How to help children to eat healthier for a lifetime
Make food fun – One of the easiest ways to avoid food battles is to make good for you food attractive to kids. Just like candy makers using cartoon characters to market their products, you should market healthy alternatives to your children. Cut sting cheese into an octopus. Make apple slices and mini marshmallow smiles. Cut strawberries into little hearts, make a banana and kiwi palm tree, and shape sandwiches into Buzz Lightyear. Whatever it takes to make healthy food appealing to kids do it. It probably will not take as long as you would think and it will go a long way towards encouraging children to eat healthier. Think about it, even you eat more when your food is appealing looking. You can also buy kid friendly plates like animal shapes to encourage kids to eat a balanced meal. They even have plates with a balanced meal on them and some kids like to match up the foods and munch away. What a great idea!
Make it easy – Cutting fruits and vegetables into kid sized pieces is a great way to encourage them to eat more. After all, it is much easier to eat a cut apple than a whole one or an already peeled and sliced banana. Baby vegetables are usually smaller and sweeter, making it easier for kids to eat them. Having snacks on the go is something that many kids do, so packaging fruits, veggies, dried fruits, trail mixes or Cheerios in easy to eat ways is a must. Make your own trail mixes with unsalted nuts and dried fruits or make ‘to go’ snack boxes out of unused tackle boxes for a fun, kid friendly snack idea. Add a little lemon juice to freshly sliced fruits to keep them from browning.
Do not use food as incentive –Something to avoid is making food a reward or punishment. When you say things like “eat all of your peas and you can have a cookie” that makes children think that peas are bad and cookies are good. Equating unhealthy food with rewards and healthy food as something to get through leads to bad eating habits later on. Instead, make all food equal. Get just as excited about your veggie dish as you do your dessert. When children do not see food used as an incentive they are less likely to have problems with their eating habits later on.
Do not make food a big deal – This all comes under the umbrella of not making food a big deal. We do not live to eat we eat to live. Bad eating habits were a virtual unknown when all we had was the basics to keep us alive. Instead of focusing your day on snack time and dinner time, focus on activities. Many of our time references with kids are unconsciously based around food. “After lunch we will go to the park” or “After dinner we will play a game”. Instead, try to say things like “When it gets dark outside we will watch a movie” or even teach them time by saying “At three o’clock we will go for a walk”. The less fuss you make about food the more likely kids are to eat whatever they are given. They would not think of protesting any more than they do about wearing socks or washing their hands. It is just something that is done. Make sure you do not associate food with certain activities either. You do not have to eat popcorn every time you watch a movie for example. I know adults that can’t get through a movie without snacks, even if they have just eaten a large meal!
Lead by example – Speaking of adults, you may have to change your eating habits as well. Maybe your family always had dessert. Change it up and add fruit to your meal instead. Maybe you do not like peas. Eat a few anyway to encourage your children to try them. Do not make faces or imply that some foods are gross. Instead keep an open and accepting attitude. You may not like the taste, but that does not mean your children will not like it. Let your children explore healthy foods without judgment or attitude. Add more fresh fruit and vegetables to your diet. The more healthy foods your kids see you eating the more they will want to eat. After all, you can’t expect to be munching on a bag of Cheetos and have your kids be happy with carrot sticks.
Dips and sauces –If you are not a big fruit or veggie fan, do not fret. There are many ways to make these healthy foods more appealing. Dips and sauces are great ways to change the flavor of healthy foods without adding too much oil or fat. Things like low-fat ranch veggie dip, brown sugar and fat free sour cream fruit dip, or even a little chocolate or caramel can turn a boring snack into great, tasty fun. While cooking you can make a low fat cheese sauce or add herbs and spices to liven up vegetables without taking away any of the nutrition. I love baby carrots cooked with a package of powdered ranch dip. All it adds is a little salt and a lot of flavor!
Try new things – Like I said, just because you do not like it does not mean your kids will not like it. By trying new fruits and vegetables you can discover together what is tasty and what is not. New recipes also work well for disgusting healthy but unpleasant tasting food and making it palatable. Kids that will not touch a spinach salad might love spinach in their pasta. Turnips are spicy and powerful when eaten raw, but soften up and get sweet when cooked. And even the pickiest of eaters will love an apple and oatmeal treat baked with cinnamon and sugar. You can introduce new flavors slowly by cutting them small and combining them with favorite snacks or meals. Like I said earlier, the less fuss you make about it the more likely they are to try it.
Be flexible – Speaking of fuss, do not worry if your kids do not love everything you give them to try. No one loves every kind of food. Instead, be flexible with your children. If they do not like peas have them suggest another vegetable they would like instead. If they do not like regular carrots have them try baby carrots. There are always alternatives and being open to new things is a part of the learning process. At times children will refuse to eat anything outside their norm. This is perfectly normal. I know a boy who practically lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a year and it did not hurt him at all. Even I refused to eat anything other than green beans and chicken legs for a while when I was small. Continue to offer children healthy alternatives and they will eventually pick them up.
Have a garden – When children grow their own food they are much more likely to eat it. After all, they put all that effort and time into making the plant grow, the least they can do is eat the results. Easy to grow plants like beans, strawberries and carrots are usually big hits. Anyone can garden. A two liter soda bottle is a great place to plant carrots so that kids can watch them grow. A recycled yogurt container can start out a green bean plant. There are many ways to help your children to enjoy the benefits of gardening even if you do not have an outdoor space. You can also visit community gardens or pick fruit at a local orchard. When children have to work for their food they appreciate it all the more. Some of my favorite memories as a child are picking berries with my mother and grandmother. I ate more then I picked, but it was a lot of fun.
Cook with your kids –Another way to help your children to eat more health food and teach them essential life skills is to cook with them. Even the smallest toddler can stir and measure ingredients. Have your child help you pick out a recipe and then put it together. They can learn how to measure, cut and mix foods together and enjoy being with their parents in the process. Once they have done all the work they will surly want to sample the results! You can also have them taste each ingredient as it goes in (if safe) and then compare it to the results. This is a great way for them to learn healthy eating habits for a life time.
Helping kids build healthy eating habits starts at a young age. From their first bite of solid food to the day they leave the house you should offer children a variety of healthy options. Make eating healthy a habit in your home, for everyone. Remember to stay active as well and enjoy a healthy and happy lifestyle!
Amanda Carlson, a blogger as well as a former newborn care nurse contributed this post. To stay connected to her previous career and share the knowledge she gained, she began writing for www.newborncare.com. You can reach her at amanda.newborncare @ gmail.com.