It is important to teach your kids how to have a healthy relationship to food, for their future and their overall well-being. As parents, it’s hard to get them to eat right. Some kids prefer vegetables over others. Some like meat. Others could eat pasta all day, everyday. But enabling them to eat a well-balanced diet is a daunting parenting task. What kid cares about nutrition, calories, fats and sugars – as long is it tasktes good, right?
A study, which you can read up here on the American College of Cardiology website, dispels that childhood obesity is logically not only bad for them as children and for their long term health and also makes it harder for kids to maintain a healthy weight when they become adults. Important to note here is that you cannot force kids to eat what they don’t want to eat. We as adults need to make more of an effort to have them eat healthily on their own and to understand what that means – having a balanced relationship with food. Because if we don’t, if we force them or point out physical reasons as to why they need to eat healthily, then children may quickly associate negativity or self-doubt when it comes to eating.
Therefore be an example and role model when it comes to teaching your kids how to eat better, how to nourish oneself and enjoy life through the wonders of food.
We have compiled a few tips that may enable your child to see food from a different lens which we consider is the initial step to nurturing a healthy food culture in your own home.
Don’t forbid sweets!
Before we dive into our strategies, one thing we find important is to not forbid sweets. In other words, incorporate delicious sweets alongside healthy meals and/or as snacks. This conveys the mindset of balance and moderation.
The importance in this is that your child needs to understand, and believe me, they will, that eating sweets or less healthy food like gummi bears, cookies, chips, a McDonalds hamburger, etc. is not a bad thing in and of itself. But teaching them moderation enables them to learn self-control and discipline. Other characteristics that will go a long way in life. This spills over into other things like screen time, video games, etc…
7 strategies for kids to eat healthier
When you have the time and the patience bring them into the meal preparing process. We know that this is perhaps not feasible on a daily basis, but if you incorporate cooking together even once a week – say on the weekend when you have no work, then your kids will understand not just what lands on their plate, but how and why.
We incorporate our kids into helping prepare meals at least once a week – things like stirring the pancake mix, or breaking an egg, or even cutting vegetables! Bringing them into the cooking process will introduce them to healthy eating when you prepare things that they perhaps may not choose themselves – spinach, brocolli, paprika, etc. On top of that it’s a great activity and way to connect with your kids.
Again, the point here is not that take-out is bad. We all do it, and it’s completely fine. The key is to not make done meals (like frozen pizza) or drive-thru meals a habit. It’s about introducing your child through instruction on what the food is and why we prepare it the way we do that will enable them to understand and learn what food is to our bodies.
Be an example
Like with a lot of things, when it comes to parenting, being an example in eating is another way of how your child will begin to change their view on healthy food. Therefore if you have a good relationship with food, it will eventually rub off on your kids.
Kids are curious and always watching and learning, even when we don’t perceive it to be so. This does not mean you need to be perfect. It means that as parents we need to be aware of our actions in front of them. Lets say you just had more than your fill and you say something like “I’m going to get fat from all this food,” – that may not be the best thing to say in front of young kids because they interpret differently. It’s easy to change lingo and not confuse kids in order for them not to associate various meanings to what “being healthy” really means.
So set an example, even if for the first weeks your child is still disgusted by spinach, eventually they’ll come around.
You’re not their chef
How many of us have kids that say “I don’t want to eat that today, could you make something else?”
Well variations of food are logically good for all of us to get all the nurtrients we need, however if you begin cooking them extra meals and hence, become their personal chef then you will be enabling them to do something they particularly don’t like – which spells over into other areas of life. On top of that you’ll just burn yourself out. What children need to learn is that food is not only about enjoyment and tastyness but about nutrition.
Talk to your kids during meals and tell them why you prepared what you did. Again, it’s ok to have that frozen pizza or take out here and there and kids usually love that, but explain to them that it’s about moderation and ensuring our bodiess get the balance of vitamins and minerals it needs.
Don’t say that!
Parenting does not have a standard playbook, but when it comes to teaching your kids about eating a balanced diet one thing that you should avoid in your vocabulary is rewarding them through sweets.
