Help! I’m raising a Pop Head!

A cold soda on a hot day, maybe one during lunch on the weekend. . . What is the problem? The problem is that one day you find yourself giving in to your child’s request for a soda at dinner, and the next thing you know you find yourself having an unbelievable debate with your precious one about soda for breakfast. “Just one time,” he says, “a treat because I had cereal every day this week.” “I’m dying of thirst,” he complains. “Water doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t even have a taste.” Our tastes have changed alright, not entirely without some nudging from the beverage industry. Average soda consumption has doubled for females and tripled for males since the 1970’s. Our ability to judge the size of our sodas has also changed. Consider this fact: the average serving size of a pop drink has expanded from 6 ½ ounces to 20 ounces since our parents were children. As you have probably read or heard in the media, our obsession with sugary fizzy drinks has led to increases in body weight, raising your child’s chances of obesity by 60 percent for every soda finished during the day. And diabetes? Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported that 130,000 new cases of diabetes over the past decade can be attributed to soft drinks.

If you have gotten through the fearful facts and are still reading, maybe it means you are ready to answer that critical voice in your head that speaks up when you change the recycling trash bag and see just how many soda cans the kids have polished off over the past week. Is it time to take on the real soda pop challenge? Are you ready to “go the mile” and make a commitment to re-train your family’s taste buds to the subtle flavor that water does have. You know that it won’t be easy. Changing taste preferences for something as immediately gratifying as soda will only happen with a consistent change in your family’s behavior. And be prepared, we are also talking about a change in your parenting approach to the problem.

Let’s talk about a plan and some steps that might help:

1) Giving them the news of the change. Okay, in the short-run it might be easier to just “not tell them” and to simply not make soda available as much in your household. The problem is that you won’t have any accountability for your commitment to your effort, and it will be all too easy to slide back if nobody knows you are trying to change things. To introduce the issue, do not start by standing up on your chair at the dinner table and telling the kids, “boy, things are gonna change around here, pop drinkers.” Instead, bring up the issue at dinner with a couple of discussions about staying fit, staying healthy, and avoiding diseases like diabetes. You don’t need to bring graphic pictures of health problems to the table, just some honest questions for your kids about how healthy they want to feel in 10 years. After you have some agreement about the health issue, then bring up a plan for change.

2) Change your route in the grocery store. Make a stop in the aisle that stocks seltzer waters or bottled water first, before you let yourself go down the soda aisle. Don’t be surprised if you discover that you have developed a slight longing for soda yourself, and that you’ll be working on your own tastes as well.

3) Balance the cart. Nobody said this was an “all or none” situation. If you are going to make the change slowly, go by the “equal number” rule, that is, buying as much water as you do soda. Over time, you can go “two-for-one” and get two non-soda drinks for every soda beverage.

4) Hit them when they are thirstiest. Try to impact your kids’ taste preferences on a hot day, after some active play, and when they are really thirsty. It will always be more difficult to change a routine taste habit, for example, having soda with a bowl of popcorn during a movie at home.

5) Take on the challenge at home before discussing it at the restaurant. Predictably, the kids may fuss, and you will feel less social pressure if you keep the discussion at home until they get used to you holding your ground.

6) Start a discussion at your school. See if you can propose a “healthy drinks” challenge to your PTA or PTO, and get some discussion happening at school. If you avoid sounding too radical about the issue, you might be surprised how many other parents were thinking the same way you are.

7) Changing taste preferences takes time, and the beverage industry has been working on your child’s taste preferences for a very long time. Don’t be discouraged by the complaints. And remember, the more distressed they seem to be the greater the problem probably was in the first place.

And one more thing, we won’t discuss the details here, but switching to diet soda is sort of cheating. Want some more research and discussion on soda and health? Check out the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website (https://www.hhs.gov/) and type in the word “soda” in the search engine.

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