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Finding ways to promote healthy family choices

January 27, 2016

Finding ways to promote healthy family choices

By JOHN ENGEL

For the Daily Hampshire Gazette

Tuesday, January 26, 2016, (Published in print: Wednesday, January 27, 2016)

Kids naturally make healthy choices. This is what my 6-year old Adam recently reminded me.

Of course, sometimes he also reminds me that, like all humans, he benefits from guidance in his decision-making. But were I to add up the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of decisions he makes in a day, I am confident that I would support nearly all of them. Interesting then, that so much of my parental energy is sometimes focused on the small percentage of choices he and 9-year old sister Zoe make which I don’t like.

On a recent Saturday, in an after-dinner conversation with friends who have the wisdom that comes with being empty-nesters, I shared my concerns about Adam’s eating habits. He has shifted from being adventurous to very particular — and vocal — about his food preferences.

Our friends pointed out that each of their children went through similar phases and both are healthy eaters as adults. Ah, the wisdom of hindsight.

The next day, our family went on a hike and picnic with friends where we ate sandwiches and snacks under a tarp on top of a wooded overlook. The other father made a wood fire in a small portable stove, on which he heated his rather healthy sandwich — humus, avocado, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Adam intently observed the entire process — fire-building, sandwich-making, eating.

Monday morning, after Lori had prepared oatmeal for three of us and waffles for Adam — his request — I asked for lunch orders, while clearing the table. From his room, Adam shouted, in a matter-of-fact voice — “I want two pieces of bread with lettuce, avocado and tomato!”

I have never seen Adam eat this before and I was quite certain had I suggested it, he would have rejected it — with flare. I paused: “What a great choice, Adam.”

Then I made the sandwich wondering how he came to such a decision.

I realized that instead of wondering, “How do I get Adam to eat healthy food,” I should be asking myself, “What are the conditions that lead to good food choices.

Three key conditions came to mind.

Access to healthy and affordable food is essential. While my son has this, the realization reminded me to express gratitude for community organizations such as CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) which support a vibrant local food system, and the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, which works tirelessly to ensure those with limited resources have access to food that many of us take for granted.

Setting a positive example is also essential. Leaving foods at the grocery store which we don’t want our family to eat is step one. Breaking bread with friends who value healthy food choices, so that Zoe and Adam can learn by example beyond the push and pull of parent–child relationships, is a tangible benefit of community.

Having faith that creating healthy conditions leads to good choices is also important, and challenging. This faith is grounded in the belief that life has a natural inclination toward health and survival. This reminds me of farming practices where some growers put their primary focus on building and maintaining nutrient-rich soil, a condition essential for healthy plants.

So, for now, I am vowing to spend more time focusing on ways to create conditions that promote healthy choices for Zoe and Adam, and less time fretting.

I am also hoping that given their tender ages of 9 and 6, a few years of this parenting practice will help ensure healthy choices when they start dating and driving.

John Engel of Florence is a consultant and director of the Healthy Men and Boys Network. He can be reached through his website www.fatherhoodjourney.com.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 28, 2016 1:53 pm

    Hey John – Good to read you this morning. I’ve been thinking about you and the Healthy Men and Boys Network.

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