Healthy eating can stabilize children’s energy, sharpen their minds, and even out their moods. While peer pressure and TV commercials for junk food can make getting kids to eat well seem impossible, there are steps parents can take to instill healthy eating habits without turning mealtimes into a battle zone. By encouraging healthy eating habits now, you can make a huge impact on your children’s lifelong relationship with food and give them the best opportunity to grow into healthy, confident adults.
Top tips to promote healthy childhood eating
•Have regular family meals. Knowing dinner is served at approximately the same time every night and that the entire family will be sitting down together is comforting and enhances appetite. Breakfast is another great time for a family meal, especially since kids who eat breakfast tend to do better in school.
•Cook more meals at home. Eating home cooked meals is healthier for the whole family and sets a great example for kids about the importance of food. Restaurant meals tend to have more fat, sugar, and salt. Save dining out for special occasions.
•Get kids involved. Children enjoy helping adults to shop for groceries, selecting what goes in their lunch box, and preparing dinner. It’s also a chance for you to teach them about the nutritional values of different foods, and (for older children) how to read food labels.
•Make a variety of healthy snacks available instead of empty calorie snacks. Keep plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grain snacks, and healthy beverages (water, milk, pure fruit juice) around and easily accessible so kids become used to reaching for healthy snacks instead of empty calorie snacks like soda, chips, or cookies.
•Limit portion sizes. Don’t insist your child cleans the plate, and never use food as a reward or bribe.
How can I get my picky child to enjoy a wider variety of foods?
Picky eaters are going through a normal developmental stage, exerting control over their environment and expressing concern about trusting the unfamiliar. Many picky eaters also prefer a “separate compartmented plate,” where one type of food doesn’t touch another. Just as it takes numerous repetitions for advertising to convince an adult consumer to buy, it takes most children 8-10 presentations of a new food before they will openly accept it.
Rather than simply insist your child eat a new food, try the following:
•Offer a new food only when your child is hungry and rested.
•Present only one new food at a time.
•Make it fun: present the food as a game, a play-filled experience. Or cut the food into unusual shapes.
•Serve new foods with favorite foods to increase acceptance.
•Eat the new food yourself; children love to imitate.
•Have your child help to prepare foods. Often they will be more willing to try something when they helped to make it.
•Limit beverages. Picky eaters often fill up on liquids instead.
•Limit snacks to two per day.
All children — not just overweight ones — would benefit from eating good quality, healthy, fresh food to use for fuel so they can be active and perform well in daily life. Happy Childrens Day!!