Our country has a funny way of promoting health. When a typical American says he is getting healthy, his approach is often to cut “bad” foods or to eat less.
But when we try not to think about something, we usually think about it more. And when we tell ourselves we can’t have something, don’t we want it more? Children are especially susceptible to this behavior.
So call me Pollyanna, but I think a more positive approach to getting healthy is to think about the foods you can add to your diet to make it more healthful instead of what to subtract. There are so many foods that taste delicious and leave us satisfied. Why does getting healthy have to imply restriction and deprivation? It might sound like spin, but, hey, spin sometimes works.
And believe it or not, as a nation, we are deficient in a slew of important nutrients. It’s the paradox: Americans are overfed yet undernourished. And every one of the nutrients in our food plays a vital role in the precise functioning of our body. When we are deficient, we become susceptible to disease.
Imagine a person whose body is flush with essential nutrients and one whose body is depleted. Most likely the former appears healthier, and maybe even happier. The same applies to kids. A nutrient-rich kid has more energy, sleeps better, employs an active brain and produces more happy hormones.
So if the goal is to clean up your family’s diet, add. Don’t subtract. Add fresh fruits and vegetables to your child’s diet all day long, but don’t immediately confiscate his favorite snack foods, especially all at once. Slowly begin placing air-popped popcorn on the table instead of pre-packaged or microwaved, or a smoothie in his hands instead of an ice cream cone. Don’t tell him he can’t have the ice cream cone. Just let him drink the smoothie first, and you might find he is no longer hungry for the ice cream. And if you discuss health, talk about all of the fantastic benefits raspberries, asparagus and summer tomatoes offer his body. Keep it positive.
I’d like my kids to grow up enjoying food, not seeing it as the enemy. This especially applies to my daughter, because our culture pays so much attention to women restricting their food intake in order to be thin.
So even if it sounds like spin and cliche, I say let’s eat. I want to raise children who look forward to fresh food and aren’t afraid of an occasional indulgence. That’s a healthy kid. And ultimately a healthy adult.
Seidenberg is co-founder of Nourish Schools,
a D.C.-based nutrition education company.