Author Margaret Stevens shares her tips and tricks for building healthy eating habits in your home. Read along to learn how you can get your child to finally eat their peas and how setting an example is just as important as setting the table!
Every parent knows the horror of a trip with their child to the grocery store: neon-colored yogurt, sugar-charmed cereal, donuts covered in sprinkles. How is a parent who is committed to getting their child to eat healthy able to compete? It is not easy, but there are ways for parents to have a fighting chance. Here are some things you can do to encourage healthy eating habits:
5 Steps to Healthy Habits
- Involve your children with meal preparation. It begins in the grocery store or the garden, if you grow your own food. Your children will be more willing to eat healthy if they are allowed to choose the food they will eat. In the spring, you can take it a step further and pick out seeds to grow. Watching a child’s enthusiasm when green seedlings pop through the earth is a site to behold. Studies show that children who are involved in growing, shopping for, and cooking food choose fruits and vegetables more often than their non-cooking peers.
- Enjoy your time together learning. Spending time with your child pursuing a goal deepens your relationship and is time well spent. Children’s brains are open to learning when they are having fun. As you buy or prepare food, drop tips about how fruit and veggies help fight off colds, how protein creates muscle, or maybe how tooth decay is caused by sugar. Too much information at once may overwhelm them, but educating your child with brief comments will stick with them the rest of their lives.
- Make food fun. Kids love to play. Making Mickey Mouse pancakes, using a cookie cutter for star sandwiches, or crunching broccoli trees will make mealtime not only memorable, but also enjoyable. These fun ideas you create are especially entertaining for picky eaters! And it’s also a great way to seize an opportunity to teach good eating habits.
- Model good eating habits. Children watch everything you do, which includes your eating habits. They will eventually follow the way you eat. Children are sponges absorbing everything they see and hear. If you skip meals, snack on junk food, or diet constantly, your kids will think this is normal behavior. Pay attention to the food messages you are sending. Be an example and make good food choices.
- Introduce new foods. Children’s taste buds sometimes need time to accept new foods. Introduce them slowly and one at a time. Try not to overwhelm them by scooping up large servings. Put just a sampling on their plate. Try using dips. Children love to dip. Carrot sticks and cauliflower are much more appealing if paired with hummus or ranch dip. Cooked beef or chicken look more appetizing when dipped in teriyaki or plum sauce. Super heroes are usually available to encourage a child to eat; after all, it was spinach that helped Popeye build strong muscles.
Once you have done your best to create healthy and nutritious meals, there is no need to take a hard line regarding how much they eat. Be gentle and let them decide when their tummies are full. Try not to make mealtime a chore and allow your children the freedom to determine from healthy offerings what they will eat. Nagging and policing your child’s eating will turn into a power struggle and could create eating disorders later in life. Make mealtime a fun, happy family time and create memories around the dinner table.