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Teach Kids to Navigate the Food Carnival

carnival-vendorsThough not technically an amusement park, I refer to our current food culture as a “food carnival” because it’s like a funhouse ride. Enticing foods assault our senses everywhere we go and we must learn to see through the attraction of it all and make sensible choices.

As parents, it’s equally important that we teach our kids to navigate the food carnival for themselves.

Before I lost weight, my typical pattern several nights a week was to buy dinner for my four kids and myself on the way to our evening activity. Whether it was dance class or Scouts, there was a Golden Arches (or some other fast food outlet) en route, and that meant everybody would get what they wanted and I wouldn’t have to hassle with making dinner, arguing about who wanted what, and then cleaning it all up. Seemed like the perfect solution, right?

We all know the answer to that: WRONG!

There is a high price to pay for all that convenience packed inside a bright red and yellow box.

I came to my own realization about my weight and the quality of food I was eating, but it took me a while to assert my role as gatekeeper in our home. At first, I just started talking to my kids about why it was important to choose healthy foods. I shared what I had learned about how some foods – especially highly-processed and restaurant foods – are created to be hyper-palatable and therefore almost impossible to resist. I bought more fruits and vegetables, and had them cleaned and ready-to-eat in the refrigerator at all times. When we walked through the mall food court together, I steered them toward chains that offered calorie and nutrition information on their menus so that we could make informed decisions.

I’d love to tell you that all of this coaching has made them little “Mini-Me’s” – well-informed consumers, super-conscientious about their dietary habits at all times.

Not even close.

But they probably know a whole lot more about healthy food than they would have if I hadn’t started making a concerted effort to educate them, and they certainly eat much better than they used to.

Do they make perfect choices when they walk through the “food carnival” with their friends and I’m not around? No, probably not.

But they know to look for grilled meats rather than fried, check the calorie count and throw a few veggies on that wrap. Maybe most importantly, they know that I value their health enough to teach them this stuff.

As challenging as it is for us to find our way through the “food carnival,” kids have an even tougher time. They don’t have the knowledge and perspective that we do so it’s up to us to teach them and lead the way.

Leading by example, introducing them to fresh, healthy foods and sharing our values are how we teach our children to navigate the food carnival.

Losing weight is hard, but it gets easier when parents give kids the tools and “I-can-do-this!” attitude to find their way our crazy food culture. And they’re so damn worth it!

Let’s go get it!

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