Giving Your Child The Tools to Be a Healthy Deviant in an Unhealthy World
What does a happy, healthy child look like? It’s getting harder to see because our culture presents us with an increasingly limited array of examples. This is the first generation that’s predicted to not outlive their parents. Roughly 30% of our children suffer from a chronic health condition. Currently one in four children are taking medication(s) for a chronic illness such as asthma, allergies, colic, autism, behavioral, and neurological conditions. Rates of autism, ADHD, depression, asthma, and diabetes in children are at an all time high, and this isn’t because of bad luck or bad genes.
It’s easier to blame all of this dis-ease on our genes. Also, it’s likely more palatable than the truth. However, there’s more to our genetic make-up than just our genes – external and environmental factors can influence the way our genes are turned on or off, resulting them functioning in different ways. You may have a predisposition to a specific disease dynamic, but that doesn’t mean you’re predestined to obtain that disease. The environment you surround yourself with, including diet choices, sleep quantity and quality, social circle, thoughts, air quality, activity levels, stress, the level of joy you experience and more can all impact the way your genes are expressed. Sadly, the cultural environment and the social norms we live in promote behaviors and choices that encourage disease expression instead of health expression, and our children are feeling the effects of this immensely.
Social norms are unwritten rules about how to behave in a society. These social norms evolve over time and solidify the more that people follow them. We generally follow these norms to help us feel a sense of control and belonging with others. However, following the norm can become a problem when we become so accustomed to following these social norms that they start to limit us.
Many of today’s social norms, like eating fast food, having a sedentary lifestyle, staying up too late, eating packaged foods, staying indoors, and never resting are badges of honor. If you choose differently than this norm, you’re often looked at as being “weird.” Choosing a healthy meal while those around you are choosing fried foods and alcohol may elicit some negative reactions from others, which might make you feel isolated. And that’s as an adult. Now imagine how it is for a child who’s having a healthy lunch in the cafeteria with their friends who are dining on sandwiches, cookies, and chocolate milk. As humans we are wired to want to belong and for children, this sense of belonging is even more important for them, especially heading into the teenaged years.
Raising healthy families is also more challenging than ever as it requires being a deviant. It requires swimming upstream against powerful currents. Being a deviant is exceptionally challenging, but even more so for kids as their sense of who they are and their confidence is shaped by how much they fit in with others. We’ve come up with some strategies to help your child be confident in their choices and proud of being different.
- Start young by educating about food, reading labels, how foods are manufactured with the support of flavor scientists, how marketing influences people’s choices, and how most parents don’t have time to research about food so their child’s food choices will look differently.
- Have playdates in your home where you feed the other children healthy options. Do taste tests and food sampling. Make it fun to explore healthy options and then share the recipes with the parents.
- Make healthy desserts for their lunch box. Turn their meal into an art project: Veggie people, fruit flowers, cauliflower sheep, stuffed jack o lanterns, frozen banana penguins, veggie garden, magic mushroom caprese salad. Here are some ideas.
- Make healthier options parallel to what the school is serving on a given day. For instance, on taco day, send in taco meat with Siete chips or non-GMO Corn tortillas and fresh vegetables.
- Tell your child they can come to you to vent and talk through why they may feel left out and brainstorm together other ways they can fit in with their peers other than through food.
- Have your child help you choose and prepare their lunches so they feel empowered and proud of their meal. By encouraging them to make their own decisions about what to eat, they start to learn responsibility for their nutrition as well.
- Sneak vegetables into other foods. Add grated or shredded veggies to stews and sauces to make them blend in. Make cauliflower “mac” and cheese. Or bake some zucchini bread or carrot muffins. Sprinkle Greens powder (like Amazing Grass) into sauces or smoothies. Freeze smoothies into fun popsicles.
- Play with your food. Make learning about nutrition enjoyable by turning it into a game. According to Tana Amen, Author of “The Omni Diet,” in her house she plays “This Is Good for My Brain, This is Bad for My Brain.” They name different foods and her daughter gives a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” For particularly healthy foods, such as blueberries (which they call “God’s candy”), she gives two thumbs up and always asks if they are organic, while items like ice cream and soda get two thumbs down. Fresh orange juice gets one thumb down (for sugar), so they make a smoothie instead, using the whole orange.
- hBe a role model! When you’re eating together or at social events, choose healthy options regardless of what others say. This will show your child to stand tall in your beliefs and to honor your body.Allow them to make mistakes and learn from them. Don’t be the food police – avoid scolding them for making poor food choices. Instead, ask them how they felt after eating the specific food and help them see that a symptom they might experience could be linked to the food.Being a healthy person and raising a healthy family in our unhealthy culture is ridiculously challenging. However, with creativity, patience, and diligence you can empower your child to learn how to choose in a way that supports their wellbeing. We believe in your ability to instill your child with the confidence and courage needed for them to be a healthy deviant.