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Healthy Habits for Healthy Kids

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I started dieting in 4th grade and believe it caused a lot of my body image issues. I want to help give ideas for healthy habits for healthy kids so we can help the next generation live naturally healthy lives.

I can vividly remember the day I told my Mom how much I hated my body. I was in 4th grade and was sitting in my canopy bed and she was tucking me in. I can remember bawling. Sobbing as I was telling her I didn’t look like the other girls. Telling her I was so fat. I was so ugly. I didn’t look like my friends and it had been something I let bother me for so long that I finally just broke and was begging for help to “fix” it.Amy's 4th grade picture

The picture above is me around the time I started dieting. I look at this picture today and it makes me so sad that I thought something was wrong with me.

As a Mother I cannot imagine how much it pained my Mom to hear me say these horrible things about myself. Now that I am a Mother, I know that if my boys ever feel this way I’m going to want to help them, too. So, with that said I am starting this “conversation” by telling you I do not blame my parents for my eating disorder. My parents did the best they could with the information that was available to them when I was growing up. It’s was the 80’s/90’s and dieting was totally “acceptable” and there wasn’t the research like there is now about diets being so unhealthy.

My Mom did what she thought was best, she did what she thought I needed and that was to take me with her to her Weight Watchers meeting and enroll me as a member. Back then, Weight Watchers was different. VERY different. I tracked my food, marked things off as a dairy, fruit/vegetable, starch, etc. It felt like a diet, but I think it helped me lose a little weight and I probably felt better for a little while, then I quit. I was either “on my diet” or “off my diet”.

If I was “off” I was eating everything in sight.

This cycle continued for YEARS.

I did all kinds of diets growing up, constantly trying to look more like I “should”. More like my friends who were mostly athletes. I sucked at sports. I mean, I was awful. I sang and that’s where I belonged, on the stage, not on the court, but I still wanted to look like my friends whose thighs didn’t rub together and could easily wear shorts. I have never worn shorts comfortably, even as a kid in grade school.

It wasn’t until after college and after I got married that I realized that these years of me hating my body and dieting created quite a tornado of thoughts and emotions within me. Combine that with several years in an unhealthy relationship and at 23 years old all I knew is that I was never going to get control of my weight, I was always going to struggle and I didn’t deserve any better than that.

I had so much to learn.

And I didn’t even know it.

Today, at 36 years old, looking back on the years of struggle I see what changes could have been made and I’ve made it my mission to help the next generation, including my own children, from a life spent hating their bodies and being trapped in an inner prison because food controls them.

I do not want any child to ever feel the way I felt. Especially my own.

I want to help my children feel confident in their own skin, so when/if someone starts to treat them in such a way that makes them doubt their greatness they will walk away with their head held high because they know they deserve better.

Two boys walking awayI’ve shared before that my early dieting is what caused my binge eating disorder and I do not want young people to go down the same path I did. We have to help them. But first we have to arm ourselves with a healthy mindset and be willing to step away from diet culture and dive into a life of intuitive eating and listening to our bodies.

How can we help children eat healthy, without encouraging a diet mentality?

I am a Mom of two little boys. Their health, especially their relationships with food, are so important to me. I want to be sure I am raising them in a home that offers balance but also encourages healthy behaviors and let me tell you, it is not always easy to do. We walk a fine line when we begin discussing healthy eating because they take things very literal most of the time.Husband and wife laughing with their two boys

I want to offer you healthy habits for healthy kids so we can prevent another generation of disordered eating. I asked a Kansas City Dietitian and wellness blogger to help provide information for you. The funny thing about her responses are they are exactly what I’m doing with my own children so it made me feel confident in the practices I’m implementing and I want to share them with you in hopes they will help you.

Picture of Registered dietitian

Shanna Hutcheson, R.D.,  is passionate about helping others discover that living a healthy lifestyle can be delicious, satisfying and simple. She believes that wellness is a balance of eating nourishing foods, exercising often and practicing self-care. I am excited that she is willing to give us a professional perspective on this conversation because it is one that many of us will face. Raising healthy kids is an intentional practice and I’m always up for learning how to do it better. You can find her at Wellness for the Win.

