Getting your kids to eat healthy is not as hard as it may sound. It’s a growing concern, especially in lieu of the raging statistics on childhood obesity. And it’s a question I get all the time at the office, either through email, over the phone, or just talking to people when they are visiting the Poliquin Strength Institute for courses. The key is to begin with a healthy breakfast to give your kids the fuel they need for the day and start them on the path to better nutrition.
I have 12- and 13-year-old boys who not only attend a school that is demanding as far as academic achievement goes, but they also play sports and require a well-rounded diet to keep those legs moving and arms pumping. And, my 13–year-old is growing faster than I can drive to the store to buy him longer pants. My question has been, how do I help them keep their focus in school and give them the energy, muscle, and stamina to play sports ‘til 5:30 p.m. after a long day of classes?
Start with Negotiation
It all began with negotiation. Our eating habits did not change overnight. I thought, let’s start with breakfast, the meal responsible for setting my children’s brain neurotransmitters (along with their mood) for the rest of the day. Negotiating breakfast doesn’t necessarily mean taking away their favorite foods, just moving them to a different time of the day.
Evidence Supports a Healthy BreakfastWhen my family started this “breakfast negotiation” I wasn’t aware of the wealth of research that supports eating a healthy breakfast with optimal protein, carbohydrate, and fat ratios, but the data is available and illuminating. Studies tell us that children who eat breakfast have superior nutrition, are less likely to be overweight, have better cognitive function and test scores, and achieve higher overall education levels than their breakfast-skipping peers. It’s clear that breakfast eating is necessary for children’s health, success, and happiness (research shows breakfast eating supports a good mood and leads to less depression), but getting the right kind of breakfast is just as important.
The Problem with Cereal
And that’s where the negotiation started for our family. For example, let’s take cereal, which my kids used to love to eat for breakfast. There are quite a few articles and blog posts onwww.CharlesPoliquin.com
on why cereal should not be eaten (not only should it be avoided for breakfast, but it should not be eaten period). It is enlightening information, and having known Charles for years, the advice he has shared with me has not only changed the way I eat, but the way I feed my family. Just go to the site and type the key word “cereal” into the search bar in the top right hand corner.
Don’t Let Media Messages Dictate Your Kid’s Diets
When negotiating breakfast with your kids, the first myth you have to dispel is the one that says cereal, bagels, donuts, pastries, and other traditional breakfast foods are actually acceptable for breakfast. I ask my kids all the time, “Who made those rules?” The answer is the media and advertising world. Have you ever given your kids breakfast only to see them crash two or three hours later, with their mood going from happy to irritable? Are you hearing from their school that they are having a problem focusing in the classroom? Absent mindedness? Forgetfulness? Irritability?
The Protein-Cereal Compromise
Try the experiment I tried for a month to get more protein in my kids’ diets and see if you notice a change. Tell your children you are not taking away their cereal, they can have a bowl before they go to bed at night as a bedtime snack. Then choose any protein source to replace their regular breakfast cereal. There are many protein sources to choose from – we happen to love salmon, so we rotate salmon, turkey rolled up with a piece of cheese, a cheeseburger, grilled chicken, chicken and apple breakfast sausages sautéed in some butter, eggs, or even toast with some fresh peanut butter.
By teaching your kids to eat a more nutritionally well rounded breakfast, you can inspire better food choices throughout the day. Research shows that eating breakfast is associated with overall healthier food choices, and breakfast skippers are more likely to have diets defined as poor or inadequate. Plus, breakfast eaters tended to make better food choices during the day when they are away from parent influence, such as consumption of more vegetables and milk, fewer soft drinks, and a lower intake of junk foods such as French fries.
Kids Will Model the Example We Provide
It’s been a few years since we began eating protein for breakfast every morning and today my kids don’t even eat cereal anymore. They made that decision by themselves. Once in a great while they’ll ask for cereal, but we usually buy it at a Whole Foods so there’s no high fructose corn syrup or other preservatives and chemicals included. It wasn’t an easy transition at first… you’ll get a lot of rolling eyes and mumbling under the breath, but my Mom who is a Senior Olympic athlete and will be 91-years-old this summer reminds me all the time, “Who is the parent?” As a parent it is up to us to not only make wise choices for our kids, but to teach them good eating habits that will last a lifetime. It helps to lead by example. I don’t ask them to do anything that I don’t do myself.
Indeed, studies show that parental breakfast eating is a significant predictor of child and adolescent breakfast eating. The frequency of family meals increased the likelihood that children made more healthful food choices and was the most significant influence on their eating habits (more than age, ethnicity, demographic, or socioeconomic group). Plus, breakfast skipping is associated with health-compromising behaviors in adults and their children, meaning that people who don’t eat breakfast are more likely to smoke, drink alcohol, be overweight, and be at risk for serious diseases.
And Then They Will Adopt it as Their Own
If there is one thing I have learned from Charles it’s about balance in life. Recently, we spent a week in the Dominican Republic and I let my kids have free choice of breakfast, allowing them to eat pancakes or cereal. I was gratified when my kids chose to eat some protein before inhaling a stack of pancakes the size of their heads. Once you teach kids how great they can feel, they are no different than an adult. They will make smart choices on their own.
Try it. I can give you a list of other parents who have transitioned their kids to a healthier, more protein-centered breakfast, and the results are always the same. Better grades, happier kids, improved athletes. And the research is out there to support what we’ve all learned from experience: eating breakfast improves cognitive function. Studies show that eating breakfast improves performance on free recall and recognition memory tasks and increases reasoning ability as seen through higher achievement test scores. Plus, breakfast eaters get higher grades, have better school attendance records, and reach higher overall education levels than breakfast skippers.
All it takes is one generation to make the change. One behavior change at a time – change breakfast and then we move on to healthier lunch, dinner, and snacks!