8 Ways to Encourage Healthy Eaters
Raising healthy and happy children…. it’s every parent’s goal!
One of the biggest hurdles to clear as a parent of young children, though: FOOD! Our lives are busier than ever these days. With such easy access to convenience food, images and commercials bombarding their little minds with junk food, then add in picky eating and food allergies & intolerances- encouraging children to eat healthy can be challenging! But here are 8 ways to help you navigate and encourage healthy eaters in your home!
Be the Example
Your children are observing, soaking it all in. Learning rights from wrongs, best practices and survival strategies… and most of what they adopt for their own lives comes from you. Make it a point to sit down as a family for dinner as often as possible. Make healthy food choices in front of your children. Be the example. It will not only have huge health benefits for your children but also for YOU! We are at our best when we are fueled properly. Our bodies have energy, our minds are clearer and we feel our best!
Don’t Give In
Our society has evolved into one of convenience and efficiency and, as a result, a misunderstanding that kid food & adult food are somehow different. Sure, for a toddler, plating a ribeye for their dinner isn’t typical. But many parents find themselves making an entirely separate “kid friendly” dinner as soon as their child begins finger foods. Don’t give in! There is nothing unfriendly about a basic yet balanced meal of grilled chicken, roasted carrots and apple slices, for example. Real food. Simple food. These are flavors they likely tried (and LOVED!) in the post-breastmilk/formula stages of eating. Allow the kids to experience these foods before you succumb to a whole separate menu for them or default to frozen foods, powders, and the like that are full of preservatives and additives.
If you’re already in the kid food rut, that’s ok! You don’t have to clear the fridge & pantry of everything and start from scratch. Take the tried and true baby steps approach. Start with ONE new-to-them food item per week. During that week, offer it regularly as part of your meals. They may immediately love it. Or, it may not even touch it with a fork the first, second or even third time. Don’t give up. Add it into the regular rotation from time to time as well. There is research out there that says it can take anywhere from 10-15 attempts before a young child will try a new food. Baby steps!
Let Them Contribute
Get the kids involved! Dragging children through the grocery store to collect a week’s worth of meals is a ‘Least Favorite Pastime’ for sure! But with a little planning and collaboration- it can be less daunting. Ask the children to help you plan your weekly menu. Their input will make them feel a part of the process and their contribution can have great rewards! This can be especially helpful if you’re trying to change old eating habits. Adding a few of their favorite meals into your rotation will likely encourage them to try one of your favorite meals.
Allow them to help with safe cooking tasks. Children LOVE to help! Washing fruits & veggies, adding pre-portioned seasoning and stirring or mixing ingredients together are great ways for children to help in the kitchen. Not only will their involvement reap health rewards, children will learn responsibility, appreciation for your duties as a parent, and they will gain confidence as a contributing member of the family unit!
Make It Fun!
Get on their level! Give meals or ingredients fun names. For example, change that green smoothie to “Hulk Juice”. Taco Night? Deconstruct the ingredients! Sometimes too many flavors mixed can make an already hesitant eater more reluctant to try the food. Arrange lunch ingredients in a bento-compartment-type box for easy selection and engaging presentation. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, get creative and bring food to life like the meal pictured below!
Swap Out & Add In
Simple switches can have a huge health impact! Instead of buying juice boxes filled with added sugars and pasteurized juice, invest in a juicer or citrus press and make your own fresh, in-season juices. Create smoothies using their favorite fruits. This also opens up the opportunity to toss in some added nutrition, like a handful of spinach leaves and protein-rich yogurt or chia seeds. Sneak in some great nutrient dense veggies into their favorite dishes. Adding a butternut squash puree to pasta sauces can not only enhance the flavor but give your kiddos a nutrition boost! Baking your own homemade chicken nuggets or tenders is also a surprisingly easy, much healthier version of a kid favorite!
Knowledge Is Power
Children need guidance. Plain and simple. Depending on your child’s age, they may not fully grasp the how and the why behind how you speak about foods. This chart below from Kids Eat In Color offers a great way to guide children in understanding the benefits of healthy foods. A strong foundation now will set them up for making healthy choices in the future!
Know That You’re Human
Parenting is challenging in and of itself. Not every child will blissfully accept change or the introduction of a roasted asparagus spear on their plate. Every child is different in their own wonderful way. Do your best. Don’t give up. But give yourself grace. If your child never grows to love Brussels Sprouts, that’s ok. They will still grow to be well-rounded successful adults who knew their parents encouraged them and loved them- picky eater and all!
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