Ask Abbie: Developing better nutritional habits

Published 9:26 am Saturday, August 3, 2013

by Abbie Long

My grandson comes to visit me a lot. All he gets at home is junk food, so he won’t eat the healthy food I serve when he comes to visit me. His mother, my son’s wife, refuses to cook. I tried to talk to my son, but he got upset and said I just don’t like his wife. I like her, I just don’t like the way she acts, and I am really worried about my grandson. I feel like I am fighting a useless battle. What do you suggest?

Matt sluggishly exited the van. As usual his mother was too hurried and distracted to bother with the trash that fell out of the overflowing floorboard much less to tell Matt goodbye.

The bell rang. Joey ran to the cafeteria, grabbed a tray, and reserved he and his best friend Matt a seat. This was the normal routine. Today, however, Matt arrived late and with yet another crumpled write-up slip in his fist. Joey complained, Matt listened. When lunch was over Joey got up from the table, carried his empty tray to the window, and said “Thank you.” Matt eventually got up got up, carried his untouched tray to the window, and declared, “This stuff sucks!”

That afternoon Matt came to visit Joey and Joey’s mom was saddened once again by his obvious lethargy, anger and unhappiness. She had been trying to help Matt develop a healthier outlook and better habits using the same approach found effective for Joey, but her infrequent exposure to Matt negated her efforts. You, however, have many opportunities to disrupt the routine causing your grandson’s bad habits. The more gaps you can create within these negative patterns, the more opportunities you will have to fill back in with a positive type of material. Consider the following approach Joey’s parents used to get Joey healthy, as you plan the next most appropriate step to help your grandson do the same.

Joey’s parents focused on why and how to eat rather than on what to eat; they recognized until a healthy and positive attitude was established an underlying unwillingness to exercise healthy and positive actions would exist. As a result they decided to make learning about food and nutrition fun. For instance, one day a week was “food-coloring” day. Joey got to pick a color, any color. His mother would then take him to the market and let him pick one nutritionally approved food of that color. They would then go home and come up with and cook an original recipe incorporating the new item. This memory-making exercise had a very positive impact on Joey’s attitude and was a great opportunity for Joey and his mom to bond. He also got to learn about grocery shopping, couponing and reading nutritional labels.

Joey’s family’s meals occurred on a regular schedule to keep inconsistency of a healthy routine from becoming its own unhealthy habit. Meals were declared a TV and video game free work zone. This way conversation could be constructed without interruption and the focus could remain on the people around the table rather than on what the people put on the table. Regardless of whether the family dined in or out Joey was expected to remain seated and patient until everyone present had finished. Only after expressing appreciation for the meal would Joey be officially dismissed.

You will never be able to control the attitude toward food in your grandson’s home. Don’t try. Focus instead on controlling the attitude toward food in your home when he visits. Remain positive and avoid any display of frustration by remembering the powerful nature of both good and bad childhood habits to influence him the rest of his life. Your grandson needs your help and is fortunate to have it.

Joey was cooking breakfast one morning and looked up to observe Matt’s sluggish entrance. Matt’s fatigue from carrying the same load of lethargy, anger and unhappiness from his childhood was obvious. Joey had been trying to help his new roommate develop a more positive outlook and better habits, but Matt’s parents kept disrupting the routine of his attempts. Matt’s bad habits were rooted so deeply he would never receive the nourishment he needed to return to college, find his first job and become healthy until his parents quit stocking his junk-food drawer with decadent handouts and other spirit depleting temptations. Don’t let your grandson end up like Matt. Reassess and restock your drawer immediately.

ABBIE LONG is a Franklin native and advice columnist for The Tidewater News. Submit your questions to