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Get Kids Started Early


Excerpt from, "Get Healthy With The Brain Doctors Wife" by Tana Amen

I once read a story about Rhode scholars. Apparently, the one common connection between all of them was that their parents read to them every night, and they ate dinner together... at the table (not in front of the television). The time we spend with our children is the greatest investment we can make in their future. How we influence their health while they are young is the greatest long term gift we can give them.

My husband and I got used to the snickers and smiles we would get from people when they would see our daughter, Chloe eating salmon and avocado at three years old, or the comments we get from other parents when they see her snacking on red bell peppers and hummus in the airport. Often, these parents want to know how on earth we got our strong-willed child to eat anything other than fast food and juice.

Simply stated, it has never been an option. Sure our daughter is exposed to it, just as all children are. She doesn't live in a bubble, nor do we want her to. We are teaching her to make healthy decisions for herself. But when she was really little we didn't provide it for her. And at home, we don't have it available, so she doesn't think of it as a natural choice. She never developed the taste for it or the tendency to reach for it! Chloe's natural tendency is to reach for healthy, nutritious, energizing foods.

Chloe is a normal seven-year-old. She loves the same things all kids love. If I had cake and ice cream in the house all the time, she would be eating it on a regular basis within a matter of weeks. It is my responsibility to nourish her and guide her, to teach her about what is good for her. We even play games at the dinner table, "This Is Good For My Brain Or Bad For My Brain." She gives us a "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" sign.

Probably the best thing you can do is to lead by example and not have junk food around the house. I would not make it easy for my child to be unhealthy. At the same time, I would not force them to eat foods that they hate or be mean about it. You will likely do more to make them resent your new changes.

You may want to consider introducing several new healthy dishes each week, and continue to serve one or two of their familiar foods (the most healthy of them). Quickly eliminate the worst things, and slowly begin eliminating the other foods, replacing them with more wholesome choices like fruit and raw, home made desserts, salads, soups, smoothies, baked chips instead of fried, etc.

Exposure Equals Preference!

Because I didn't have unhealthy food in the house, and had fresh fruit and vegetables instead, that is what she learned to enjoy. Exposure equals Preference! It is not a God-given right that your children should be allowed to eat poorly! It is not good for them! What you expose your children to is what they will learn to appreciate, what they will develop a taste for. You don't have to force them. It's best not to force them. That will only cause them to develop the same issue around food that many of you may have. And let's face it, you can't be with them 24/7. It is far more effective to teach, guide and empower them to make the healthiest choices possible! Help your children develop a connection with their bodies, an awareness of how food affects them and makes them feel.

The best thing you can do is get your children invested in their own health as early as possible. Get them involved in learning about what brain health means... what it means to their life, how it helps them and why it's important. Here are some practical tips to get your kids on the right track to brain healthy nutrition starting in early childhood.

Brain Healthy Tips for Kids

  • Only keep healthy foods in the house. Food should be a good experience for kids.
  • All foods that kids have access to should be foods that are nutritious and energizing.
  • Don't have any foods that are "taboo.” Just get rid of them!
  • When kids are small, have a "snack shelf" that they can reach that has only "parent approved" items. See list below for suggestions.
  • Play games with kids to help them understand how food affects their bodies and brains.
  • Teach them to be responsible for their own nutrition as early as possible... at school, church, birthday parties etc.
  • Teach your kids about specific effects of certain foods or ingredients as early as possible such as sugar, red dye, msg, etc. (and where they are found).

Helping Kids Develop a Healthy Relationship with Food

  • Focus on health risk and reward... not physical appearance!
  • Teach about healthy eating and nutrition, not dieting... ever!
  • Help kids make connections to how they feel and what they eat. When they eat nutritious food ask them how they feel and help them give it a name, "energized," etc. When they eat sugar, point out when they "are more hyper or get time out more often."
  • Avoid using food as reward.
  • Avoid using food as punishment.
  • Never make children eat when they are not hungry (unless there is a medical reason).
  • Don't allow sugary desserts if they choose not to eat... give them back their nutritious meal to eat first.
  • Get kids involved in cooking early... and make it fun!
  • Allow kids to experience consequences for the choices they make. If they make less healthy choices, don't nag them but be clear about why they may have a "tummy ache."
  • Remember to give thanks be grateful for the food we are blessed with and the nourishment and energy it provides.

“Red Light” Foods to Avoid

  • Sugar
  • Red Dye
  • MSG
  • White bread
  • Processed foods as much as possible. This necessitates making lunch when possible. Most of the foods in school lunches are not nutritious.
  • Muffins and cookies
  • Potato chips
  • Fast food
  • Soda
  • Fruit Juice (yes, even 100% pure!)
  • Candy
  • Pizza (maybe rare occasions)
  • Jelly and jam
  • Hot dogs (this is pseudo food!)
  • Cereal
  • Dairy
  • Peanuts and Peanut Butter

“Yellow Light” Don’t Overdo These Foods

Limit breads as much as possible. Go for whole grain or Ezekiel. I know it's tough, just do your best. Check ingredients for sugar and high fructose corn syrup!

Pasta: It's basically sugar. Try to use Shiratake noodles found in the refrigerated section of health food stores if your kids will eat them. At the very least use whole wheat pasta which takes a little longer to digest.

Oatmeal: This isn't terrible for breakfast, provided you use steel cut oats. Rolled or instant oats convert quickly to sugar. Try putting a half a scoop of protein powder (I like vanilla flavored pea protein), chopped nuts or seeds and some berries in the oatmeal for a more balanced meal. It will give your child focus and energy for a much longer period of time.

Freeze dried fruit snacks with no sugar added (not fruit roll ups!). Don't confuse this with dried fruit. These are a lot lighter. I save these for play dates so I'm not known as the "weird mom" who only serves avocados!

Baked sweet potato chips: Again, saved for rare play dates

Rice: Use brown rice. White rice is pure sugar. Get them started early on brown rice so they don't notice the difference. Brown rice is still sugar, but at least it takes a little longer to digest.

Corn

Remember, it's always better for your children to eat starchy carbs with some kind of protein so they don't get a bolus of sugar, then a sharp drop in blood sugar. This affects their focus... and their behavior!

“Green Light” Chow Down!

  • Veggies, veggies, veggies
  • Fruit
  • Nuts and Seeds, except peanuts: For children over 2 years old who don't have allergies
  • Raw Nut Butters, except peanut butter: For children over 2 years old w no allergies
  • Wild fish
  • Lean, grass fed, antibiotic free, hormone free meat
  • Baked Sweet Potatoes
  • Homemade "raw desserts" like "Avocado Gelato"
  • Brain Boosting Smoothies: These are my favorite treats. They taste great and I can hide all kinds of healthy ingredients without my daughter knowing.
  • Raw "Flax Snax." These are great snacks found in the raw food section of the health food store. They have pizza flavor, coconut flavor, and many others. They are fabulous and nutritious.
  • Raw macaroons: Found in the "Raw food section of the health food store."

** Get familiar with your health food store. Most stores have a raw food section that has great snacks. But beware, some of them are just another marketing scheme for more sugary desserts. You have to read the labels.