5 Surefire Ways to Develop Healthy Eating Habits in Children
Getting kids to eat healthily is about as simple as getting an elephant to jump rope in roller skates, maybe even harder. But as parents, it’s our job to make sure they know how to make healthy eating decisions so they don’t grow up to become obese and riddled with diseases like diabetes and hypertension.
The good news is, as a parent, you (not mainstream advertisers) have the most influence on the eating habits of your kids. And, while it won’t be simple to get them to make healthy eating choices all on their own, it can be done.
Here are 5 sure-fire ways to develop healthy habits in your children.
Watch the Salt and Sugar
It’s incredibly important that you make sure the foods you’re feeding your baby and toddler in those early stages do not contain a lot of sugar and salt (or fat) as that could potentially lead to weight and health issues later on in life.
Exposure to foods that contain sugar or salt in children under the age of one could lead to a preference for these types of foods when they get older. Obviously, the biggest culprits are processed foods. While you may think it’s perfectly harmless to let your baby or toddler have a spoonful of your ice cream or suck on a potato chip, if done on a regular basis, it could lead to unhealthy cravings and poor food choices.
As your children age, it is also important to monitor their sweet tooth. Instead of letting them have cookies as an afternoon snack, opt to give them some fruit instead. You can also freeze freshly squeezed fruit juice for a nice ice cream alternative.
This does not mean that your children can never have a sweet treat or have to miss out on Halloween trick-or-treating with friends. It simply means that you have to use your head so they can ultimately use theirs later in life and know that these foods are okay in moderation.
Get Those Fruits and Veggies in Their Diet
Millions of mothers and fathers are hiding vegetables like kale and spinach in flavorful fruit smoothies, and while this is a good way to trick your kids into eating those leafy greens, it’s not necessarily teaching them to eat them on their own.
Some child experts advise to let kids play with their food as a way of having them engage with produce and develop a good relationship with it. Slice up some apples, banana, and peaches and let them dip them into their oatmeal in the morning. Steam some kale leaves to make them bendable and allow your kids to build their own taco using kale instead of a regular shell. They can scoop some meat and cheese and sour cream onto the leaf and then roll it up and chow down.
The more creative you and your children are with healthy food, the more they will become attracted to eating it.
Introduce New Foods
If you have kids, you’ve most likely noticed that from the age of three to about the age of 13, all they seem to want are the same foods over and over, namely pasta, chicken nuggets, hotdogs and french fries. If you traveled to other parts of the world, you would find the same ages of children eating vastly different varieties of food.
All of this is to say that babies and toddlers have very adaptive palates. It is best to give them a variety of foods when they are very young so you can expose them to all sorts of fruits, veggies, grains and proteins. This will set them up to remain open to new foods as they age, and will decrease the chances of them becoming finicky eaters that will only eat mac-n-cheese or pizza.
Sarah Krieger, the national spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association (ADA) has said, “The most important tip I can give to help kids to taste new foods is to make sure they are hungry at mealtime.” She further suggests that parents refrain from giving kids snacks within two hours of dinner.
And speaking of snacks…
Little kids burn a lot of energy and require snacking throughout the day to provide their bodies with healthy calories. While it may be easier to pack a small baggie of chips or cookies or candy in their lunchbox, a number of empty calories in these foods is staggering.
It only takes a little bit of time each night to slice and dice up some fruit for a homemade fruit cup, or carrot and celery sticks with a bit of hummus for a perfect afternoon snack. You can also get in the habit of preparing a fruit and veggie combo smoothie and leave it in the fridge. When your kids get home from school, they can grab it and drink it while doing their homework.
Get Kids Involved
Developing healthy habits in your kids will require you make them a part of the decision-making process instead of forcing these habits on them. Your kids will love to accompany you to the grocery store or farmer’s market and help you shop for healthy foods. They will also want to help you in the kitchen from time-to-time. Not only is this a great bonding experience but a chance for you to teach them some healthy recipes they can begin making on their own when they get a little older.
And finally, it’s important to also eat as a family. It seems each year we all get a little busier and busier and these hectic schedules lead to quick meals on the go or everyone eating at different times. Do your best to enjoy healthy meals as a family and use this time to connect with one another.
At the end of the day, kids will be kids and they will want to sometimes eat what other kids are eating and have that ice cream or those chips. And that’s okay. The idea isn’t to force anything on them but to get them involved and teach them about good nutrition early. This way they will be more likely to want to make healthy choices and will only splurge once in a while.