Healthy Eating for Kids: Teaching Your Child to Eat Healthy in a Fast Food World

One: How I Became Interested in Children’s Health

I started my own daycare business fourteen years ago, not knowing anything about eating healthy. I ate whatever I wanted at my own convenience. I had no clue that I was harming my body because I was eating massive amounts of sugar and sodium, and gained the majority of my weight by eating at restaurants. If any new restaurant opened up in the city, I was there. My grocery shopping list consisted of mostly sweets and breads. I bought honey buns, doughnuts, pop tarts, cinnamon rolls, chocolate-chip cookies, blueberry muffins, moon pies, double-stuff Oreos, and the list goes on. I also fed the children at my daycare whatever I ate.

I grew up in a middle-class family where I always ate generic foods because they were cheaper to buy. We could also get more for our money if we bought off-brand versus name-brand foods. So, I told myself that when I grew up I was going to buy and eat only name-brand foods, which I thought were better. When I received my paycheck from my first part-time job, I bought Doritos and Mountain Dew, and did so every single day. I drunk so much Mountain Dew that my tongue became numb to it. Then I switched to Dr. Pepper and chocolate-chip cookies.

As a child, my family ate mostly at buffet restaurants because we could get a full meal plus dessert for a decent price. My parents rarely took us to ice cream restaurants like Dairy Queen because it was too expensive. I was told that I could go to the grocery store and get a gallon of ice cream, which included three flavors - vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry - for the price of one ice cream cone at the ice cream restaurant.

Needless to say, based on these prior instances, I actually thought I was being deprived. So, when I left home my eating habits went from one extreme to the other. I would eat a whole box of oatmeal pies or Little Debbie cakes, and I gained almost twenty pounds in a matter of months.

I would wear sweat pants to cover up my weight, and I would lose ten to fifteen pounds for special occasions using a low-carb diet. However, I would gain it back plus some after the events were over. I experienced yo-yo dieting, weight gain and loss, for several years. Because of these unhealthy acts, I was eventually diagnosed with high blood pressure and cholesterol. This was extremely heart-breaking for me, because I assumed only really obese people were put on these types of medications.

However, I still did not have enough knowledge to begin to eat healthy. I thought my diet had changed when I went to McDonald’s and ordered chicken nuggets, small fries, and a fruit juice instead of my regular, which was a Big Mac, large fries, and a pop. Nothing happened except that I went from eating greasy burgers to processed chicken nuggets.

I was constantly exhausted and sick from eating fast foods. I also had major challenges going to the bathroom. Every time I went to the doctor it seemed like I was diagnosed with another medical issue, such as low thyroid and kidney problems. I was rushed to the hospital twice because I had diverticulitis, which is caused by a lack of fiber. My husband and I had to take so much prescribed medicine that we got confused about what to take.

One of the biggest reasons that I changed my eating habits is because I did not want to deal with all of the side effects from taking the medications. In less than a year, the doctor put me on six different blood pressure medicines, because my kidneys were in pain to the point where I could not sleep at night. Also, my hands and knees were constantly inflamed with pain as another result of taking the medication. Eventually, I went to a local health food shop where I received helpful information about my health, which ultimately changed my life. I gave my kitchen a complete overhaul and replaced my bad foods with healthy ones. It was very challenging in the beginning, but I passed the test. Now I can actually say that I went from wearing a size twelve to a size four, which is what I am currently, and I am completely off all my medications.

As I began my healthy-eating venture, I realized that I was still giving my children at daycare unhealthy foods. I also noticed that every year of service I always had obese children. I began to feel guilty for giving the children doughnuts, pop tarts, and other unhealthy foods for their meals, and therefore the daycare meals received a gradual overhaul and were replaced with healthy foods as well.

The children now eat fruits and vegetables with every meal. We also prepare and cook meals together. They learn about new fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, and play healthy food games such as Fruit and Vegetable Bingo.

Birthday parties now consist of healthy snacks vs. traditional cake and ice cream. Before I stopped having traditional birthday foods such as cake and ice cream at daycare, I would allow the children to eat as much of these foods as they wanted. There was one birthday occasion where the parents brought in cake and ice cream for their child. After we served the food the parents left quickly, because they knew what effect the sugar would have on the children.

All of the children were screaming profusely, and they began to jump up and down. Naptime was supposed to be next on their schedule for the kids. Needless to say, that did not happen. I helped them all put on their shoes and they went outside to play. I noticed that the children played differently than they would without this sugar high. They started attacking each other by pushing, kicking, and scratching, and were growling so loud that I felt like I needed ear plugs. The children finally calmed down two hours later. Naptime was over and the children were completely worn out. Based on those previous actions, the parents and children now get the opportunity to create and prepare healthy snacks for their birthday parties, which has become a great success.

My daycare has provided meetings with parents and educated them about healthy eating, while the children have planted a garden full of vegetables. We have also created a recipe book. Some children have even convinced their parents to cook together at home vs. eating at fast food restaurants. So, this is how I became interested in children’s nutrition. By the way, feeding our children healthy foods should be a slow gradual process. We want to be patient in reducing their consumption of wheat and other unhealthy foods. Food preferences are learned, and children make their choices through their taste buds and family traditions.