Before you dive into the list of tips, let me first say that wherever you are in your journey whether you are eating fast food a few times a week or brewing your own Kombucha, every one has room to improve their eating habits. My family is far from arriving to the point of perfect health. It is a continuous journey and we are, where we are today… by simply taking one step at a time. We didn’t change everything over night and for the sake of your sanity and for your kiddos you shouldn’t either. Here are some great tips to help your family on their journey to healthier eating.
8 Great Tips for Getting Your Kids to Eat Healthier
Healthy Tip #1: Start Young
How young? Research shows that your eating and lifestyle habits up to a year BEFORE you are even pregnant can significantly affect your pregnancy positively or negatively. During pregnancy the mother plays a huge role in determining her children’s preferred taste buds. If you are not a mommy who eats a lot of greens then chances are your children aren’t going to be so welcoming of them when they begin their first solids either. I have often heard parents excuse their children’s pickiness because they are young. But we all know that older person who is so picky they won’t even try new foods. So don’t let age, limit your child’s ability to taste a variety of foods.
Healthy Tip #2: Practice What You Preach
Okay parents, this one is really all about you. Actions really do speak louder than words, right? What you eat is what your children are going to eat. We can’t expect our children to be content with drinking water while we sip our diet soda. Healthy eating habits are learned not innate. Our bodies crave what we teach them to crave. For example, when I first went gluten-free I couldn’t believe how badly gluten-free bread tasted and felt compared to the soft thin slices of regular bread. But eventually my taste buds got used to the new texture. The same is true of all food…good or bad. The more we eat of one thing the more we will crave it. Model healthy eating and soon your children will progress from watching, to trying, to eventually asking for it all on their own.
Here’s a funny example. My husband loves snacking on roasted seaweed. Imagine a food that is slightly crunchy, with a hint of salt and fish that basically melts in your mouth. Yum, right?! I don’t think so. I’m part Japanese and I don’t even like eating this green paper. 😉 But my husband ate it all through my last pregnancy which drove me nuts. After 9 months of seeing her daddy crunch away on his dried seaweed, Emma asked her daddy for a bite. Guess what? She loves it.
Healthy Tip #3: Make It Available
Always put it on their plate. If your a parent that only puts food on your child’s plate that you know they will for sure eat, let me encourage you to stop. I’m not suggesting to be wasteful but I am suggesting to remove the barrier between child and foreign food. A small bit size amount of food on your child’s plate does two things. First, it tells your child that this is not only food but that it is kid friendly food. Second, it tells your child that they have the choice to accept or pass on the food. Food never placed on the plate will definitely never make it into your child’s mouth but food placed on their plate is now given a 50/50 chance. Did you know on average how many times it takes for your child to encounter new food before they try it? Seven to fifteen times. But if you are starting later or your kiddo is just plain stubborn it may take more like 100 times. So don’t throw in the towel if your little munchkin doesn’t try the food the first time or the 99th time it just may take the 100th time but continue to offer it.
Even if the food doesn’t make it into your child’s mouth it gives them the opportunity to at least explore their food. It gives them an opportunity to touch, smell, know the texture and even try the food that they wouldn’t otherwise choose. I love eggplant. But the first five times I offered it to my daughter it would go in her mouth and right back out. That was perfectly okay. I chose to praise my daughter for trying it rather than criticize her for spitting it out. She still doesn’t eat it but I always put a little on her plate because my desire is that someday she will come to enjoy it even if it’s not as much as I do.
Healthy Tip #4: Make It Hands On
As a former teacher we know that children learn better if they can use more than one sensory at a time. The same is true for food. New food can be intimidating or just look funny. When children are able to wash, cut and help cook new food then tasting it becomes the next step instead of a big jump into the unknown. Rainbow charts like this one from Healthy Mama, are also a fun way to get children to try foods they wouldn’t normally try. There are also much more fancier charts and even “I Tried” charts found at this website: todayiatearainbow.com This website is all about healthy eating activity for kids. It also makes eating new foods into a fun game for normally picky eaters.
My daughter doesn’t like beets so… I thought. She never ate them when they were cooked but to my amazement she was eating them by the handful when I was chopping them up for dinner one day. She was “helping” me wash and prepare several raw vegetables and scarfed up the beets along with the carrots, mushrooms, etc. I realized that she did like beets just not cooked. 🙂
Other hands on experiences can include:
– Picking out new foods at the store
– Cooking and helping in the kitchen
– Growing and maintaining a garden
– Your child choosing a new recipe
– Making food art
– Comparing & Contrasting foods
– Learning about how food grows
– Visiting an orchard or farm
Healthy Tip #5: Make Only One Meal
Don’t accept personal orders at family meal times. Mealtimes can be hectic enough without you providing food that accommodates multiple people in your family. If you are used to making more than one meal option then I want to encourage you to save yourself some stress and stop. Fix one meal and let your children decide how much or little they will eat of it. I know parents worry about their kids getting enough food but your child will not starve. Trust me our child obesity rates of 50% prove it. Your child can still have a choice what they chose to eat or not eat but everything on the table should go on their plate. With our children we don’t make them eat one thing to be served more of the other. If our daughter wants to just eat veggies and doesn’t touch her meat or vice versa we are perfectly fine with that. However this doesn’t mean we allow her to only eat grapes all day either. Since foods are healthy even our deserts we don’t use one food as leverage for her to eat more of another food. For example, “Emma you need to finish your peas if you want some chocolate cake.” Although some food is more optimal than others the ideal situation is that your child receives nutritional benefits no matter what he or she eats.
