For mom blogger Robin O'Bryant, teaching her kids healthy habits just seems to come naturally. What's her secret? Lose the rules. Instead of forcing her kids to stick to a fitness regimen or counting their calories, Robin banks on play dates at the park and yogurt popsicles. We talked to the Robin's Chicks blogger and author about buying local, her love affair with yoga, and how she makes sure her girls know they are "just right" inside and out.
Tell us about your family.
I've been married to my husband Zeb since we were about 12-years-old-- kidding, we were 19, but same diff, you know? We've been married for almost 15 years and have three daughters: Aubrey (7), Emma (6) and Sadie (3).
How health-conscious is your family?
We try to eat a balanced diet. I've found that the more vehemently against sugar a parent is, the more their kids binge when they aren't at home. We live in a very rural area of Mississippi and don't have access to a lot of organic foods. When vegetables are in season, I shop the local farmer's market as often as I can. I'm gluten free. I order a lot of gluten free foods online: flour mixes, crackers, etc. and then stock up on other items when I go to "civilization."
What rules do you have in your house about junk food and/or exercise?
We don't have hard and fast rules. You don't eat junk all day. You play outside. My children are not very interested in sports yet, but they love to run, jump and play. In the summertime we spend a lot of time in the pool and TRUST me, it's a workout for everybody involved.
How do you encourage healthy habits without being too pushy?
When my kids say, "I'm hungry. Can I have a cookie?" I explain to them that a cookie isn't going to fill them up. I offer healthy options. My kids actually like baby carrots plain, oven-roasted broccoli, kale chips and most fruit. I buy organic "gogurt" when I can find it in the store here and put them in the freezer and let them have those as popsicles.
We don't have dessert every night and I don't believe in making my kids "clean their plates" but if they want dessert or a treat they have to at least eat their vegetable.
What are some creative ways you get your kids moving? How do you make being healthy fun for them and you? Share your ideas!
I've recently fallen in love with yoga. The girls love to get in the floor with me and stretch! Swimming and play dates at the park with friends are sure fire ways to get my kids moving! If we are outside playing, I'll text my friends and tell them to come over. My kids will stay outside for hours if they have friends to play with.
Deep down, do you think people teach healthy habits for health reasons or out of fear their kids might gain weight?
It depends on the person. I had some people say hurtful things to me about my weight when I was younger that I've never forgotten-- even though I was never overweight as a child. I try to be very purposeful to stress that being healthy makes you feel better.
How do you protect your kids against body image concerns?
They rarely watch live TV. I record their favorite shows and they can fast-forward through commercials. It's not a huge thing but it keeps them from being bombarded with so many "lies" as my husband calls all commercials.
I never, ever, EVER say disparaging things about myself in front of my girls.
I used to have scales and was very purposeful not to weigh myself in front of them. Emma caught me weighing myself one day and asked, "What does that say Momma?"
I told her, "It says I'm just right."
Has/Have any of your kids needed to lose weight/get healthy? How have you handled that? Are there any bad examples you've seen?
We haven't had to deal with that. I know moms who continually tell their daughters, "You can't eat that." Moms who talk about how their daughters need to lose weight... girls who are still in elementary school and healthy. It makes me really sad for the girls.
One of my friends, Pauline, is starting a new website for girls called Girl, Body, Pride. Pauline battled an eating disorder for years. Now that she has a daughter, she wants to make sure there are resources out there that tell our tweens and teens that they are beautiful just the way they are.
How can you compete with the super cool Cheetos Cheetah or the all-about-the-fun Kool Aid guy? Is it a struggle to make your kids eat healthy foods?
Occasionally, my kids get a bad case of the "gimmes" if they are with me at the grocery store. I try not to take them with me and if I do have to take them I say "No," very often. It's not always pleasant to tell them "No" but I'm their mother and I don't really care if they like me. I want to teach them healthy habits.
Do you believe in sneaking healthy foods into your kids' meals? If so, what have been your trickiest or most successful attempts?
Um... I tried that but my kids can sniff out a hidden veggie like a drug dog working airport security. I wrote about this in my book, "Ketchup is a Vegetable and Other Lies Moms Tell Themselves." When my oldest was three-years-old, there was a little boy in her class who would eat raw cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and broccoli. I was in awe, so I asked his mom how she got him to do that and she got all gloaty and said, "I tell him the cucumbers are wagon wheels and the broccoli are little trees. He even eats green beans, I call them green french fries and he dips them in ketchup."
My first thought was, "I wish my kid was that stupid." I mean, really.
Healthy meals are pricey and can take longer to prepare. How do you manage to eat healthy on a budget and in a time crunch? Can you share any tips, tricks or recipes?
I love a crock pot. I've also discovered that my kids eat twice as many vegetables if they are oven-roasted. My whole family likes broccoli this way. You can also mix in cauliflower or use the same recipe to make kale chips. If Aubrey will eat it, I know its kid friendly-- and she loves it.
What's the best tip you could give another parent about how to raise a healthy family?
For me I've found that having goals versus rules is always better. If you make hard and fast rules you feel bad if you "fail," and for me it just means my kids are going to challenge me even more.
Also, encourage movement. Ride bikes, play on the playground, jump on the trampoline. Let them have so much fun they don't even realize you are making them do something that is good for them!
Robin O'Bryant is a stay-at-home mom, syndicated humor columnist, and author. She started her blog Robin's Chicks to document her kids' hilarious hijinks and make other moms laugh. You can also find Robin on Twitter and Facebook.
See how other families stay healthy in our Care.com Interview Series: Raising Healthy Kids Without the Backlash »
Photo used with permission from Robin O'Bryant.
* This article is for general informational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be providing medical advice and is not a substitute for such advice. The reader should always consult a health care provider concerning any medical condition or treatment plan. Neither Care.com nor the author assumes any responsibility or liability with respect to use of any information contained herein.