Getting our kids to eat healthily doesn’t have to be a nightmarish challenge. You don’t have to be a chef to make delicious meals the family will enjoy; you don’t have to be a master negotiator either. Getting our families to eat more healthily often starts with what is most readily available in the home and our own habits and attitudes when it comes to food. Children often mimic us caregivers—so leading by example can be very effective (for all of us!).
Here are a few tips and reminders to help instill those healthy habits—easily!
Lead by example: Do you display healthy eating habits? Do you choose whole, healthy foods instead of chips or sweets? Is it considered a “treat” when you all sit down for a healthy meal for dinner, or do you save that term for the Friday night take-out pizza or greasy bag of burgers from the drive-thru? Do your kids see you choosing water when you’re thirsty or guzzling back a can of soda? Kids are easily influenced by what goes on in their personal environments; and the choices we make in front of them about food and drink should be considered just as much as, say—not letting a curse word slip in front of them.
Involve the family in meal planning: Meal planning can be quite fun, and involving everyone ensures that each family member has something to look forward to when it comes to sitting down at the table for a family meal. If one family member wants a dish that another family member isn’t so crazy about, think of a simple variation you can make so that it’s more enjoyable for them and you don’t have to cook a separate meal.
Offer (healthy) options: Providing options gives your child the autonomy they crave, while helping you have some control of the nutritional value of their food. Offer things that you know they like—such as apple slices or whole grain crackers with almond butter for a snack. If there’s a vegetable they really like, offer to serve it a couple of different ways with your meal and see which they prefer. Offering choices doesn’t just give them a sense of inclusiveness and independence, it is also is a time saver for you. Instead of scrambling to find a replacement when your kid turns a nose up to something, you can have more confidence about your kid actually eating what you serve them.
Mix things up: You may have a picky eater, but you don’t have to surrender! Preparing foods they may not typically love but in different ways may just pique their curiosity. Consider using different seasonings or methods of cooking, or even making the food more visually appealing and fun for kids. Try using small cookie cutters in shapes or characters they like; or little colorful silicone cups. The key is not to force it. Invite your kids to try something new and different and if they prefer not to try it—describe what it tasted like and tell them why you liked it.
Educate your kids about food and where it comes from. Have you ever taken your child to a farmer’s market? This is a great way to learn about where food comes from, the care that is taken in growing and harvesting it, and opens lines of communication with local farmers; and your kid will likely enjoy the experience! There’s also the visual and learning aspect—the colors of homegrown fruits and vegetables are often more vibrant! I also recently learned from our friends at Living Water Ranch that the yellowish tint I’ve noticed in the beef fat means high beta-carotene content. This shows you that beef is a good source of Vitamin A. Even us adults can learn new things at the farmer’s market! Spending some family time at a farmer’s market can make for some great memories and can also be educational (and not to mention, quite affordable!)
These changes may need to be done gradually, and it may take some time for everyone to adjust. If the habits have been in place for a while, just remember topractice patience, understanding, and open dialogue, and the payoff will be huge—with better nutrition, overall health, improved energy, money, and time savings in the end. Eating healthy won’t seem like a “downer” or “punishment”; but a real treat that can be easily shared among the family—and can instill healthy habits that can last a lifetime.
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