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Proper Nutrition for Kids Starts with Mom and Dad

The goal of todayís column is to encourage parenting with responsibility. Let us look at the state of our youthís nutrition today. Our children are more obese, prone to more chronic disease and relatively unaware of the poor quality life that awaits them. Whose fault is this? Is it corporate fast food? Our work schedules? School vending machines/lunches? I think not, well maybe partly. The fault lies with our collective inability make healthy choices and to educate our children to do the same. Simply, we do not parent effectively.

How does one affect change? I have been fighting this battle in my head and at Salisbury Pediatrics for 9 years. Parenting requires love and commitment and serious mental fortitude. We all know of the child who looks at the dinner plate sees a green bean at 9 months and eats it with vigor. Yet, miraculously at 18 months that same bean is now a source of parent induced poisoning that leaves your child screaming while throwing that bean across the room toward the family dog that graciously laps it up. What happened? Did the beanís taste change?

What happened is the great refined carbohydrate/fat complex. Our children taste potatoes, rice, bread, meat and snack foods and realize that green beans just are not good enough to pass the lips. Somehow we accept this phenomenon and pray that they will still eat carrots or squash tomorrow. However, slowly but surely, their diet concentrates to mac and cheese, bread, some meat type and rice. Still we believe that at least they are eating something and will hence survive. I can not tell you how many times a parent tells me that their child just will not eat anything but mac and cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I then think of the children in Japan that eat sushi at 2 years old. We as Americans indulge our children far too much on many levels.

How then do we change current philosophy? I use a NASCAR analogy often with my children. If you had a racecar and wanted to win every race, would you put high octane gasoline or generic 87 octane gas in your engine? Obviously, you would choose the former which then begs the question why you do not consider your body or your childís body a racecar! My children are my prized possession and I will do everything in my power to provide for their success. That goal starts with a strong healthy mind and body. We want our kids on high octane food and we should fight for it.

Start in your home. Demand that your children eat well. This occurs when you lead by example by eating vegetables, whole grains and fruits multiple times a day. Present meals that contain vegetables, whole grains and fruits in them. I know your next question, what if they refuse. Then my belief is old school, leave that plate out until they get hungry enough to eat properly. Refuse their request for snacks, sugar type beverages or alternate non healthy choices in the interim. Over time they will get the picture to eat what is presented or go hungry. (For children with metabolic diseases, diabetes or other chronic disease this may need to be modified somewhat.) This is called parenting. I often hear people say that this sounds cruel. I counter with the cruelty of allowing our children to consciously eat unhealthy food that will be the direct cause of disease morbidity later on.

Parenting also means packing a paper bag lunch for school if the menu that they feed our children is not healthy. It means holding back money if your child chooses fast food daily after school. It means not drinking soda at home if you do not want your child to drink it daily and gain 5 pounds a year from a beverage, scary thought. It means telling your child you love them and that is why they can not eat at a doughnut shop every week. It means providing a healthy snack at birthday parties at school if everyone else is giving cupcakes for the 30th time this year. It means sitting around the dinner table EVERYDAY and asking your child about her day while your influence what she eats. It means asking for help with behavior if you are struggling. It means asking any caregiver of your child to respect your rules. It means not trying to force your child to eat, but letting them choose what HEALTHY food they are going to eat from the prepared table. It means not making separate meals for each child which will exhaust a motherís will and desire. It means planning ahead for sports night so as to avoid the obligatory fast food trip on the go.

No one is perfect. But, if every person made an effort towards these goals our children would more fit, physically and mentally, and we would feel more proud of our parenting and our childrenís life outlook. Being a parent is one of the hardest jobs we endure in life, yet also the most rewarding. Love them and then love them some more.

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