Kids eat healthier when they see us do it. Our kids learn their eating habits. Primarily from their parents. But also from their peers and unfortunately, from advertisers. Kids do not eat intuitively. So, let’s create the environment for their success by teaching them through our own actions. After all, the old adage is, “behavior is caught not taught.”
We not saying this is easy. As we work to provide healthy food choices and behaviors, our culture of instant gratification and everything needing sugar works against us daily.
Here are some simple tools and thoughts to help you be the best influence on your kids’ future food choices.
1. Make sure your kids eat healthier for breakfast.
After fasting for 10 or 12 hours (literally) our bodies need the proper nutrition to get our metabolism kick-started properly. It may not be obvious but, breakfast is the most important meal of the day. And it should be the largest. This is where lifestyle change may be critical. Instead of rolling out of bed and frantically getting everyone ready to head out the door, grabbing some toast, or packaged foods on the way out, we may need to re-think how and when we start our days.
Again, after 10 to 12 hours without food, the proper fuel will give our kids the nutrition they need to concentrate and feel well at school. Without starting with the proper fuel, our bodies could go into “starvation mode” and cause us to have a difficult time maintaining proper body weight.
Your children may actually need to practice eating breakfast. If so, start small and work into a bigger meal. Most children will do well with a breakfast of around 500 calories. BUT, those need to be nutritional calories, not sugar.
Including a source of protein first thing in the morning is important for our body’s metabolism. Also, whole grains and healthy fats are important. A perfect little breakfast would be one egg, fried in coconut oil, on a slice of gluten-free bread, topped with a couple of slices of avocado. Bam! Easy. Perfect kid meal.
Or, how about a basic banana, peeled, on a popsicle stick, rolled into whole grain, organic granola for a crunch. Also, easy.
2. Kids Eat Healthier When You Allow Yourself to Be flexible!
Moderation. One “cheat” food item, along with other more healthy choices is far better than a bowl of processed, sugar-loaded cereal every day.
3. Take your kids shopping with you.
Since most of us don’t live on a farm or near farmer’s markets, it’s more difficult to help our kids make the connection between the farm and our table. One way to help kids make a connection with real food as opposed to the processed junk the advertiser’s pitch is to take them to the grocery store with you. Or better yet, get your fresh, locally grown organic produce delivered by a company like Harvest2U! When your kids see raw produce in its natural state, they can better make a connection with what they’re eating. If your kid sees something they find interesting, let them take it home and try it. Involve them in the food decisions as best you can.
Taking our kids grocery shopping may not be the most convenient option but, they are our kids and we need to be helping them make better choices. So, a little inconvenience on your part actually could yield life-changing benefits to your kids.
4. Be a good role model.
As stated before, “behavior is caught not taught.” Parents cannot get away with the do as I say not as I do attitude. Are you making healthy choices? If not, make a change.
Most of us have created such a habit of eating out and eating processed “on the go” foods that we don’t even know what healthy eating habits look like. Educate yourself, then make conscious decisions for healthier choices. Your kids will come along.
5. Kids eat healthier when you make mealtime special.
That doesn’t mean every meal needs to be an event. Nor does it mean that you have full-blown multi-course meals. What it does mean is that eating together is an excellent time to be together as a family. Meals should be taken sitting down, with a pace typically slower than we are used to. Remember, digestion begins in the mouth. We need to chew our food. Most people these days wolf down their meals with very little chewing. Slow it down.
We know that many times smaller kids cannot sit still for a long meal. If that is a problem, try letting the little one stand up or walk around for a bit, but then come back to the table to finish eating.
You can split up the dinner (or other mealtimes) tasks. Get everyone involved. One person sets the table, the other clears, etc. You might even set aside one night each week in which one of the kids helps to plan and prepare the dinner (with appropriate adult guidelines and supervision, of course).
Decorate the table once in a while for something special. These mealtimes are to be positive family time, not argument sessions. You can ask specific conversation starters. For example; moving around the table, have each person state the best and worst parts of their day. Then talk about that.
6. You are not a short-order cook.
Never, never buy into the argument that making something special for the picky eater in the family is the path of least resistance. In the long run, this is not an example you want to set.
Set rules regarding trying new foods. Put the same food on the plates for everyone (unless there are allergy issues, etc.) and let everyone know that dinner sits before them. Be sure to include items you know they like. They can eat it or not. Encourage them to try new things. Just a taste. Do not make an argument over unwanted food.
Don’t be afraid to set the unwanted foods in front of your kids time and time again. Research states that it may take 10 to 12 attempts to get a kid to try something new. Hang in there. And remember, there are different ways to prepare the same foods. Try new recipes. Eventually, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
7. Let your kids be helpers.
Kids love to help. Especially in the kitchen. Just like taking them grocery shopping may be inconvenient, have them help in the kitchen is also. But they love it. Take the time to plan things for them to do. Place a stable chair or stool for them to reach the counter. Let them mix things in a bowl. Have them help measure or count things. Peeling is a relatively safe task with the right tool. Ensure a safe environment for your kids to eat healthier.
Kids will be more likely to have a positive attitude and try new things when they’ve been involved in the process. Allow them to taste things in their raw state. Having the kids in the kitchen can be a very rewarding experience for all.
8. Don’t get sucked into the kid-focused food advertising.
Kids can eat healthier without frozen french fries, pizza, and other highly processed foods. Those types of food contain chemicals, additives, artificial colors, and sweeteners and are actually harming our bodies. Kids understand that there are things that are not good for you. Be the voice of reason.
Kids are subjected to advertising (as we all are) on almost a moment by moment basis. Take the time to read labels, understand what harmful effects substances such as MSG can have on the body. There are mountains of great-tasting choices for real food out there. Again, think moderation. Having the occasional “cheat” food will not cause a problem, but we need to reduce processed foods from our everyday diets.
When switching from highly processed foods to organic or natural foods, try blind taste tests. Your kids may think they need that apple sauce with the crazy animal on it, but may actually enjoy another, healthier choice. You may be surprised.
9. Never use food for bribes or punishments.
While it’s great to go out for ice cream after a good or bad game, it shouldn’t be used as an enticement prior to the game for a good performance.
Setting a precedent using food as a motivator sets up a negative relationship between your kid and food. If there are reward systems in your household, try stickers or some other enticement rather than food.
10. Show your kid unconditional love and acceptance.
Regardless of your kid’s size, weight or shape, accept them as they are. We know that kids grow in spurts and at different rates. Some kids mature earlier and some later. Be patient. As long as you have established for your kid a good diet, eating habits, and you know that they are getting enough exercise, don’t sweat it.