Getting your child on the clean eating train without making them feel deprived and without making you feel overwhelmed can sound tricky at first. But in truth, it's pretty simple. Here are four easy steps that will have your whole family feeling happier and more energized in no time.
1. Swap out all processed sugar for sugars that don't inflame.
There are over 50 names for processed sugar, all of which create an inflammatory response in the body. Sugar is highly addictive, and it tastes really good, so weaning your kids off of it is especially difficult unless you swap it out for sugars that taste similar but don't inflame. Think pure maple syrup, refined coconut sugar, and stevia or monk fruit (the latter two are natural sweeteners rather than sugar), raw agave or raw honey. Here's how that works: Raw or naturally occurring sweeteners do not undergo the same refinement, allowing the molecular structure to stay true to nature.
These are not the sugars that cause inflammation (unless eaten in extremely large quantities—and even so, if swapped out with processed sugar, the body will always respond with regeneration rather than degeneration). These are excellent swaps that allow your kids to literally have their cake and eat it too.
My suggestion to you is to become a renegade researcher in identifying and swapping out processed sugar for healthier options. The end result will be a healthier, more energized, and more confident family. Here are some sneaky names for processed sugar that you might not know about:
- Barley malt
- Dehydrated cane juice
- Golden sugar
- Beet sugar
- Grape sugar
- Golden syrup
- Rice syrup
- Honey (unless it's raw)
- Turbinado sugar
- Carob sugar
2. Fill your pantry with processed sugar-free tasty delights.
Now that you know what sugars to eliminate and how to swap them out, fill your pantry with these tasty delights. Our kids are masters at sensing a change in diet. But rather than trying to "sneak" new foods into their lunchboxes or after-school snacks, talk to them about making healthy changes and the importance of swapping out processed sugar for sugar that makes our body feel better.
Share with them that the best part of eating healthier treats is that they can have a couple more scrumptious delights each day because they are so much better for their body. And remember, it’s less about calories in versus calories out and more about the type of calories consumed each day when it comes to pushing inflammation from the body and gaining health. Kids will get super-excited to opt in to a new way of eating if they get an extra treat or two out of the deal!
3. Help your child find their "why."
I’ve worked with many families over the years to help children reverse chronic health conditions through anti-inflammatory eating. Time and time again, I witness the parents having one why to adopting an anti-inflammatory diet while the child has an entirely different goal for adopting this new way of eating.
For example, when my son was young, he had a severe sensory condition that not only affected his day-to-day ability to learn, make friends, and feel confident but also affected my day because it was nearly impossible to leave the house without shouting and tears. The feeling of multiple layers of clothes on his skin was extremely uncomfortable for him, which would make leaving the house quite difficult. Of course I wanted Tosh to feel happier, more confident, and joyful at school, but I also wanted to experience less stress in life when it came to getting ready to leave.
So when we adopted anti-inflammatory eating, I had a discussion with Tosh to explain why we were going to change our family diet. I shared that if we eat this way, his snow clothes would be easier to put on at recess so he would ultimately have more time to play, which is what he wanted.
I encourage you to take some time with your family to discuss what each person is wanting to improve upon in their lives that inflammation may be affecting. (Inflammation consistently affects all chronic conditions, physical and behavioral. When we remove processed sugar, inflammation melts from the body and chronic symptoms begin to reverse.)
4. Lead by example.
Before encouraging your child to join you, I recommend hopping on the clean eating train on your own first. This will help you understand what it feels like to detox from the processed sugar—cravings will be heightened for about a week during this time—and will show how satisfying sugar swaps can be when the detox hits. You will have tried different treats to get an idea of what your kids may like, but most of all, you can lead by example.
The second and most crucial component to leading by example is that you will have real-life experience to make connections for your kids when they feel bad after opting for a slice of birthday cake rather than a clean alternative. You can share how the same thing happened to you when you made a similar choice and remind them that helping our bodies feel good is one of the reasons to make healthier choices.
It is absolutely vital that the caregiver constantly helps to make connections both to how the child feels when falling off the wagon as well as how they feel when they’ve been eating really well. For example, when Tosh falls off the wagon, his sensory condition is greatly heightened. We talk about this before he makes the choice to eat a slice of birthday cake as well as after when his clothes don’t feel good or he’s having a difficult time listening to me gently remind him of the power inflammatory foods have on the body.
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