Parenting is both a tremendous joy and a tremendous challenge. When it comes to training their child(ren) to eat right, parents may experience frustration or even guilt.
Here are some practical tips that may help you be a reliable guide for your children to develop healthy eating habits early on in their precious lives.
We know how important it is to keep our blood sugar levels stable and the same goes for our young ones. They need to eat every 3 to 4 hours, too. This means snack time is essential. So, if you're away from home, keep a bag or cooler stocked with healthy proteins, carbs, and fats. This way you won't rely on fast food for the emergency situations. This will also train your child to avoid skipping meals.
Hesitation to welcome new foods is completely normal for children and almost inevitable. When trying to introduce new foods, remind your child each time that their taste buds will need time to accept the new flavor. It may also help to pair the new food with a true, tried, and tested favorite! You may need to repeat this several times before they actually take a bite out of the new food (generally, about 10 times). Be patient. Likely, we all were at this stage at some point in our lives.
Market your Meals
Fruits and veggies don't have their own commercials. So, implement a common marketing strategy yourself by using a positive and popular example (such as a sport star or celebrity) to point out some healthy foods they feed their bodies to possibly motivate your child. This is especially useful when you are trying to introduce new foods into their diet.
Don't Become the Food Police
You work so hard to prepare healthy, balanced meals but you may not be thrilled with what or how much your child is eating of certain foods. Fight the urge to verbalize every and all your concerns with your child's diet. This may backfire and cause them to resist or to feel low self-esteem. Continue to be an example and continue doing your part to serve healthy, balanced meals.
If they Don't Dig it, Dip it
A 2013 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that kids are more likely to like, accept, and eat vegetables if paired with dips that contain familiar herb and spice flavors.1
If your child is having a hard time accepting a type of veggie, serve it with their favorite sauce, dressing, or dip, such as guacamole, hummus, salsa, ketchup, salad dressing, etc.
Shop and Cook Together
The more involved your child is in picking out recipes, picking out ingredients, and preparing them, the greater their interest will be in eating it, too. Have a picture-happy cookbook and ask them to pick a new recipe to try. Let them tag along and pick a veggie, squash, potato, or bell pepper color of their choice, and then wash it together. Let them participate in any age-appropriate, safe steps of the recipe to heighten their interest in the final product.
Clean up Your Shopping Cart
The fact of the matter is that kids don't have the means to bring junk food into the house - it's the parents who control this. Of course, you don't need to have a zero tolerance policy but keep an eye on how much junk food you are letting into the house in the first place. It's okay to allow treats here and there. In fact, it may only cause more problems to completely forbid them. Just keep an eye on how much you are allowing in the house.
Let's take fruit as an example. Instead of asking whether your child wants a piece of fruit or not, ask if they want the banana or the berries. This way "No" is not an option, the child thinks the fruit was his/her idea, and everyone is happy.
Vary as Early as Possible
Vary your veggies, fruits, proteins, and whole grains. The more varied their food options are from the start, the less likely they are to get fixated on one food item and become a picky eater.
Screens at mealtime make it difficult for your child to listen to their internal fullness cues. In fact, it may be helpful to discuss the different levels of fullness with your child to see if they understand the difference between being comfortably full and uncomfortably full or stuffed.
Grow your own Garden
If circumstances allow it, grow your own fruits, vegetables, or herbs. This is not just an educational opportunity but even a physical activity opportunity.
Be a Rule of Thumb-er
Serve a fruit and/or vegetable at each meal and snack. Serving cereal? Throw in some berries. Serving chicken? Turn it into a colorful chicken and veggie skewer.
Be Specific about Health Benefits from Food
Instead of simply labeling food as "good" or "bad", focus on keeping the discussions positive about healthy, nourishing foods. Instead of simplying labeling a food as "healthy", teach your child what some of the benefits are (such as strong bones, growing, getting strength to run and play, etc.)
We hope some of these tips will reduce some of the anxiety that may be associated with raising children to become healthy eaters.
1. Savage, J. S., Peterson, J., Marini, M., Bordi, P. L., Jr, & Birch, L. L. (2013). The addition of a plain or herb-flavored reduced-fat dip is associated with improved preschoolers' intake of vegetables. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 113(8), 1090–1095. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jand.2013.03.013