How do you recommend encouraging healthy foods to a child who doesn’t enjoy fruits/vegetables or trying new foods?

Little girl putting eggs over her eyesShanna: I would recommend getting the kids involved in all food-related decisions, including grocery shopping, meal planning and/or cooking. If they feel like they have a little bit of say in what you are buying and eating for meals, they might be more willing to try these new foods. Make it fun by picking a color or theme for the week. For example, focus on orange and green one week and have them help you pick out five fruits or veggies in those colors, then find creative ways to incorporate them in meals and snacks.

  • baby carrots with ranch or hummus (whichever your kids will eat)
  • green apples with peanut butter and a few chocolate chips
  • roasted sweet potatoes with cinnamon, etc.
There are tons of ways to sneak extra veggies into foods to increase your child’s intake; you may just have to get a little creative with your cooking.
  • Roasting carrots in the shape of fries and season them up so they look and taste just like sweet potato fries (or just sweet potato fries work too!).
  • Serve apple or banana slices with peanut butter and add a few chocolate chips if it helps them eat it.
  • Make whipped cauliflower in place of mashed potatoes (it’s okay to throw some butter in there!).
  • Sprinkle some cheese on their broccoli and other veggies.
  • Add granola to their yogurt.
  • These are all good ways to introduce new foods into their diets and increase their acceptance of them now, and they will likely not need those additions forever.

What are your top tips to model a healthy relationship with food and/or activity to our kids? Mother and sons bike riding

Shanna: I would encourage any parent who is trying to live a healthy lifestyle to frame it as just that, you want to be healthy so you can be with your family as long as possible and do all the things you want to do, like travel, play soccer in the backyard with your kids, etc. Do not discuss your desire to lose weight, and try to refrain from making any type of negative body image comments at all, but especially in front of your kids; otherwise they may start to question their own weight/appearance as well.

Focus on the healthy behaviors that you want to incorporate in your lifestyle on a regular basis, and explain why it is important to you that they do the same.

If they grow up watching you eat healthy foods and exercise for fun, they will assume that is normal.

If you complain about eating healthy foods and/or working out, they will likely find these things to be unpleasant or a chore as well.
If they ask, “Why do I have to eat fruits & veggies (or whole grains, lean proteins, etc.)?”, explain that these foods will make their bodies feel good and strong, give them energy to play sports and do better in school, and live a long, healthy life. Try to avoid using food as a reward, such as, “If you finish your broccoli at dinner, you can have a cookie for dessert.” That sends mixed messages. Also, don’t force them to clean their plate if they are telling you they are full. Let them start listening and learning to honor their internal cues to eat or stop eating, rather than getting in the habit of overeating at meals.
This article from eatright.org discusses the importance of eating as a family and having dinner in a calm environment free of distractions (no TV or phones at the table). Have conversation while you eat; talk about the food in front of you; try a variety of different cuisines. If your kids see you eating it, they will be more likely to eat it too.
No one is perfect, and it’s only normal to make less healthy food choices on occasion. Of course, I would not recommend making McDonald’s a frequent dinner choice; however, I know that life gets busy and at times that may seem like the easiest option. Try not to refer to these as “bad choices”, as you do not want to encourage restriction in your kids at a young age, but instead, explain that it is more of a “sometimes” food rather than an “all the time” food. Same goes with dessert, soda, etc. Not because these foods are “bad”, but because they don’t make your heart and brain and muscles quite as happy as other foods, like fruits, and whole grains, veggies and water.

Make physical activity a family affair.

Go on walks, hikes, and bike rides together. They will not only physically benefit from the exercise, but they will also bond with you, so they will start to view exercise as a positive and fun experience they get to share with their parents and siblings!
It is so important to practice what you preach and set a positive example for your kids. You can’t expect them to view exercise or eating vegetables as a normal daily activity if it is something that you never or rarely do in your own life.

What are some healthy snack options for kids?

little boy reaching for strawberries on the counterShanna: Listed below are some great options, and you can also find more recipes on my blog Wellness for the Win.

