Over the years, there has been differing opinions about the connection between behavioral issues in children and their diet. As early as the 80’s, families that found themselves raising complex children were encouraged to consider the diet connection (Wender, 1986). Over the years, this idea gained traction. Although many theories exist as to what the connection may be, enough of a pattern presents itself to some parents to make it a priority to keep the diet clean of certain ingredients. While that may not feel necessary for all parents, what are ways we can easily teach children to enjoy and eat food that is nourishing for their growing bodies? Here are some ideas:
- Look for products that have five or fewer ingredients. These items tend to be cleaner.
- Look for ingredient lists that are in plain language. Of course, the advent of some ingredients has enhanced our food’s shelf life ability, but it doesn’t always make it a healthy choice on a regular basis.
- Shop the outer aisles. Unprocessed food tends to be situated here. And when you do enter the inner aisles, take a list with you to keep you focused on the items you are going there to get and keep yourself to that list.
- Pay attention to sugars in the foods you purchase and become aware of “hidden sugars” that sound healthy, but really aren’t, such as beet sugar.
- Allow some flexibility in your diet. If you are not dealing with a food allergy (IgE activated) or specific medical concern related to food, allow yourself some flexibility in including some treats. If you notice a pattern of behavior related to a food item, explore that with your child’s pediatrician or a specialist.
- You are your child’s best teacher when it comes to food related habits. Think aloud around your child in regards to the habits and food choices you build for a healthy lifestyle. Even teenagers are listening far more than you would ever guess! The conversation should never be shaming. Focus on being healthy rather than being a particular weight. Talk with your child about what certain foods can do to your body if consumed too much, but focus on quality of life and health, not size. Healthy bodies can look more than one way and this is a message your child needs to hear.
- Allow your child to participate in picking a new fruit to try (dragon fruit…how cool is that!?) or a new recipe to make together. See how many fresh ingredients you can put together to make a new favorite combination. Think of it as making new additions to your diet and encourage your child to think of it this way, too.
Families are their child’s first teacher. When you teach, you touch the future and that’s a pretty amazing place to be!