At this day and age when fast foods and unhealthy foods have become our go-to meals (all thanks to the convenience that they offer), ensuring that your kids will eat healthily is a must. During the first few years or months, this task seems like an easy feat. After all, you will be the one to choose their meals and even, feed it to them.
But as they grow old (starting at the toddler years), you will notice that your children will already start to make their own choices when it comes to the activities they do and the food that they eat. This will make it a lot more difficult for you to ensure that they will stick to the healthy eating habits that you want them to have.
While you cannot force them to eat what you like them to eat, you can try to encourage them and facilitate them to develop healthy eating habits of their own. This article can help you do that!
How to Teach Healthy Eating Habits to Your Child
Below are ten ways to encourage your child’s healthy eating habits:
1. Don’t ban unhealthy foods outright.
If you have already made the mistake of letting your kids have a taste of addictive junk foods and sweets, banning them from eating this type of food is a big mistake as it will cause them to crave for it more.
Moreover, banning certain foods at your home can cause your child to grab the opportunity of eating these foods when they become available outside of your home. They will do this even if they are already full which will cause them to develop the bad habit of overeating.
But of course, you should also not allow them to eat as many sweets and junk food that they want. The key here is just to limit the amount of these treats that your children can eat in a day.
2. Help your child be familiar with the healthy choices that he has at school.
If you want your child to make healthy choices by himself, you need to educate him about what’s healthy and what’s not. That makes sense, right?
You can do this by taking a look at the lunch options that your kids have at school. You can also try asking the school for the monthly lunch menu that the school will offer. Print it out and ask your child to identify which is the healthiest option on the list. You should also explain to them why a certain food item is a better option than the others.
With regards to snacks, it is best that you send him to school with healthy snacks that he can enjoy—different types of peaches, apples, bananas, and more. You can also go for healthy savory items like nuts, popcorn, and air-fried potato chips.
3. Do not use food as for your reward or punishment system.
“Finish your homework, and we will go get ice cream.” “If you don’t clean up your room, there will be no snacks for you.” Do these statements sound familiar to you? I bet they are! At one point or another, we have all been guilty of using food to punish and reward our children.
While we think that it is an effective way of disciplining them, psychologists claim that using food as rewards or punishments can cause your child to develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Why is this so?
If you punish them with food, your kids will be afraid to go hungry, and as a result, they will eat as much as they can when they are allowed to enjoy the food. On the other hand, rewarding them with food (like sweets for example) will make them view sweets to be more valuable than other food items (like vegetables). When given a choice, they will go for what they think is rewarding every single time.
4. Never let your kids eat in front of the TV.
Mindless eating—that is one thing that you should never encourage your children to do. When your kids eat in front of the TV, they would simply eat and eat as they watch their shows. Since they are not focused on eating, they won’t notice the signs that they are already full which will cause them to overeat.
To avoid this, you should only let your kids eat in designated areas in your home like the kitchen or your dining area.
5. Involve your kids.
If you want your child to stick to the healthy diet that you are trying to establish for them, you should try and involve them in the entire process. Try to get their suggestions for your weekly menus. You can also bring them food shopping. Also, try asking for their help in preparing meals so they can develop an interest in your household food.
When it comes to asking your kids for suggestions on menus, it is best that you give them options. This will allow you to make sure that the choices will still be in the healthy category, but at the same time, it gives your child a sense of confidence because you trust him to make the choice.
6. Tell your kids about the excessive calories found in drinks.
Do you find your children sneaking out to sip their favorite chocolate drink no matter how many times you tell them to refrain from drinking it? That may be because your children have no idea why they should avoid those drinks in the first place. To ensure that they will follow your instructions, you have to give them your reasons why you are asking them to do that.
While some kids are great at making healthy food choices, a lot of them still get trapped by the empty calories that sugary drinks have. If that’s the case, the best thing that you can do is to call their attention to the amount of calories that these drinks contain.
It is also best if you will give your kids plenty of water and milk during their younger years so they will not get used to drinking sugary juices or calorie-laden chocolate drinks.
7. Set a good example for your kids.
Please keep in mind that children would tend to follow the example their parents have set for them. No matter how hard you try to educate them about healthy foods, it will all be put to waste if you, yourself, are not leading the healthy lifestyle that you wanted them to have.
Kids copy everything you do—from your menu choices up to your lifestyle habits. Since this is the case, you can simply take advantage of their monkey-see and monkey-do attitude by doing what you want them to do—make healthy choices.
When preparing food at home, incorporate as many vegetables and fruits as you can and show them how much you love such food items.
8. Teach your child to recognize their bodies’ fullness and hunger cues.
Almost all parents make the mistake of forcing their kids to finish everything on their plate and to eat at certain times of the day, whether they are hungry or not or whether they are already full or not. These seemingly simple act can lead to unhealthy overeating habits.
What you can do is tell them to stop eating when they already feel full or that they start eating when they begin to feel hunger cues. To help them do this, you should educate them about the different signs of fullness and hungriness.
When you teach them this, your children will eat when they are hungry and stop when they already feel full.
9. Promote smart snacking.
When we hear the word snack, we would often think about French fries, chips, sandwiches and many other unhealthy food items. Many people think that snacking also means that you should eat snacks anytime, all the time.
Smart snacking is not just about the quality of the snacks—it is about the timing of the snacks as well. To prevent your children from overeating, give him a snack two to three hours before dinner or lunchtime.
You should also be careful in choosing which snacks to give your child. Some of the best options that you have include baby carrots, corn, fruits, nuts, and hummus.
10. Make greens more palatable.
A lot of kids have this notion that green and leafy vegetables do not taste good and that is the reason why most of them shy away from eating such type of food. Well, you can simply turn their minds around by making green dishes as tasty and delicious as possible.
You can do this by adding fruits to your salads. You can also blanch your greens first to remove their bitterness. You can also add more flavors to it with the help of herbs and spices.
Encouraging healthy eating habits for your kids is not an easy task, but you should invest all your time, effort and resources in doing so. This is one of the most important habits that you can ever teach your children as the habits that they will be able to establish during their childhood years will last with them for their lifetimes.
With your hectic schedules, there will come a time when you will be tempted go the easier route—order takeaways or deliveries. But no matter how tempting it is, please try to fight the urge because your child’s health is at stake.