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Volume II
August 1, 2008

The Kitchen Table Classroom
By Camille Rhoades

As a new school year starts it is a great time to start some new practices and set new goals for the family. Your kids are another year older and ready to learn and grow more than ever! There is no better time to focus on teaching kids healthy eating habits of their own.

Whether it is school lunch or after school snack our kids are getting much more choice as to what goes in their bodies and it is more important then ever that they have strong, healthy habits all their own!

Creating those habits isnít always easy, but is definitely worth while. It will depend on a lot of things, not the least of which is your childís personality and preferences. Your familyís style, your preferences and habits, and what is available are just a few of the potential obstacles, but also the greatest assets in teaching your children this lifelong lesson. With the following tips I hope you will find the tools to build strong, healthy bodies in your home!

1. Lead by example. Your children will emulate what they see from you, including likes and dislikes. I am not asking you to eat what you donít like, but be sure that you arenít limiting your childrenís experiences with your food attitudes. Also, be sure you are making wise choices. I learned this the hard way. One day I was ďsnackingĒ on Cheetos and my son caught me. Of course, he didnít want his apples and cheese after he saw that. That little mistake really took a lot of work to undo and made me much more aware of what I am grabbing and munching. If I expect my kids to snack healthy, I better do the same.

2. Sit down together for meals. Dinner time is a wonderful time to gather together and share the dayís events, but it is also the perfect place to teach your children wise food choices. Research shows that families that eat dinner together consume a higher amount of vitamins and minerals than those that eat separately or ďon the goĒ. It isnít always easy to get everyone together, but sitting down together is the most healthy choice for your family dinner for so many reasons so it is worth the effort to make it happen.

3. Create and stick to a regular meal schedule. Kids will snack less if they know when to expect the next meal. It is also easier to accomplish a sit-down dinner when everybody knows what time they are expected to be at the table.

4. End the battle and bribery. Stressful situations over food can make kids develop negative feelings around eating. Donít force your kids to eat everything and donít bribe them. Allow them to make healthy choices without the fight so you donít create a bigger problem.

5. Be flexible and patient. Changes donít happen overnight and this one is no exception. If your son is just certain that he hates vegetables, he will likely not be willing to take a veggie tray for after-school snack tomorrow, but with some trial and error and some patience he might just get there!

6. Donít be too restrictive. Sometimes treats and ďjunk foodĒ are okay. You like them, admit it! I know I do! And our kids do too. Teaching them to enjoy them in moderation is the trick, but if they are too restricted they are set up for bad decisions when you arenít watching. On a recent family vacation my niece joined us for a snack time while her mom was still in the hotel room. She walked in and grabbed NINE cookies and went over to a corner to eat them. Her mom doesnít allow cookies so while she was away that young girl was ready to make up for lost time. You can see how that can set up kids for horribly unhealthy habits. Allow them to enjoy treats in moderation so it isnít too exciting when you arenít there to make the choice.

7. Provide nutritious food. Kids will eat what is convenient and there are plenty of healthy options that are convenient. Keep fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk, nuts, and whole grain foods available for snacking. As they get used to all the nutritious options they will develop tastes and habits that will stick with them for life.

8. Get moving. Encourage your kids to exercise. The best way to do this it to get out and moving with them. Play a sport, go walking, or take a bike ride together. You might just find that teaching the kids healthy exercise habits isnít the only benefit!

9. Empower your children. Let them participate in meal planning and preparation. My 4 year-old is a picky little eater and I have worried about him since he was tiny. A few months ago he started pitching in ideas when my husband and I were discussing meal plans. Much to my pleasant surprise I found that Noah eats quite well when he has had a role in selecting the meal and/or preparing it. It isnít always easy to think of tasks for your kids to help with in the kitchen, but the lessons they can learn there are wonderful so make a little room in the kitchen and let them play a part.

10. Know your child. Ok, we all know our kids, but do we always remember that when we are preparing meals? I donít! You know their preferences, habits, and personalities and with a bit of thought and maybe some special preparation you will know the best way to get them to accept new things and new habits. You are the worldís leading expert on your children (even if it doesnít always feel like it to you) and you are the very most qualified to help them learn and grow.

This year will bring lots of new learning and new fun for your kids and with some work, energy, and maybe a little ingenuity the best thing they learn all year might just be around the kitchen table!

* DVO welcomes your kitchen hints and cooking or nutrition questions! Email us and we'll post your hints and Q/A's in upcoming newsletters! *

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