We all want the best for our children – for their health, happiness and future. One of the best ways to support their growth and their future is through instilling good eating habits and providing them with a nutritious diet. None of this is easy with our busy schedules and our culture of processed food, unhealthy school lunches, and restaurant “kid menus” full of trans-fats and sugar. Although we may not have research telling us how damaging, if at all, it is to deny our children processed foods, we do have a multitude of studies showing how unhealthy processed, artificial foods and sugar are. It is never easy to change your habits or your children’s habits, but it does not get easier as they get older – so now is the time to start!
Here are a few recommendations to get you started with improving your child’s diet and eating habits.
- Only keep food in your home that you want you children to eat. “Sorry, we don’t have any cookies” is much easier than “Sorry, you can’t have any cookies.” Stock your fridge and pantry with healthy items and do some prep work so kids can easily grab cut and peeled carrots and hummus, or celery sticks with almond butter, or whole milk yogurt with fresh or frozen berries.
- Explain your food-related choices and decision-making process so that your children understand why you are making the changes you are making: That you love them and want their bodies to grow strong so they will grow up healthy and feel well. They may not like the changes, but understanding that you have a reason for them is important.
- Ensure that your children are really hungry before mealtimes. Take care to time snacks 2 – 3 hours before mealtimes. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, yogurt or whole grain crackers make good snacks. Sweet treats do not! Removing (or strictly limiting) sugar in the diet does wonders to make other types of foods acceptable.
- Involve your kids in some aspect of food preparation. Let them help peel veggies, turn on the blender, measure an ingredient, or choose between two menu items. It may take a little longer (or a lot longer, depending upon the age of your child) but it is often worth it because kids are more interested in tasting food that they helped to make.
- Revise your expectations regarding your child’s acceptance of a new food. Some picky eaters may need to try a new food 10 times before they are willing to eat it. Create rewards for trying new foods multiple times. When introducing new foods, always have one other item available that you know your child will eat. Familiarity is comfortable; once a food becomes familiar, it may not become a favorite food but it can become an acceptable one. Stay calm through the process and don’t pressure your child; merely offer it again and again, over time.
- Make time to sit down together for a meal as often as possible. Relaxing, family meals may only be possible on the weekends, or with a subset of the family, or only on occasion, but do what you can to demonstrate that meals are a time to come together as a family, talk, and enjoy each other, as well as to eat.
- Feed your children the same food you eat. As long as your children can chew the food, there is no reason their meals at home and restaurants should be any different than yours. Give them the opportunity to experience the textures and colors of ‘real’ food and not become partial to the bland “kid foods” which are usually deep-fried, coated in flour, or sweetened with sugar.