Ask a 10-year-old what you should put into a pie and he might say his teeth. But ask him what to put into broccoli and he might suggest a flame thrower. So what’s a health-minded single dad to do when it comes to getting his kids to eat right?
It’s not easy. Cultural stereotypes where dinner-with-dad comes from the drive-through lane of Burger King have taken hold. The actual evidence shows that kids with single fathers can have healthier diets, if ever so slightly, than kids from dual-parent households. A study from Iowa State University has pretty much debunked the myth of the “Duncan Donuts Dad”, concluding that single-dads can do a good job of training their kids to embrace healthy diets.
The study, entitled “Fast Food Dads? The Effect of Family Structure and Nonresident Father Involvement on Adolescent Eating Patterns
”, studied more than 10,000 families in the mid-1990’s to study the links between family structure, non-resident fathers, and kids eating habits. Lead researchers Susan Stewart, associate professor of sociology at Iowa State, and Chadwick Menning, a sociology professor at Ball State University, found no evidence that kids suffered under the dietary direction of their single dads. In fact, the kids were also less likely to skip breakfast, ignore vegetables and bypass regular meals.
The key, according to the Iowa State study, is that these fathers are more involved in their kids lives. How to start? Health-conscious dads who spend time with their kids can grease the pan, so to speak, with some dietary tricks to get kids to buy into a healthy diet.
“One of the best moves a single dad can make is to let the kids help with the cooking,” says Elaine Fantle Shimberg, author (along with her son Michael
) of the book "The Complete Single Father." “Once you get them involved you can show them how to serve carrot sticks and raw broccoli with low fat ranch dressing to dip in or nibble on before dinner. Or, make spaghetti squash by having your kids use forks to pull off the strands of the squash so they look like spaghetti.”
Another tactic, Shimberg adds, is to make sure kids have some proteins – especially at breakfast. “Make them scrambled eggs, a hardboiled eggs, low fat cheese or yogurt,” she says. “It will keep them filled up until lunch time. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast do better in school.”
Taking your kids shopping can make them more enthusiastic about maintaining a good diet. It's the dietary equivalent of buying playing catch in the backyard – it includes them in the process. “When you go, make a list and stick to it,” advises Dr. Susan Bartell,
a child psychologist and author of the book "Dr. Susan’s Kids-Only Weight Loss Guide: The Parent’s Action Guide to Success." “Take the list, with your planned in-advance treats, like a box of cookies or a box of reasonably healthy cereal, and draw the snack line right there.”
Bartell says it’s only human nature to break down and give in to a squawking child who demands more fudge ripple and less fava beans. “Don’t give in to tantrums in the candy, cookie and cereal aisles,” she explains. “On the other hand, don’t go overboard pushing only super-healthy foods. You have to find the right balance.”
Oh, and can the soda, Bartell insists. “Soda is the biggest culprit of overweight, over-sugared kids,” she adds. “Save it for only very special occasions.” Other tips you can take to the table with your kids to get them eating better: 1. Try creative packaging.
To get kids to eat more fruit, buy those packaged apple slices that come with a tin of peanut butter, or those strawberry-and-yogurt packages that are appearing more and more in the produce aisles of your favorite grocery store. In the vegetable aisle, try celery-and-peanut butter or carrots and low-fat blue cheese dressing packages.