Teaching nutrition to children? Add patience to the food pyramid

With the start of the new school year, it was time to start thinking about establishing healthy school routines, especially in the area of nutrition.

After eating cold cereal and popcorn all summer, it was time to re-teach my children about foods that don’t come with toys or cartoon characters on the back of the box – or, for that matter, foods that don’t even come in a box.

As she was getting ready to enter grade seven, my daughter announced that she wanted to bring a lunch to school. After lugging a lunch box all through elementary school, I thought she would be ready for lunch at school.

Then she told me what she wanted in her lunch box. Together, the items she asked for in her lunch menu had all the nutritional value of a screwdriver.

Encouraging my children to eat healthy was especially hard for me because I can’t really lead by example. The commandment “do as I say, not as I do” lost its effectiveness long before I had a chance to use it.

I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle. My kids know I run or bike regularly because they insist I spray myself and go through a decontamination room before entering the house after a workout. Although my diet is quite nutritious, my mouth isn’t really watery at the thought of a veggie burger with a slice of tofu.

And I do my best not to go within 10 miles of steamed broccoli.

For six years, I’ve been going around with my oldest daughter to eat at least part of the lunch I prepared. I tried threats, bribes, and episodes of kneeling and begging. Every day, her lunch was either completely intact or it looked like she was using her lunch box as a footstool with the original contents completely distorted. Nothing worked.

She would starve herself during lunch or graciously accept handouts from her classmates. I was ready to give up. However, in order to avoid being added to the child welfare guest list for starving my children, I still made sure my daughter had a nutritious breakfast in her backpack every morning.

I even ended any discussion about whether or not she ate her breakfast.

Eventually, she started to mellow. I began to see partially eaten sandwiches and less carrots in her lunch box after school.

I wouldn’t say I’m the suspicious type, but my daughter’s dentist would be because I showed up at his office with a half-eaten sandwich to have him confirm that the bite marks were indeed my daughter’s. I was very suspicious. He also thinks I’m a little weird.

After all the arguments, tantrums and threats to hold my breath until I turned blue, it turned out that patience and letting my daughter make her own decisions were the best way to succeed.

That’s not to say that following a nutritious diet is no longer a problem, but we’ve made great progress. I think that as long as I silently maintain a healthy lifestyle (and don’t get caught snitching on the multi-coloured cereal), children could understand and make a healthy choice.