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Sunday, June 11, 2006

kick the junk food habit!

You are what you eat…and so is your child.

Some people have a difficult time comprehending the vegan child’s diet. They can’t seem to grasp the idea of a child without chicken nuggets and chocolate milk. These people often view vegans of “depriving” their children of necessary nutrients. These are (in my experience) without exception, the same parents who feed their two year old child snacks of cheese doodles and soda, while my children are eating fruit. They can’t understand drinking rice milk with lunch and eating apples for dessert, while I cringe at the sight of a toddler eating corn chips and a cola. Their questions of nutrition are so ridiculously backwards that it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

Soda and candy and chips, oh my!

When you have a brand new car, what do you put in the gas tank? I’m guessing fuel. If I wanted to pour a soda in there instead, I’m sure you’d have a problem with that. However, many people don’t think twice about giving their baby or toddler soda. This is a tiny human body, pure and healthy. Why would you fill it with garbage? It just doesn’t make any sense. What you eat and drink is meant to nourish you. To say that soda and chips is not a nourishing snack is an understatement. Junk food is detrimental to a child’s health in so many ways. Studies have shown that junk food filled with unnatural ingredients, hydrogenated oils, preservatives, additives, etc, leads to addiction and cravings of such foods, unhealthy lifetime eating habits, obesity, poor health, and higher susceptibility to degenerative diseases.

When a child is hungry, his body is asking to be nourished. Feeding him a Pop Tart will defray his hunger, but not his need for nourishment. Children learn healthy eating habits in the first few years of life. If you give fruit as snacks, this is what the child will crave. If you give candy bars, this will be the constant craving. It doesn’t take brilliance to know the better choice, but so few parents fail to make the right decisions. They refuse to be made aware because it would require them to admit that the choices they are making are wrong, and no one likes to be wrong.

Realizing and accepting the root of the problem…

Much of the dietary problems of today’s children stem from the involuntary, ingrained habits of the parents. Many of us were raised on Wonder bread, macaroni and cheese and cookies. Well, if it was good enough for us, it’s good enough for our kids, right? Wrong! Is it hard for you to have just one chip? And when you’re eating chips, do you thirst for soda? Of course, the two go hand in hand! When you’re craving a snack, would you rather have a carrot or a few cookies? It’s very difficult to admit that a habit you’re used to isn’t the best way to live. But as parents, specifically conscious parents, we want better for our children. They deserve to be nourished with healthy food. They deserve nothing less. And as children, we deserved the very same thing. Obviously we can’t go back in time and knock some sense into our parents to change what we ate as kids, but we can better shape the health of our children.

Some parents actually use peer pressure to justify their choices. They don’t want their children to be different. So rather than instilling in them a strong confident sense of self and the importance of health, they fill their little bodies with junk food so they can avoid confrontation. So the child not only learns unhealthy eating habits, but also the lesson that it’s better to conform than stand up for what’s right. If a family falls in this category, there is much self evaluation and growth to be explored besides just learning to eat more wisely.

Where to begin?

Changing eating habits is tricky business. How quickly you make the transition to healthy eating will largely depend on the age of your children. The younger they are the easier it will be. If you have a newborn baby or are pregnant, plan to breastfeed for as long as possible. Simply don’t allow junk food to enter your home and you won’t have a problem telling your child “no”. If there aren’t any doughnuts in the house, your child won’t be begging for them. If there are only healthy snacks, your child can pick and choose. The easiest way to avoid food struggles is to only have in your home what you would want your children eating, eliminating all other options.

Begin reading the ingredient labels on what you buy. If you can’t pronounce an ingredient, or especially if you don’t have any idea what the ingredient is, don’t buy it! If you don’t even know what you’re eating, that’s a definite red flag! One jar of peanut butter has a myriad of ingredients that are unhealthy. Another jar has one ingredient: peanuts. Which should you choose? It’s not rocket science.

Adding more fresh or frozen fruits to your family’s diet is always a good way to begin. Vegetable can be trickier to begin with if your family isn’t used to eating healthy. Try to avoid canned food, as the contents retain very little of the original nutrients.

If your family heavily relies on junk food, slowly wean it out of your lives. Replace the sugared cereal with a natural cereal topped with fruit. Make smoothies or frozen smoothie pops for an afternoon snack instead of buying another bag of cookies. Instead of PB&J on white bread, use whole wheat bread, natural peanut butter and 100% fruit jam. If you can’t go cold turkey on the chips, start replacing them with more natural ones like Dirty Chips, or delicious alternatives such as Fruity Booty. Start small by making wiser choices and work your way to a healthier family life.

Educate yourself.

Here’s a challenge for you. Pick a few snack or breakfast items from your cupboard and research the ingredients. Not sure how partially hydrogenated oils could pose a problem? Look it up and you’ll be surprised at how scary the answer is. Educate yourself on what you are feeding your child. Your child doesn’t have the resources you do, he doesn’t know any better. He trusts you to provide him with the very best of what he needs. Are you doing your best to deserve that trust?

What does the future hold?

Your children are likely to become parents themselves someday. They will bring the eating habits that you instilled in them to their new family. The health of your grandchildren may largely depend upon the decisions you make now. Do what you can today to improve the way your family values nutrition and health. Grow at a pace that’s comfortable for you and don’t be afraid when you realize that it’s hard work. Improvement is always difficult at first. There will be resistance. But eating healthy is one of the most important things you can do for your family. You are worthy of eating right. Your children are worthy. Your bodies are designed to be nourished, not treated as a toxic waste dump. So strive to get to the place where you find yourself unable to comprehend someone else feeding their child junk food!

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