Kids learn by watching their parents. If you want to raise a healthy eater and a child who likes a variety of foods, then it is best to model this behavior. But even if you have eaten a salad in front of your kids every day since they were born and they still don’t like it, not to worry! Here are 3 strategies to help healthy food start to become part of your child’s daily life.
1. Get them excited about REAL food from a young age
Getting your child interested in real, whole foods as soon as they start eating will be your best bet for raising a lifelong healthy eater! This means staying away from packaged and processed foods as best you can, even before they start eating solid food. Using a food mill is an easy way to make simple, healthy, and preservative-free baby food.
As your child grows and their taste buds change and develop, it is important to continue to offer a variety of fruits and vegetables. Preparing these foods in different ways can help turn a broccoli hater into a broccoli lover! For example, if your child turns his nose up at raw carrots, try adding a dip to go with them; or you could cook the carrots and add a little butter and salt. Another example would be using a spiralizer to create zucchini noodles, in place of raw or sauteed zucchini.
The trick here is to continue offering these foods in a variety of different ways instead of immediately writing off a certain food the first few times they try it and reject it. Be persistent and creative – a little extra effort goes a long way here!
Planting a garden with your child is a wonderful way to get them instantly involved and invested in what they are eating. Seeing the growing process in action is exciting, and it will help your child to better appreciate where their food is coming from.
If a garden is not an option, then take them to a farmer’s market and show them the brightly colored produce. Allow them to choose anything they want within your budget. Meet the farmers, and then, if your schedule allows, visit the farm where the produce came from, so your child makes the connection that eating locally grown food also supports your neighbors and friends in the community.
The earlier you can start to introduce real, whole foods to your child, the easier it will be for them to crave these foods as they grow up. But know that it is never too late! Even if you have a teenager who scoffs at the sight of squash, you are bound to eventually find a way to prepare it (even if it’s hidden in a smoothie!) so that they will consume it.
2. Engage them with cooking
Getting your child involved in the kitchen is a great way to get them to notice the importance of what goes into their food. Start with easy-to-prepare dishes that you know will be a success. The last thing you want is to try a new dish that ends up being a disaster and has you reaching for the phone to call your local pizza place.
Allow your child to create a menu, and give them different choices on how to prepare certain foods. For example, if your child picks out pasta, first let them choose what kind of pasta they want to eat. Whole wheat pasta? Red lentil pasta? Brown rice pasta? Then, let them be in charge of how it is prepared. Do they want pesto sauce? Alfredo? Do they want to serve it with the vegetables that you bought from the farmer’s market? When kids are the ones in the driver’s seat, then they are more invested and inclined to try something new.
There are jobs for every age in the kitchen. From pulling up a stool to the sink to fill up a pot with water to preparing an entire meal, involving your kids in the kitchen is essential for teaching them a necessary life skill. Even if you don’t quite compare to Martha Stewart, you will still be able to teach your child the basics, and you may pick up a few new skills along the way, too!
3. Teach your children that healthy eating has major benefits!
When your kids asks why they have to eat their Brussels sprouts, explain to them that eating healthy food will help them grow into a strong adults with healthy immune systems. Boys and girls may be motivated by different approaches here. Many boys respond favorably to the concepts of strength, size, and accomplishment. Girls often like hearing that healthy eating can make them strong and graceful and give them beautiful skin and hair.
Teach your children that their bodies require certain nutrition in order to grow, and when they consistently eat healthy foods, they will be helping their bodies reach their fullest potential. Conversely, if they eat lots of junk food, their bodies won’t be as strong. Processed and sugary foods can also lead to problematic skin issues like acne, which might help your kids think twice before eating a candy bar.
One good way to inspire kids to eat healthier, other than leading by example, is to do some research on their favorite athlete or movie star. Oftentimes, athletes have specific diets that help them to achieve certain physical goals. For example, take the quarterback for the New England Patriots, Tom Brady – he eats a very clean, gluten-free, dairy-free diet, and does not drink Gatorade as one might think. He believes his diet keeps him healthy and strong, and able to perform his best on the football field. By taking a look at the way one of your kids’ role models eats, it can be inspiring for them to make healthy changes in their own diet.
Another way to help pique your child’s interest in eating healthy is by connecting what they eat to how they perform at school. It is a proven fact that the proper nutrition will keep your energy and focus sustained. If your child is eating a sugary breakfast that leaves them distracted and hungry soon after they arrive at school, you might reconsider what you are offering them for breakfast. Foods that have staying power are what busy kids need to help support them during the school day. Focus on protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. Eggs and toast with nut butter, old fashioned oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and raisins, or plain greek yogurt with fruit, nuts, and a drizzle of maple syrup are all good choices to help your children sustain their energy during the school day.
Whenever approaching the subject of healthy eating with your child, make sure never to focus on the aspect of weight.
This could lead to unhealthy eating behaviors down the road. Instead, teach your child that food has a cause-and-effect reaction in their body. When they eat something healthy, they are bound to feel healthy, and if they eat junk food, then they are bound to feel junky. Helping them tune into how their food choices impact how their body feels is one of the biggest lifelong lessons you can teach your child.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating
© Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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