Peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting your kids to eat well an uphill struggle. Factor in your own hectic schedule and it’s no wonder so many kids’ diets are built around convenience and takeout food. But switching to a healthy diet can have a profound effect on children’s health, helping to stabilize their energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. With these 9 tips, you can instill healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone and give your kids the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
1. Avoid placing restrictions on food.
Instead of banning foods, talk about all the healthy, nutritional options there are — encouraging your family to choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat dairy, while saving the fattening or sugar-filled foods for occasional treats. These treats should not be completely banned or else they will be even more appealing to your child.
2. Keep healthy food at hand.
Children will eat what’s available. Keep fruit in a bowl on the counter, not buried in the crisper section of your fridge. Serve fresh juices with meals instead of sodas. Offer vegetables as a side dish and place them on the table first when your kids are the hungriest. Usually they would wolfed them down by the time the rest of the meal arrives. Remember, your child can only choose foods that you stock in the house. Also, have an apple for your own snack. Lead them by example. Your actions scream louder than anything you will ever tell them.
3. Don’t label foods as “good” or “bad.”
Instead, tie foods to the things your child cares about, such as sports or doing well in school. Let your child know that lean protein such as turkey and calcium in dairy products give them strength for sports. The antioxidants in fruits and vegetables add luster to skin and hair. And eating a healthy breakfast can help them keep focus in class.
4. Praise healthy choices.
Give your children a proud smile and lots of compliments when they choose healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables. Encourage them to take a first bite and praise them for giving it a try. If some dish are quite nauseating to them, disguise the taste of healthier foods. For example, add vegetables to a beef stew, or mash carrots up with mashed potato, or add a sweet dip to slices of apple.
5. Don’t nag about unhealthy choices.
When children choose salty, fatty, fried, unhealthy foods, redirect them by suggesting a healthier option. Instead of regular potato chips and dip, offer baked tortilla chips and salsa. If your child wants candy, try dipping fresh strawberries in a little chocolate sauce. Too busy? Keep naturally sweet dried fruit at home for quick snacks. Instead of buying French fries, try roasting cut up potatoes in the oven (tossed in just a bit of oil).
6. Never use food as a punishment or a reward.
This could create weight problems in later life. Instead, reward your children with something physical and fun — perhaps a trip to the park or a quick game of catch. Withholding food as a punishment may lead children to worry that they will not get enough food. For example, sending children to bed without any dinner may cause them to worry that they will go hungry. As a result, children may try to eat whenever they get a chance. It can also have a negative effect on growth and development.
Similarly, when foods, such as sweets and ice cream, are often used as a reward, children may assume that these foods are better or more valuable than other foods. Using food, like burgers and French fries, to stop children from crying may also condition them to use food as an “emotional remedy” as adults. So every time anxiety sets in, they eat (or drink).
7. Sit down to family dinners at night.
Restaurant and takeout meals have more sugar, MSG and unhealthy fat so cooking at home can have a huge impact on your kids’ health. If this isn’t a tradition in your home, make it one. Research shows that children who eat dinner at the table with their parents have better nutrition and are less likely to get in serious trouble as teenagers. Start with one night a week, and then work up to three or four, to gradually build the habit. Don’t use the phones or watch TV during dinner. Try to make mealtimes pleasant with conversation and sharing, not a time for scolding or arguing. If mealtimes are unpleasant, children may try to eat faster to leave the table as soon as possible. They then may learn to associate eating with stress.
8. Prepare plates in the kitchen.
You can put the right portion of each item on everyone’s dinner plate, instead of offering up a food buffet or serve-yourself style. This way your children will learn to recognize healthy portion sizes. Pay attention to ingredients. Read food labels and limit foods with trans fat. Also, make sure you serve the appropriate portion as indicated on the label.
9. Give kids some control.
Involve your children in food shopping and preparing meals. Be creative. Make it fun. These activities will give you hints about your children’s food preferences, an opportunity to teach your children about nutrition, and provide your kids with a feeling of accomplishment. In addition, children may be more willing to eat or try foods that they help prepare. This also lets your children participate in decision making. After all, dining is a family affair.
It is all about gradual changes.
It’s not overnight, and it’s an uphill battle for parents. Creating an environment where your kids can make healthy nutritional choices is one of the most important steps you can take to ensure the health of your child and help them maintain a healthy lifestyle when they are adults. It’s important to remember that your kids aren’t born with a craving for French fries and pizza and an aversion to broccoli and carrots. This conditioning happens over time as kids are exposed to more and more unhealthy food choices. However, it is possible to reprogram your children’s food cravings so that they crave healthier foods instead. The sooner you introduce wholesome, nutritious choices into your kids’ diets, the easier they’ll be able to develop a healthy relationship with food that can last them a lifetime.
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