Teaching Your Kids to Eat Well
Single Dads: Despite Divorce, 5 Tips to Keep Your Children on Healthy Diet
Ask a 10-year-old what you should put into a pie and he might say his teeth. But ask him what to put into broccoli and he might suggest a flame thrower. So what’s a health-minded single dad to do when it comes to getting his kids to eat right?
It’s not easy. Cultural stereotypes where dinner-with-dad comes from the drive-through lane of Burger King have taken hold. The actual evidence shows that kids with single fathers can have healthier diets, if ever so slightly, than kids from dual-parent households. A study from Iowa State University has pretty much debunked the myth of the Duncan Donuts Dad”, concluding that single dads can do a good job of training their kids to embrace healthy diets.
The study, entitled “Fast Food Dads? The Effect of Family Structure and Nonresident Father Involvement on Adolescent Eating Patterns,” studied more than 10,000 families in the mid-1990’s to study the links between family structure, non-resident fathers, and kids eating habits. Lead researchers Susan Stewart, associate professor of sociology at Iowa State, and Chadwick Menning, a sociology professor at Ball State University, found no evidence that kids suffered under the dietary direction of their single dads. In fact, the kids were also less likely to skip breakfast, ignore vegetables and bypass regular meals.
The key, according to the Iowa State study, is that these fathers are more involved in their kids’ lives. How to start? Health-conscious dads who spend time with their kids can grease the pan, so to speak, with some dietary tricks to get kids to buy into a healthy diet.
“One of the best moves a single dad can make is to let the kids help with the cooking,” says Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author (along with her son Michael) of the book “The Complete Single Father.” “Once you get them involved you can show them how to serve carrot sticks and raw broccoli with low fat ranch dressing to dip in or nibble on before dinner. Or, make spaghetti squash by having your kids use forks to pull off the strands of the squash so they look like spaghetti.”
Another tactic, Shimberg adds, is to make sure kids have some proteins, especially at breakfast. “Make them scrambled eggs, hard boiled eggs, low fat cheese or yogurt,” she says. “It will keep them filled up until lunch time. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better in school.”
Taking your kids shopping can make them more enthusiastic about maintaining a good diet. It’s the dietary equivalent of buying playing catch in the backyard — it includes them in the process. “When you go, make a list and stick to it,” advises Dr. Susan Bartell, a child psychologist and author of the book “Dr. Susan’s Kids-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Parent’s Action Guide to Success.” “Take the list, with your planned-in-advance treats, like a box of cookies or a box of reasonably healthy cereal, and draw the snack line right there.”
Bartell says it’s only human nature to break down and give in to a squawking child who demands more fudge ripple and fewer fava beans. “Don’t give in to tantrums in the candy, cookie and cereal aisles,” she explains. “On the other hand, don’t go overboard pushing only super-healthy foods. You have to find the right balance.”
“Oh, and can the soda,” Bartell insists. “Soda is the biggest culprit of overweight, over-sugared kids,” she adds. “Save it for only very special occasions.”
Other tips you can take to the table with your kids to get them eating better:
1. Try creative packaging.
To get kids to eat more fruit, buy those packaged apple slices that come with a tin of peanut butter, or those strawberry-and-yogurt packages that are appearing more and more in the produce aisles of your favorite grocery store. In the vegetable aisle, try celery-and-peanut butter or carrots and low-fat blue cheese dressing packages.
2. Be a good role model.
Diet-wise, the family that dines together gets in line together. Make sure you eat the same meal as your kids and try to eat every bite — studies show that kids who eat with their families usually develop superior dietary habits.
3. Plan ahead.
There is no bigger obstacle to your kids’ healthy eating habits than a rushed schedule. Simply put, getting dinner together on a last-minute basis too often means calling Pizza Hut or microwaving a Hot Pocket. With kids and dining, a little planning goes a long way.
4. Farm it out.
Get your kids immersed in the food preparation experience by growing your own fruits and vegetables. A simple tomato garden or peach tree is the stuff of great pasta sauce and sumptuous pies. Having your kids help seed, water and otherwise nurture your garden gives them ownership over their own meals (and saves you money on your food budget, to boot). Tip: if you don’t have a green thumb, take the whole gang down to your closest farmer’s market and ask them for advice. Most market owners are only too happy to pass along their expertise, especially if it helps kids eat better.
5. No guilt trip.
If you break down once in a while and grab a pizza together, or dine together under the golden arches, don’t beat yourself up over it. Emphasize that, even with fast food, moderation is the key to a healthy diet.
As a single dad, your kids want to spend time with you. When that means spending time together in the kitchen, garden, grocery store, or even a nearby restaurant, make the best use of it. Your kids will eat better and your bond with them will grow even tighter in the process. Remember, as the old saying goes, a smiling face is half the meal.