Teaching your Children Healthy Eating Habits
Encouraging our children to make healthy choices can be hard sometimes, but by making a few changes in the way we approach food, our children will develop healthy eating habits to last them a lifetime.
The smell, name, or look of food can often turn kids off from choosing fruits and vegetables over prepackaged snacks. While there is no guarantee that these tips will help make your child into a perfectly healthy eater, they will help them become more conscious of the food going into their bodies.
Be a Good Role Model
As parents and caregivers, we are the first role models our children will have. Showing them the basics of a healthy lifestyle through our choices is very important. Children often observe and mimic what those around them do, so if they see you eating junk food and drinking soda instead of sitting down to enjoy a balanced meal they will think that is a good behavior.
Be Patient, but Persistent
Many children, especially if they are under the age of 6, tend to be very skeptical to try new foods. It is important not to force them to try it if they are not interested, as this could cause them to think of the food in a negative experience. A good way to do it is by using the ‘two-bite’ rule, have your child try two bites of the food and if they still do not like it then drop it for now. In some research, scientists have found that it sometimes takes 15 interactions for children to become comfortable with a new food.1 Patience is key when introducing a new food to your children.
Giving the opportunity for your children to try new foods by trying new restaurants and cuisines or making new recipes are good ways to get your children more comfortable with new foods. It is important, however, to keep in mind that some food dislikes can be caused by taste buds or genetics.
Have Kids Help in the Kitchen
A great way to get your children excited about food is to get them involved in the kitchen. If kids are part of preparing a meal or deciding what is served, it is more likely that they will be interested in trying a new food. Including your child in the kitchen also helps to teach them what goes into making a healthy meal, this will prepare them for when they are older and have to prepare their own food.
Small projects or tasks like washing the vegetables or helping to measure ingredients are great ways that kids can help. Once they get older, you can even delegate a whole recipe to them as part of a meal. Being a part of the meal preparations will get you children excited about mealtime and new foods.
Go to the Source
Introducing children to where their food comes from is a vital part of getting children interested in and excited about healthy food. If you go visit the farm where vegetables are grown and your children have the experience of meeting the farmers and picking their own food, they will have positive associations with those foods.
If you are able to find a farm that is working and has an educational program, it is a great idea to visit that type of farm as they have animals your children can interact with and they can see processes like cheese and bread making.
Another great option is planting a garden in your backyard, or even just a few planters with various vegetables. If you get your children involved in the planting process, the care of the plants as they grow, and the harvesting they will be enthusiastic about trying the food they had a hand in growing. A garden is also a great learning opportunity for nature, such as how plants are pollinated by bees and what plants need to thrive & grow.
Teaching your children healthy portion sizes is as easy as serving their meals on a divided plate but it goes beyond just the amounts they should be eating at mealtime. Helping them understand how to read nutrition labels is a good way to help kids understand how much to eat. A great way to do this is having your child read what a portion of their favorite healthy snack is, and then have them portion it out into individual servings to keep in the pantry.
Don’t Completely Restrict Foods
With the exception of allergies, completely restricting your child’s access to certain foods can lead to them overindulging when they do have the opportunity to eat restricted foods. A better way to limit unhealthy foods is to stick to a smaller portion, this way your children will learn that it is okay to treat yourself occasionally but overindulging is not healthy.
Sit-Down as a Family to Eat
Mealtime is important for family bonding. It is a great time to talk about school, introduce new cuisines or foods, and teach your children that meals are an important part of the day. Sitting down as a family to enjoy does more than just encourage healthy eating behaviors, research has shown that it also helps children develop a large vocabulary, cut the risk of teen drug and alcohol use, and even reduce stress levels in children.2 Making mealtime an enjoyable, engaging and positive experience will help children become excited about food.
There are many great ways to get your children excited about making healthy food choices, the most important thing to remember is that they are very influenced by those around them, so try to be the best food role-model you can (and encourage the other adults in their life to do the same).
1. Eliassen, Erin K. “The Impact of Teachers and Families on Young Children’s Eating Behaviors.” The National Association for the Education of Young Children. Web.
2. Fishel, Anne. “The most important thing you can do with your kids? Eat dinner with them.” The Washington Post. The Conversation, 9 Jan. 2015. Web.