By William “Dr. Bill” Sears, MD
Grandchildren are some of life’s greatest treasures. Martha and I have 14 grandchildren. Like many of you, we try to step in to help whenever we can.
You may be happy to chip in for everything from baby carriers, tricycles and rebounders to school tuition. But you may not have given as much thought to nutrition. The best gift you can give your grandchild is the gift of health. Your health and theirs. You’ll enjoy that investment for the rest of your life.
The new age of grandparenting
I was raised by a single mom. We lived with my grandparents, who I call my co-parents. (I think I turned out okay!) That was unusual 80 years ago, but not so much anymore.
Grandparents today have more meaningful roles in their grandkids’ lives. Many are taking on caregiving responsibilities. There are more extended families living under the same roof. Here in California, the trend is for young couples to build small homes for their parents in their backyards.
This is helpful for the grandkids and their parents. It’s also good for you, the grandparents. Becoming involved in your grandkids’ lives gives your own life more meaning. Studies show this can help you live longer and live better.
The nutrition opportunity
I write a lot about how to get children, especially picky eaters, to consume more nutritious meals. A good diet is essential for their brain development as well as their muscles, bones and other parts of their growing bodies. As grandparents, you can have a huge influence on what they eat.
I’ve been a pediatrician for more than 50 years. Today, I see a lot more grandparents during office visits. The good news: They are generally more savvy about nutrition than parents. The bad news is that they waited too late. Some of my grandparents will say, “Dr. Bill, I’m 60. I’m frail. I have weak bones. I wish I’d started eating better when I was younger.”
It’s never too late, no matter what your age group. Not only can you generally make improvements in your own health, but sharing that information with your kids and grandchildren will be lessons learned by future generations. These can be full-circle moments.
How to get started
As grandparents, we share stories. We pass down traditions. We should also be passing along nutritional wisdom. Here’s how I would approach this.
- Explain to parents why it’s important to start young. If you preload grandkids with good nutrition when they are young, their minds and bodies will be ready to handle things that happen later on.
- Be very diplomatic. Sometimes you just have to say to their parents: “I love our grandchild so much! I just want to prepare him/her to be strong in the future.”
- Offer to handle some of the food costs. Parents will tell me, “But Dr. Bill, healthy foods cost more!” Enter you, the grandparents. You can say, “Honey, don’t let financial considerations impact your shopping list. We will make up the difference.”
- Restock the pantry for your grandchildren and yourselves. Ship healthy ingredients to the kids. Or, leave them behind after you’ve been watching the grandkids. One of my favorites ingredients is Healthy Heights Kidz Protein shake mixes, which are designed by pediatricians especially for kids. In addition to shakes, they are great to use as an ingredient to add important nutrients to other recipes. Not only do children need more protein, you do as well. The number-one health concern of grandparents is frailty. You need more protein for your own muscles and bones!
- Involve your grandkids in food preparation. Our 4-year-old grandson loves to help me make smoothies with Grow Daily shake mixes. He adds a fistfull of blueberries and kiwis, and he loves to scoop the shake powder from the bag. You want to do things with your grandchildren, not for your grandchildren. When they are involved, they are more likely to want to drink it or eat it.
- Be proactive. Help grandchildren learn cooking skills. Encourage them to be active. Have conversations about food. Post healthy reminders around the house. We have tips you can download on our website. Search “healthy reminders” on AskDrSears.com.
- Be a healthy role model. Foods that are low fat or low carb are not good for children or adults. Serve smart fats and smart carbs. Smart fats are things like omega-3s from salmon that are good for the brain. Smart carbs are the ones that have fiber.
- Teach your kids and grandkids about body composition. BMI went out of favor 10 years ago! Body composition — your muscle and bone mass, and your body fat distribution — are far more important than what the scale shows. If your grandchild is big boned and has big muscles, and the school tells parents their BMI is too high, you should say, “Don’t worry. This child is blessed with a body type that gives him/her large muscles and strong bones.” Waist size is the number-one scientifically studied parameter of health. If their waist isn’t potbellied, and you can’t grab a big piece of flab on their belly, their scale weight doesn’t matter. We use the term ‘lean’. That means the right body composition for your genetic body type.
What memories do you want your grandchildren to have of you? Many will be about food. I still fondly remember cooking with my grandpa. As important, what do you want to leave for your grandchildren? Teaching them healthy eating habits is an enduring investment that will carry them through their entire lives.
Dr. Bill Sears
Dr. Sears, or Dr. Bill as his “little patients” call him, has been advising busy parents on how to raise healthier families for over 50 years.The father of 8 children, he and his wife Martha have written more than 45 books including “The Healthiest Kid in the Neighborhood,” and hundreds of articles on parenting, childcare, nutrition, and healthy aging. He is the co-founder of the Dr. Sears Wellness Institute for training health coaches, and he runs the health and parenting website AskDrSears.com.