  • Healthy homemade trail mix 
  • No Bake Energy Bites
  • String cheese and whole grain crackers
  • Whole grain crackers or baby carrots with hummus (or ranch)
  • Apples / bananas with peanut butter
  • Yogurt with whole grain cereal as granola and/or fruit (can be dried cranberries, dark chocolate chips, pumpkin seeds, etc.)
  • Healthy granola bars — can also make at home; some good brands are Kind, Larabar, That’s It, RX Bars for kids
  • Whole grain toast with bananas and peanut butter with cinnamon
  • Banana Nut Muffins  — this would also be a good place to throw in some blueberries!

Amy:  We do a lot of the snacks Shanna suggest and some of the ones listed here as well.

  • Unsweetened applesauce
  • Air popped popcorn- I buy this in bulk at Costco, Skinny Pop is my favorite brand or I’ll buy a larger bag of popcorn and divide it into individual baggies for easy grab and go snacks.
  • Pretzels. Daily 😉
  • Their favorite bars right now are the Clif Organic Z Bars.

What are some healthy habits that encourage kids towards healthy living in a natural & authentic way?

T-ball coach talking to young boysListed below are some excellent examples from Shanna on how to naturally promote a healthy lifestyle.

  • Encourage your kids to be active every day, as this can help with both their physical and mental health, and they will be more likely to continue this habit into adulthood. Try to take advantage of good weather as a family.
  • Limit use of electronics so they are spending less time viewing pictures or messages that may create stress or negative body image, and more time with family and/or friends who make them feel good about themselves.
  • Eating as a family has been shown to improve nutrition and healthy eating behaviors. Make family dinners a priority whenever you can.
  • Eat the rainbow! Try to encourage them to include a variety of colorful foods (fruits & veggies) throughout their day.
  • Get them in the habit of having a water bottle with them, so they are more likely to choose water over other sugary beverages.
  • Encourage your kids to do things that truly make THEM feel happy and fulfilled (i.e.: encourage your son to play baseball if he really loves it, not just because Mom or dad want him to and he feels pressured and is actually stressed out by it)
  • Encourage body kindness as much as possible. If you hear your daughter or son say something negative about their bodies, address it – do NOT ignore it. Tell them that they are beautiful and strong just the way they are, and that their weight does not define their worth. Have conversations around this as much as you need to.
  • Encourage them to be social and hang out with friends who have similar values and make your kids feel good while they are together. Socializing rather than being isolated is important in adolescence for mental health.

I think Shanna offered some amazing insight on how we can help create healthy habits to raise healthy kids.

Looking back at pictures of myself I see a little girl who was sad. But, she didn’t really need to be.

I see a little girl who was growing into herself, and shouldn’t have been comparing herself to others.

I see a little girl who could have embraced her strengths instead of focusing on her weaknesses.Young girl in dance costume

I want to inspire change for not only young girls, but young boys.

I want to inspire parents to lead healthy lifestyles because they feel better doing so and the positive changes trickle down to our children.

I want to inspire a parent who has struggled their entire life with body image and food to face their own issues so they can STOP THE CYCLE with their children.

I want to be the woman that didn’t let binge eating disorder define her and rose above the mess of her past and used her story to help others stop the cycle of dieting and body shaming so their children don’t have to suffer the same way.

Will you join me in this? Will you be a wellness warrior with me and fight for the next generation?

We CAN love our bodies.

We can overcome negative self talk and poor body image.

We can learn to fuel our bodies with food that makes it feel the best.

We can learn to move our bodies more because it makes us feel more alive.

Our bodies are a gift and I hope we can help kids learn that from a young age.

Healthy living is not a punishment.

I’m thankful I finally committed to a healthy lifestyle free from “dieting” and body shaming. I never want to go back, and I will continue to fight for those who struggle, no matter how young or old they are. It’s never too late. Ever.


**This post was originally shared on 3/4/18. It was updated on 11/12/18 to reflect the change in my journey to intuitive eating.









I started dieting in 4th grade and believe it caused a lot of my body image issues.  I want to help give ideas for healthy habits for healthy kids so we can help the next generation live free from shame and comparison. #healthykidsnacks #healthyhabits



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  1. LOOOOVE! This is a fabulous post! I distinctly remember the moment in sixth grade that my mother made me stand on a scale, her extremely disappointed reaction, and the years of body analyzation by my family and myself. It broke me. I have a little bit left of my journey now but I am determined to not let my daughters (4 and 2) ever feel that way about their bodies or food. We talk about what things make us strong and healthy and why that’s important, not about what things are “bad” for us.

