It’s never too late OR too early to instill healthy eating habits in our kids. While this can be an intimidating task for some, the steps are fairly simple; but only if parents get involved too-that’s the often hardest part.
Instilling healthy eating habits in our children is one of the most valuable gifts we can give them. Eating healthy foods now ensure they are consuming the right amount of nutrients to grow and stay healthy. The routines and tastes they develop stay with them through life as they grow into adults. Healthy diets can even have a positive impact on generations to come.
We know eating healthy is important, but parents often run into obstacles: financial constraints, time crunches, and the dreaded picky eater. With a little knowledge and a lot of persistence, any parent can improve the nutritional choices of their family.
Do As I Say AND As I Do
Nutrition experts agree that one of the most important factors in encouraging children to eat healthy is the example set by parents and caregivers. If we’re not eating healthy, then it’s tough to make the case that our kids should.
Parents can develop healthy habits for themselves and share those goals with their kids. If changing food choices will be a struggle for your family, be honest about it and have frank conversations. Be intentional with your actions and set reasonable goals-then reward them!
Start Young and Be Persistent
Children’s first foods will set the foundation for their eating habits throughout life. It’s important to serve young kids a variety of fruits and vegetables so that they can acquire a taste for them. Sometimes it takes as many as 12 tries for children (and adults) to know if they like a food, so don’t give up the first time your baby spits out her peas. Avoid processed foods and anything with a high sugar or sodium content as well.
Preparation and Presentation Matters
Our brains process food experiences through all of our senses. This is why it’s important to consider the preparation and presentation of food. If a child’s only experience with peas is from a can, don’t be surprised if they don’t like them!
Use fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables when possible and explore different methods of cooking them. Instead of boiling broccoli, try roasting it. Instead of steaming carrots, try sautéing them in a little olive oil. Check out this website for creative and delicious vegetable recipes.
Any good chef will tell you that we eat with our eyes first. Focus on making plates colorful and fun. Even better, ask your child to help “design” the dinner plate or let them build their own meal from a variety of healthy ingredients.
Make healthy foods “the star” of your dish: incorporate fruits and veggies everywhere you can.
While many experts warn parents not to sneak vegetables into their children’s food, we can always look for ways to creatively incorporate them: Add extra veggies to the pasta sauce, make mashed potatoes with half cauliflower, or add a little color to your rice with greens. A healthy plate should consist of half fruits and vegetables, but no one ever said they had to be separated from everything else!
Do Not Give Up: Bad Habits and Picky Eaters Can Be Changed!
Healthy eating should be a choice. Trying to force a child or adolescent to eat certain foods will most often not be successful and could backfire. Instead, have meaningful, age-appropriate conversations with your child about the importance of eating healthy and then make a plan together.
For younger children: Do NOT cook them alternative meals. Instead, let them eat what they choose from the dish you prepared. Reward your child when they try a new, healthy food and be patient if it takes them a while to diversify their palate.
For older kids: In case anyone needs reminded-adolescents and teens do not respond well to lecturing. A non-confrontational conversation about their nutritional needs and some information about foods can be helpful. If your kids do not know how to cook-now is a great time to teach that life skill. If you don’t know how to cook-learn together! Kids are more likely to eat something they prepared themselves. Ask them for new meal ideas and even try that crazy TikTok recipe to keep them engaged.
Habits of Take Time and Effort to Break and Build
Be patient with your child AND yourself. It takes time to break unhealthy habits of all kinds-it’s science! Remember that once new, healthy habits form, they will be just as strong and can have lifelong benefits for the entire family. It will be well worth the effort and a delicious adventure to undertake with your kiddos.