Raising Healthy Eaters

As the parent of 4 children ranging from 5 to 12 years old, I know how challenging it is to promote healthy eating. Good nutrition is one of those things we know we need to pay attention to, but sometimes it can get shoved aside as we deal with the business of daily life.

Our children’s future eating habits, and consequently their health, are based on what they learn now. Our role as parents is to help shape this awareness of nutrition and healthy eating.  We can’t control what our children are exposed to when they’re not at home, but we can teach them to develop an appreciation for good, nutritious foods.

Some Basic Tips for Focusing on Good Nutrition

Eat meals together. Sit at the table and enjoy the food. Try to serve nutritious meals–minimize the fast food on paper plates. Mealtime should be pleasant and easy going.

Try to reduce the use of prepared foods in favor of home-cooked meals.

D    Don’t force children to clean their plates or finish a food they don’t like. Associating discipline with food sets the stage for emotional eating. Allowing a child to stop eating when he’s hungry teaches him to listen to his body’s needs and will help reduce overeating.

  • If a child doesn’t like a new food, don’t force him to eat it. Quietly find a way to introduce the food another time. Tastes change over time as do eating preferences–if you continue to offer a wide variety of foods, your child is more likely to expand her list of foods she’ll eat.   Just last week, our daughter Cate decided that she now likes milk and green beans – foods that she used to “hate.”
  • Don’t use sweets or salty processed snacks as a reward. No more “Be a good boy and we’ll stop at McDonalds for fries.” Offer treats and rewards like a new book or outing to a favorite place.
  • If you need a refresher on nutrition, see www.choosemyplate.gov for recommendations and tips for parents.

 Get Children Involved In The Foods They Eat

Encourage children to help with menu planning, grocery shopping, and food preparation. When children help prepare meals they develop an interest in the food. Talk about the food, read the nutritional labels and make it a learning experience. Talk as you shop; “what’s fresh today?” “These squash look really nice and colorful, how about we buy these.”  “What would you like for dinner tomorrow night, chicken or fish?” Even the youngest child can help with meal preparation in some fashion. Michael, my five year old, loves to stand on a chair and help me make pancakes by pouring in the measured ingredients.  Toddlers can help by washing a bunch of carrots and this is a great environment to teach an older child how to properly use a kitchen knife.

Change your family’s snacking habits. Dad can’t eat potato chips 24/7 and expect to deny them to the kids. Buy healthy snack foods and make them available to children. Slice veggies and put them in bags, ready to be eaten without preparation. Stock fruits and veggies in the front of the refrigerator.  Move chips, sweets and other less-healthy foods to higher shelves, put them in containers, or stop buying them all together. If you’re a soft drink family, transition to vitamin waters or all natural fruit juices (no sugars added). Offer up water on a regular basis–and let them see you drinking it as well.

If your family is fond of fried foods, sweets and salty snacks, you’ll want to take it slow. Gradually reduce one item at a time so your children barely notice.  Developing healthy eating habits can be done successfully–it just takes time.

Do you have any tips on getting children to eat nutritious meals?

More Information:

Healthy Eating Suggestions    (Link to: http://kidshealth.org/parent/nutrition_center/healthy_eating/food_labels.html#)

Understanding Nutrition Labels, Video  (Link:  http://bcove.me/nq9hn96t)

Children and Junk Food  (Link:  http://www.childsafetyblog.org/2012/11/children-and-junk-food.html)

Go, Slow, Whoa – Teens and Food  (Link: http://teenshealth.org/teen/food_fitness/nutrition/go_slow_whoa.html )

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