Personally we use the phrase:
“The time is now to finish everything on your plate and then leave the table.”
We know how hard it can be with picky eaters. Fortunately our two love food, however as months come and go they develop likes and dislike. One month they chow down tomatoes, the next they don’t even want to see them. But getting your child to eat is a choice they need to make. As a parent it is our responsibility to convey the message of consequences. If they don’t eat, they will go to bed hungry. Talk to them and let them know it was their choice not to eat. Kids pick up fast.
As an alternative take away the afternoon snack or when serving dinner, have them portion of their own plate.
Then if they really do not eat ask them a few questions. Show them that you are interested as to the “why?” Perhaps they may not be hungry or they snuck in a secret snack while you were not watching. And here as well, don’t use the standard parent phrase of “….because it’s good for you.” It’s the reverse of sweets. There are many foods that don’t taste good albeit being healthy and conveying that message has kids associate “good for you” with something that they don’t like in the first place. Be authentic and tell them: “Look, to some broccoli may not taste the best, but we also eat it because it nourishes our bodies.” Do that a few times and you’ll see your kids think about it. Don’t force them, ease them in on their own. Even if that means that they really don’t eat a particular vegetable or fruit – learn that it’s okay, as long as they get a balanced nutrition.
Again, just to reiterate – what you want to avoid is to reward them with sweets. Using food as a reward is not the best and we are as guilty as anyone else. However “If you do this, then you get that” (chocolate, chips, etc) only connects positive feelings for kids to unhealthy food, which could potentially lead to emotional eating as they get older.
Make it a celebration
Foster the environment of eating healthy. Make sure everyone is at the table and eating together. Kids are always watching, it encourages conversation, brings everyone together despite all the hustle and bustle in life and develops better eating habits.
This point also goes back to bringing them into the process. Even if its just once a week. Perhaps its a different type of food – culturally – or its something they love alongside with something they dont like so much. As long as they try it, celebrate it. Clap, ask them what it was like, even if they spit it out. As long as your kids experience the family celebrating, its an encouraging sight for them to connect deeper, not only with you as their parents, but also with food.
Let them decide
This is tough for parents, at least for most. When you have the impression your child didnt eat anything. It’s easy to say things like “3 more bites…”, etc. but convey a different message. We are as guilty as anyone, but we try to remind ourselves to say things like “snack time isnt for another X, are you sure your done” or “you’ll be hungry, but its your choice” – and now they actually eat the amount THEY want and then clean up.
The important part here is to stand firm as a parent. If 15 minutes after lunch they come and ask for a snack, you need to remind them of the natural consequences and not give in to giving them a snack. So let your kids decide when they are done and have them learn the consequences of actually being full or just thinking they can sneak their way into getting something else.
We try to do this at least 3 times a week when we have dinner. We talk about gratitude and what we are grateful for. This is also true when it comes to food. A majority of us in places of “wealth” forget that food is such a privledge. Its just going to the grocery store and getting what we desire. However, when it comes to kids we belive that it’s important to convey the message of gratitude as well. Teaching them about where food comes from and educating them on why we dont waste it will go a long way in their development and appreciation of food in general.
This is not to say that you should impregnate less fortunate people into your routine and use them as a gateway to getting your child to eat. It’s about teaching them not to take everything for granted and that we can help others while at it.
We totally get it. Getting kids to eat healthy is not always an easy task and considering how much better kids find sugar, makes it all the worse. Therefore, try a few of these tips to help get your kids to eat healthier. Incorporate them into the process of making and preparing it. Talk to them and appreciate their inputs rather then scolding and punishing them to eat something.
Make it enjoyable and create good habits.
A few tips to get vegetables into their diet:
- Kids usually love smoothies. Blend in some veggies into a delicious smoothie drink.
- Incorporate veggies in place of meat for pasta dishes. Use the same bolognese only exchanging small bits of mushrooms or squash instead of the meat.
- Prepare “grab and go” veggies for the week so they are easy to grab as snacks inbetween the days.
- Make a creamy veggie soup without the intense taste of vegetables.
- Make a good sauce they might like to dip veggies into.