town where I grew up. It took me some time, when I moved to Lyons from Seattle Washington, to get used to the slow pace and the local color. But looking back, I so appreciate the quiet, small town experience my kids had when they were little. Everywhere we went we were a known entity — the librarian, the food market cashiers, the postal clerk – they all knew us by name. Like any parent of small children, I spent a lot of time in the kitchen preparing food. Even before my first child was born, we belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agricultural Farm) and every Saturday we came home with a huge pile of local vegetables. When my daughter was 2 years old one of her favorite foods was sorrel and her birthday cake was a beet red velvet cake. The smallness of our world gave us the opportunity to live simply, and I chose to focus on our health and the food we ate rather than getting in the car and going to various activities. Preparing healthy food takes time and patience, but there is no better way to express your love.
There are so many differing opinions about what to eat and the political correctness of food. What is just as important but often overlooked, is establishing healthy eating habits. You can encourage healthy eating habits whether you eat out of a box or eat home cooked meals.
Here are some essentials for establishing healthy eating habits:
*Expose children ( after age 2) to a variety of tastes. This may require some creativity, but giving a child only sweet food weakens their digestive system.
* Inform your child when they are eating “junk food” on those occasions when it may not be possible to avoid. Tell them to pay attention to how they feel after consuming junk food. Have them compare that experience to how they feel after eating steamed spinach, or a green salad.
*Pay attention to your child’s rhythms with food: if they eat a lot after school (will snack and not eat dinner later) then give them dinner after school.
*Don’t eat late at night or when tired or upset or on the run –important for family to sit down for a meal. Rushing with food sends the message that food is not important, when in fact, food is your best medicine.
*Encourage your child to eat less when they are ill, teething or just after receiving an immunization. Also don’t introduce new foods after immunization as this can cause food allergies or sensitivity.
* Don’t force your children to eat. Keep in mind that the amount of food a toddler eats varies from day to day. Look at quantity of intake over the period of a week or a month, not a particular day. It is also helpful to knows that a child’s appetite can increase or decrease during a growth spurt.
*Don’t fight with your children about food. Children will always win fights about food and toilet training.