Creating Healthy Eaters
- Friday, 19 June 2009
One of the most common dilemmas parents face today is the ongoing struggle to get their kids to eat healthy food. Rather than a time of peaceful exchanges, family mealtimes can become a frustrating attempt at negotiations, coercions, or even threats. As parents, we want to ensure our children are the healthiest they can be, hoping to offer them the gift of health to take with them through life. But, when your child does not understand your motivations and subsequently your food offerings, conflict may ensue.
In order to win this food fight, parents may leverage the following strategies that have worked for parents who have been in the same boat.
It is never too early
The earlier you introduce healthy eating with children, the easier it will be. Parents should ideally introduce healthy practices right from the start – the time when preferences for food are beginning to develop. Once palettes are formed – or children develop a strong appreciation for substances like sugar – it becomes harder to steer them towards healthy foods.
Do not buy it
If you do not want your kids to eat junk foods, it is important to avoid bringing them into your home. Once in the home, children know they are available. The simple truth is that if treats are not in the house, your child will not have easy access to them.
Give them options
In order to encourage healthy eating without stress or resistance, you can provide many options to children at mealtime and allow them to make their own choices within those parameters. In practice, this would mean the parent decides the dinner menu. Your child can then pick from your prescribed food choices and the amount they want to eat. This technique provides children the feeling of empowerment to choose what to eat while the guardian is still able to steer them in the right direction by controlling the list of food options from which they choose.
Trying to encourage healthy eating doesn’t mean that your child can never indulge in less than ideal choices. On occasion, give them some freedom to enjoy foods that won’t necessarily offer them good nutrition. Be sure to practice this latitude on top of a foundation of healthy foods.
Call their bluff
Your child may threaten that they will not eat anything except what they are demanding (i.e. pizza, cookies, ice cream, French fries, etc…). As a parent, you may worry that they will go hungry. Don’t fall for the trap! It must be recognized that if you indulge your child even once, they will know their strategy worked. Instead, call their bluff and let them skip the healthy dinner you served. Chances are, they will come back to you after a few hours asking for something to eat.
Get kids involved
Rather than spending tireless hours trying to convince your child to eat the foods you have cooked, you may want to involve them in the planning of meals. For example, you can ask them to help you plan Saturday’s dinner by having them select the foods that will become part of the meal. Give them some guidelines such as: choose one type of protein, one whole grain, 2 cooked vegetables, and a type of salad.
When children become involved in the planning and preparation of food in the home, they take ownership and will likely be more interested in eating the food served.
Be an example
If you want your child to eat well, you need to model that behavior. Parent behavior is one of the greatest predictors of children’s behavior. So, practice what you preach and be sure to choose carrot sticks and hummus over cookies!
Explain your reasons
Oftentimes, a child may change their stance when you clearly explain to them why you do or do not want them to eat something. Rather than simply saying “no”, explain the reasoning behind your decision. Tell them about the consequences of eating foods you want them to avoid. Be specific and consistent, and repeat your reasons each time the subject comes up. Children may not always respond the way you want them to but they may just surprise you some of the time.
Although the struggle to get your child to eat right may be frustrating, it is definitely worth the effort and the potential returns. Healthy eating habits will allow them to develop properly and prevent disease. Adult eating behavior correlates closely to eating habits that were established in childhood, so starting the education and implementation of healthy choices at a young age encourages healthy eating in a child’s future.