Healthy Tip# 6: Snack Smartly
Our little kiddos need food throughout the day and if you have been a parent long enough you know that breakfast, lunch and supper isn’t enough. Children need to eat 5-6 times a day according to www.kidshealth.org. But it’s not just about feeding your kids is about feeding them in a way that will serve their needs optimally. Below is a quick checklist that you can run through before handing your cuties their next snack.
1. Think Protein:
Rolled up lunch meat, protein pudding, roasted pumpkin seeds or even your favorite cubed cheese. Why protein? Protein contains amino acids which are the building blocks of lean muscle. Your body needs 9 essential amino acids to be healthy and optimal. These 9 essential amino acids can not be made by the body they have to be consumed.
2. Choose Water
Did you know that a 2008 study in the Pediatrics journal discovered that our children today are consuming 10 to 15% of their total daily calories in sweetened beverages? A study done by Harvard showed these staggering facts:
- Sugary drinks (soda, energy, sports drinks) are the top calorie source in teens’ diets (226 calories per day), beating out pizza (213 calories per day). (34)
- From 1989 to 2008, calories consumed in the form of sugary beverages increased by 60% in children ages 6 to 11, and the percentage of children consuming them rose from 79% to 91%. (35)
If you think you are okay because you only choose juice that’s 100% juice and no added sugar you are slightly safer than the families who aren’t checking the labels. The honest truth is that sugar is still sugar. Sugar feels your children’s bodies with empty calories that spike insulin. Once insulin spikes that body has to do something to compensate the high blood sugar and so it stores the insulin as FAT. Is it any wonder our obesity rates and diabetes rates are soaring?
Remember water like anything else is a taste that is acquired. I’m not going to lie when I gave up pop in high school I began craving for it so badly I would have dreams about swimming in pools of my favorite pop. It’s funny know but at the time it revealed to me just how addicted I had become to the sugary drink.
Here’s what you can do. Water down juice that has no added sugars. Add fun fresh fruit to water. I’m not talking about the liquid powders to make water drinkers feel better about themselves…those are even worse. I’m talking about good ole fresh lemon and lime.
Since this can be just as much as a struggle of adults as it can be for parents, I would highly recommend carbonated water for people cutting themselves off from pop. I absolutely was saved when I started drinking La Croix during my last pregnancy. The carbonation settled my stomach and the water kept me hydrated during my pregnancy.
Since we are gluten and dairy free, I always have to bring a snack along. I want to avoid tantrum meltdowns and save family and friends from stressing out that they don’t have anything to offer. But I realized six months ago, I needed to plan ahead for snack items even in the house. I needed to write down in my menu plan a column for what I had on hand and what I was going to buy for snacks. Know before your children ask what you have on had to offer them. Then buy wisely. If you don’t want your children to only eat cookies or fruit snacks at snack time than don’t have it in the home or purposely by a small quantity. In other words, don’t buy the jumbo size of potato chips or high fructose fruit snacks from Costco. More quantity = more consumption, right? A good transition phase may be to let your child know that they can have their favorite pop tart but when the box is gone it’s gone and they will need to chose a different food to snack on next time.
Healthy Tip #7: Praise Positive Choices
Study after study shows us that positive reinforcement works better in the long run than negative. Be encouraging of your little kiddos steps in the right direction. Maybe it means praising them for not fussing about a new food on their plate or trying a new food even if they spit it out. It’s important to remember to place emphasis on the RIGHT steps towards change. You may even want to keep a sticker chart for those really picky eaters just for trying new foods. Don’t forget to be positive with yourself too. As parents we can be really hard on ourselves and can get caught up in a comparison game. Don’t go there because you will always come up short. Instead refocus on your children and their needs. We have to remember that all children are different and so their success will look differently too.
Healthy Tip #8: Don’t Back Down
We are creatures of habit by nature. Change is hard no matter what our age. Know your game plan ahead of time. As a parent you know our children pick up on what we don’t say just as much as what we do say. Make sure to create clear expectations for your child and carry them through. Like anything else if eating healthy is a new habit for your family then you can expect push back. As a parent, you have to decide your game plan and stick to it and advocate for your kids health. Family and friends will follow suit if they know this is a non-negotiable issue. It will take some adjustment and education but it is definitely worth it.
I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to share about your own experiences on how you have helped your kids to eat healthier foods.