Parenting comes with lots of joy, but it can also be stressful when trying to balance all the ‘should do’s’ in your life. As a practicing health coach and mom, I know one of my most important responsibilities is to make sure my child is well nourished-both emotionally and physically. I’m often asked how I find time to cook and actually get my toddler to eat my healthy meals.
I started this journey by reading books and speaking to experienced colleagues within my nutrition-based community, but in the end I decided to follow my intuition. Once my son was old enough to eat solids, I asked myself, why can’t he just eat what I eat? I made it my mission to start him on a path of eating real, fresh food, just like I eat real, fresh food.
Now that he’s a toddler it’s gotten a bit more challenging, but with a little creativity and resourcefulness he’s on a great path. His diet is full of whole foods and we’ve managed to skip the typical child’s menu altogether. Whoo hoo!
Here are my top 10 tips to setting your child up for a lifetime of healthy eating habits:
1. Keep your Pregnancy Diet Clean
Research shows that what we eat while pregnant shapes our child’s food preferences later in life. Wow, is this true. I ate a ton of veggies during my pregnancy, and now my son’s favorite foods are plain, cut vegetables.
2. Don’t Cook Twice
As long as you’re eating fresh, whole foods, there’s no reason for a child to eat different foods than you. Luckily toddlers often want to eat what you’re eating. By setting a good example, it will encourage them to eat healthy foods too!
3. Keep a Set Schedule
With a regular sleeping and eating regimen kids are much less likely to ask for food outside meal or snack times.
4. Don’t use Food as a Reward
Giving your child treats for good behavior early in life sets them up for emotional eating habits a an adult.
5. Be Creative
Come up with ways to introduce different foods and flavors. If your little one doesn’t like a certain food the first time he tries it, present it another way. My son despised beans the first time I made them. I tried again with a simple chicken chili recipe and now it’s a staple in our house!
6. Plan Ahead for the Week
It’s easy to fall in the trap of reaching for processed food shortcuts if you don’t know what you’re making for a meal in advance. On Sunday night, I plan meals and shopping times for the week so I don’t get overwhelmed.
7. Utilize a Slow Cooker
It’s a great tool for making food for the entire family. You can also cook a large batch when you have time, and freeze in small containers for easy meals in busy weeks to come.
8. Be Flexible and Give Choices
If a meal isn’t working out, try giving your child another choice. Toddlers love to show their independence, so give them the opportunity to choose between two healthy options.
9. Skip the Kid’s Menu
Almost every option on the kid’s menu is fried, loaded with butter, or smothered in cheese. So what alternatives do you have? Ask them to make a small version of what you’re ordering. If that doesn’t work, request they grill the protein instead of frying it and add a vegetable. Or just order an extra side and share your meal!
10. Don’t Make Food an Issue
The last thing you want is your child feeling deprived. If he’s at a birthday party or event and there are limited options, it’s not the end of the world. Chances are if your child is eating healthy, they’ll develop an inclination for healthy foods. With any luck once they can make their own decision, they won’t even want the junk food!
Tell us, what challenges you have faced in helping your child develop healthy eating habits? What are some tips that have worked for you?