    1. I am so glad you are breaking the cycle, Hannah! It’s not easy to do and I’m proud of you for making it happen!!!!!!

  2. That took courage as I know there are so many opinions. This issue has to be handled with care.
    Thanks for speaking up. Some teens need the tools and are ready for WW, but it needs to be handled so carefully by parents. So many teens are in pain about their body image.

    1. Thank you so much. It wasn’t easy voicing this, but it needed done. You are so right. Some are ready, some are not. I’m praying for all the teens who will walk through the doors that they will be placed in the care of loving and encouraging parents, leaders and meeting members.

  3. I remember watching my daughter at around age 3 looking at herself in the mirror with a huge smile on her face. In that moment I thought to myself, I hope she always looks at herself like that in the mirror, with a big smile. She starts grade 4 next year and so far so good with her body image but it is something I watch for. After losing 70lbs myself I made sure I never talked about myself negatively and always said I want to be healthy for myself and them. Thank you so much for this post! It all resonates with me

    1. Good job Mama. Raising a young girl today has to be even harder than when we were younger. Proud of you for being positive and encouraging about body image!

  4. I couldn’t agree more, but I have to say this is something that is so much harder than I’d hoped it would be, especially as kids get older. When my kids were little, we just focused on making food and exercise positive things. My kids gladly ate fruits and veggies and I thought I had it all figured out. I never talk to diet Hauck or weight or size about my own body, and the only comments they ever heard me say more positive things about how strong I felt. As they got older, my kids have all stayed active in sports. Unfortunately, the entire culture surrounding youth sports now involves sugary snacks at halftime and after every game. Many of the benefits of exercise are counteracted by the number of calories the kids are given. And I’m not going to be that mom who doesn’t like them eat their snack bags. Then my oldest daughter puberty. Suddenly she rapidly gained weight like all young women do, but differently than I did at her age and is now clinically overweight. She’s incredibly active, but she loves to snack and sometimes overeats. I try and use the mantra that we are all the boss of our own body and everyone chooses how much they want to eat, so I am certainly not going to comment on what she eats. Now she’s saying she wants to lose weight. She feels like she weighs too much. I wish it was black-and-white and we could just model positive habits for our kids and they would just pick up on them and everything would be fine, but there are so many of these outside factors as kids get older that really complicate the whole thing.

    1. I can only imagine it getting harder, and as much as that scares me, I hope that those who are “in the trenches” can guide us as we get there. Help us know how to have these conversations and what we need to do. We need to love and support one another for the sake of these children and young adults. Praying you find the right answer for your daughter. Puberty is so hard. So many changes are happening, and it’s normal, though it doesn’t feel like it to the one it’s happening to. Praying that God gives you exactly what you need to help her through it.

  5. My mom dropped me off at WW the summer of 1971 of 8th grade. She was worried about me starting high school 15 pounds too heavy. I look back at the pictures and I had a normal body. The program back then consisted of hotdogs and liver every week. It started a lifetime of gaining and losing for me. I’ve been at lifetime three times and currently at goal since August. Both my daughters have eating issues and one has an eating disorder. They watched me as I tried different diets and constantly said that I was fat and couldn’t eat this or that. Thank you for sharing! It needs to be said and should start a revolution in our country! I get a second chance with my grandchildren. I’ll definitely do things differently with them.

    1. Thank you for sharing Dawnmarie. I’m so glad Weight Watchers has changed in the last few years and that we can all work together to help the next generation have a positive attitude regarding their health and their weight.

  6. Love this!!! ❤️❤️❤️ You have so many great points! Intuitive eating is very important. It’s moderation and understanding what your body needs to fuel it. I’ve never done Weight Watchers, but I’ve know people who have. It seems to be about training you how to make healthy choices not necessarily “diet” which is great. Allowing teens to join their parent at meetings is a great idea. It’s much better than them googling how to lose weight and finding crazy crash diets.

    1. I hadn’t thought of it that way, Bobbi. About them going online and searching for crazy crash diets. That wasn’t an option for me growing up, but it very much is now… that’s so scary.

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