Instilling healthy habits is hard work, rewards last

July 30, 2004|by Lisa Tedrick Prejean

"I better not have cookies after dinner because I had ice cream for an afternoon snack."

When I heard my 9-year-old mutter those words, I smiled.

The time I've spent teaching my children about eating sugar and fat in moderation has not been spent in vain.

I'm not the kind of mom who doesn't have sweets in the house. Obviously.

However, my children know that fresh fruits and vegetables can be just as satisfying.

I'm trying to help them think about what they eat over the course of a day.

As a close college friend used to say, "There are no junk foods, only junk diets."

(So the grapes I had at lunch canceled out the piece of chocolate I devoured after dinner, right?)

It all comes down to balance. I know that. You know that. At times, getting our kids to see that is a different story.


One way to engage a child in the process is to make him an active participant in the meal selection and planning process, says Kevin Murdoch, co-author of "The Lifestyle Journey Program," a guide to healthful living for parents and children.

"Your child helps. That's key to getting the child used to it," Murdoch says.

If a child is allowed to select a recipe for the family to try as an entree or to choose the vegetable for the next evening's meal, he may be more apt to eat what is served.

"What we wanted to do was instill in kids the tools to make their own choices," Murdoch says.

While planning takes time, it also saves time ... and trouble.

"A lot of people wait until the situation is drastic enough where they have to make a change or die," Murdoch says. "The biggest issue is time management. When you have two or three kids and you're running to swimming or piano, it's crucial to plan."

If you decide in advance what you're going to have for dinner, there will be no surprises at 5 p.m. when you're running late to soccer, there's no meal plan but there is a fast-food restaurant on the way home.

People often think they're too busy to make healthful choices, because changing their entire lifestyle is an overwhelming task, Murdoch says.

That's why he and co-author Steve Coons propose making changes one step at a time.

"You learn one habit and you build on that," Murdoch says.

These are the seven foundational strategies of The Lifestyle Journey Program:

1. Choose calcium every day.

2. Eat your fruits and veggies.

3. Be a grain gourmet.

4. Be a protein "pro."

5. Be physically active every day.

6. Choose healthful snacks.

7. Eat breakfast every day.

Here are some ways that I've found to work the strategies into our busy lifestyle:

  • Serve a small amount of grated cheese that a child can eat with her fingers. Turn it into a game. Can she get every sliver?

  • Chop fruits or vegetables while dinner is cooking and put them in individual-serving size plasticware containers that can be tossed into lunch boxes the next day.

  • Buy whole-wheat instead of white bread.

  • Spread peanut butter on a banana and slice into bite-size rounds for a snack.

What works for your family? Send your time-saving healthful tips to me via e-mail to, and I'll share them with other readers.

The Lifestyle Journey Program consists of a booklet for children and a guide for parents. For information, go to on the Web.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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