As media sources began brimming with articles about the rising rates of obesity in children and the rising rates of behavioral problems in children, Nancy, a stay at home mom and former social worker, was convinced that there had to be a connection. Her own kids were 10 and 14, so she set out to study her suspicions from her kitchen.
In Morgan Spurlock’s film Super Size Me, a portion of the film documents a school for adolescents with behavioral problems.
“This school had to have police officers in the building because the behavior was so bad,” Nancy said. “Then the school changed the food system to a system that was all natural, organic, and whole grain foods. As a result there was a complete turnaround in the behavior of the children at the school. The kids were calmer. They were learning. And the police were no longer involved.”
According to his case study, Nancy’s inklings had been correct. Food impacts more than one dimension of health. The systems of the body are all part of one body. If the body is starved from nutrients, it will fight back.
Hungry to learn more about this correlation, Nancy went to back to school to study holistic health and started implementing changes at home.
“We’ve always eaten pretty well at home, but my kids were more than happy to have junk food, sugary snacks and all of that,” said Nancy.
But as she started learning more about how a growing, changing body handles bad food, she started cutting out things like partially hydrogenated fats. This wasn’t easy.
“Partially hydrogenated fats are found in so many different foods,” she said. “It’s the ingredient that makes the food more shelf-stable, so we would find it in places that made no sense to me at all. Almost every baked good, every cookie, every cracker, every cake and basically anything and everything that is pre-packaged and put on a supermarket shelf had hydrogenated fats. This was not a good sign.”
Changing the way her kids consumed food took patience, innovation and a few sneaky tricks. Here’s what worked for Nancy:
1. Sneak vegetables into meals.
Insider tip: If Macaroni and cheese is a big favorite in your house, try cooking it from scratch and hiding zucchini in the cheese sauce! You can even peel off the skin first if your kids are vegetable detectives.
2. Keep experimenting.
Nancy said it takes almost 15 tries to get a new food into her kids, but she made that work to her advantage. “If they didn’t like it the first time, I still had 14 tries to go,” she said. “Not everything works. There have been spectacular failures and that’s fine. That’s the only way to learn.”
Let your imagination run wild! Nancy made Kale chips and to her surprise, her kids devoured the first batch in minutes… anything goes (especially if it’s salty and crunchy).
3. Get the junk out of the house!
The best way to stop eating junk food is to stop buying it. If it’s not in the house, it can’t be eaten. Nancy switched to healthier versions of her kids favorite junk foods, like organic mozzarella cheese sticks.
“I do understand they are kids,” she said. “They are going to be getting plenty of junk food when they’re not with me, but I’m not worried because they’re making a transformation in their thinking.”
4. Explain to your kids (or your husband!) why you are torturing them.
Kids respond much better to changes if you are honest with them. One of Nancy’s favorite examples of this is when she took a 12 ounce can of soda and asked her kids how much sugar they thought was in a single can.
“Then I showed them. After I poured 12 teaspoons of sugar into a glass bowl, they were amazed,” Nancy said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re going to go off to a party and not have soda. It means they’re aware that they are consuming that amount of sugar. They know it’s not just mom being nuts; it’s mom being concerned.”
5. Teach your kids to pay attention to their bodies.
Nutritional knowledge isn’t everything. What also matters is that you know about yourself. Some people can eat a pound of sugar and feel fine. Most people can’t. Have your kids try new things and note how their body responds to them.
“I think the kids have more energy. I think they feel better,” Nancy said. “My son was always bothered by eczema and allergies. Now the eczema is gone and his allergies are much better.”
6. Pick your battles.
The reality is people eat every day, all day. It’s a form of communication in a way. You have to find the right system for your family.
“When it comes to my kids, I don’t want to have to fight with them three times a day, every day,” said Nancy. “Despite all the times I shudder when I think about what they might be eating out there, it’s not something I want to fight with them about. We’re going to do it together. I decided it would be pleasant and it would be easy and, surprisingly, it’s worked out that way.”
The commitment to healthy eating that Nancy tries to instill on her kids has also brought them closer together, especially during the teen years. By starting the dialogue about nutrition, she opened up the lines of communication about other things, and her children came to respect that she is actually more knowledgeable than they are.
“I like to think that all of this knowledge has made me a better parent,” said Nancy. “Now I have the facts behind me, I have information I can use to show concrete examples. At the beginning of my schooling, they just were like, ‘Oh, great. What’s she going to try on us now?’ That’s gone away. Now we can talk. They may not like it if I bring some strange new food in, but they’re willing to talk about it, and that’s been great. We’re working together as a family and I feel closer to them.”
So, what’s Nancy’s best advice? Don’t start with taking things away from your kids.
You don’t have to make major changes. You don’t have to go and throw out every food. You start small and you just add things in. The easiest way to get kids to change their eating habits is to add new foods, offer them new choices. As you keep adding in the new foods eventually the old foods fall away, and you’re left with healthier, happier kids.
MORE TIPS & TOOLS
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock, rejected five times by the USC film school, won the best director award at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival for this alarmingly personal investigation into the health hazards wreaked by our fast food nation. Under extensive medical supervision, Spurlock subjects himself to a steady diet of McDonald’s cuisine for 30 days just to see what happens.
Slow Food Nation
Slow Food Nation is a subsidiary non-profit of Slow Food USA and part of the international Slow Food movement. It was created to organize the first-ever American collaborative gathering to unite the growing sustainable food movement and introduce thousands of people to food that is good, clean and fair.
The best organic food is what’s grown closest to you. Use the Local Harvest website to find farmers’ markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area, where you can buy produce, grass-fed meats, and many other goodies.
The cool site for kids and their parents to learn more about health, fitness and nutrition through fun games, recipes and articles.
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