Just as the adage goes, “Train your children in ways that they shall not depart when they grow,” parents are responsible for creating an environment where children can make healthy nutritional choices. Teaching your child to eat healthily is one of the most important steps you can ever take to ensure the health of your little one. In the process, you will foster a positive food culture in your family. Here’s how:
1. Explain to your kids that they are what they consume
What one puts in the body defines who they are and how well they do in life. Explain to them that healthy food is the fuel that runs their bodies. Make them understand that everything they eat goes towards a construction project inside their bodies. If they eat bad food, their bodies will be weak; if they consume nutritious foods, their bodies will be well constructed and sturdy.
2. Lead by example
When you tell your child not to drink juice and then gulp down a diet coke after dinner, it will send mixed signals. There is no way your children will love vegetables if you don’t. Scrutinize your attitude towards food and then find ways of working towards making it better. Do you always complain about your weight? Do you eat fatty and sugary foods? Children tend to do what adults do, especially when it comes to their parent’s or guardian’s food patterns. Discuss your health goals with your partner or spouse and work on the values you wish to model to your children.
3. Get them involved
When you involve your children in planning meals, shopping for groceries, and preparing meals, they will become interested in the process and are likely to eat healthy food. Even the younger ones can help you write shopping lists and make some choices too. Besides, preparing meals together with your children is an ideal way of bonding with them. Once they feel they are part of the process, they will be open to trying new foods. Allow your kids to go through recipes in a cookbook and let them pick out a meal they like. Buy aprons and chef hats for all kids and let them decorate with colored markers.
4. Eat dinners together
Eating dinner every day as a family will create healthy eating habits. If you can, aim at eating dinner together at least four to five times a week. Studies have proven that family dinners increase the possibility of eating vegetables and fruits. Dining together also has positive developmental, behavioral, and social benefits. Regular family dinners usually give children a sense of togetherness and security. Also, face-to-face interactions between family members foster positive emotions and enable longevity and health. So, you will not only teach your children healthy eating, but you will also improve your relations.
5. Encourage smart snacking
Most children who are poor eaters do not take dinner because they snacked too close to mealtime, and they are not hungry. Do not allow your kids to take a snack too close to dinner time, and, even when you do, make sure it is as light and as healthy as possible. For instance, you can give them apple slices and carrot chops.
6. Avoid placing restrictions on food
Restricting food usually breeds lousy behavior such as bulimia and anorexia later in life. It might also have adverse effects on development and growth. Rather than banning foods, discuss the healthy options that they can enjoy. Talk about nutritious foods such as whole grains, fruits, nuts, low-fat dairy products, and lean meats. Explain to them why these options are better than the low-quality, heavily processed junk foods.
7. Avoid bringing unhealthy foods into the house
The current food environment we live in is toxic. There are numerous junk food advertisements on the internet, in magazines, and on TV. Children are offered junk food every other day in school. So, only those with strong willpower will refrain from making unhealthy food choices. Children are susceptible to believing advertisements because they are learning what constitutes a healthy meal. That is why you should create a healthy environment at home. Clear the cupboards of all that junk and replace them with healthier choices. Make the healthy snacks available for them to eat whenever they like. Avoid bringing soda, packages pastries, and chips into the house.
8. Don’t stress about how much food your child eats
Whether your little one polishes off everything on his plate at a sitting, do not stress about it. Such fluctuations are typical for a growing grade-schooler. Ensure you do not make them have guilty feelings for not finishing everything on the plate. Instead, offer them smaller portions next time. However, the behavior could be because they have an issue with the teeth, and you need to consult a dentist.
9. Praise healthy choices
Give your little one a proud smile accompanied with praise when they opt for healthy foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. However, when they choose fatty fried foods, do not nag about it. Instead, take time to explain the benefits of healthy eating.
10. Introduce new foods slowly
Children have a natural phobia towards new foods. If you cook something new and your little one doesn’t like it, explain that their taste buds have to get used to the flavor first. Some hero worship might work wonders. For instance, you can tell them that their favorite cartoon character loves the food.
11. Allow treats
Having less healthy foods once in a while will keep them from becoming forbidden. You can call them “sometimes” foods. Treat them to a burger and some fries twice a month. After all, easing up occasionally is okay.
Above all, remember to be patient. Your taste buds get affinity to a new food after 8 to 15 flavors. A habit takes 21 days to develop. Therefore, allow your child adequate time to get accustomed to healthy habits and diets
About Samantha Rosario
Samantha is a writer in Healthy Heroics, a mother, and resident of the greatest city in the world, NYC. When not working at a Manhattan publishing house, she’s spending time with her family or putting pen to paper for her own personal.