Many of the clients we work with have kids or want them one day. And one of the biggest struggles for parents right now is how to raise healthy eaters. Foundation FIT Co-Owner Sylvia Darby knows all about the struggle of raising healthy eaters. After all, she is a mom of three! So here’s some of her best advice on tried and true ways to encourage your kids to become healthy eaters.
You Can’t Raise Healthy Eaters if You Aren’t One
It’s impossible to raise your children to eat healthy if you’re not setting an example of what you’re preaching every single day. If the kids see you do something different, it’s so hard to guide their path. That means you need to get your nutrition in check before promoting any changes to your children’s diet. Make sure the food you eat in front of them is something you’d be proud of having them eat.
Start Them Young
The easiest time to start kids with healthy eating is the minute they begin to eat solid foods. Focus on bringing in new colors, flavors, and textures. Give them tons of healthy fruits and veggies to expose them to a ton of options. And since kids’ taste buds and cravings go through so many cycles when they’re young, don’t be afraid to re-introduce foods.
Kids might turn down a food today, then be so excited to eat it next week. You never know when you might have success with a new healthy option. So stay with it and stay hopeful. It may not be easy, but it will be worth it when kids have many options to choose from and are more open to trying new things.
Don’t Label Foods Good or Bad
Especially as adults, we’re prone to labeling foods as good or bad. And when we do that in front of our kids, it can set those bad foods on a pedestal of temptation. Kids start to look at that food as forbidden, and we all know what that means. They’re going to want it badly.
Instead, keep the focus on what food does for your body. Talk with kids about how food works for them. For example, if you’re eating spinach, mention how the magnesium, calcium, and vitamin K in spinach can help kids build strong bones.
Kids want to learn, and they’re not afraid to ask questions. So talk about how things are grown and differences in food quality. As you encourage kids to ask questions about food, it’s critical to also be willing to help them find the answers.
Give Kids Choices
Sylvia is all about letting her kids make some of the decisions when it comes to food. So at dinner, she might give her little ones a choice of three veggies: green beans, broccoli, or cauliflower? Of course, each kid has to pick one, and they’re all healthy, but it gives kids a little say in what hits their plate. So they can choose their favorite, or maybe just the one they happen to be in the mood for that night.
And to make it easier on mom and dad, Sylvia keeps veggie options prepped and on hand. That way, she’s not making an elaborate dinner every night but instead making it easy for kids to choose healthier options.
Try to Eliminate Junk Food
It’s all too true that if you bring food into your house, it’s probably going to get eaten regardless of quality. If not by your kids, possibly by you. This isn’t a conversation about not bringing bad foods into the house. But rather looking at it like stocking the house with foods that make you and your kids feel good and make your bodies work well.
But here at Foundation FIT, we’re also realists. So when those potato chips inevitably make their way in, Sylvia recommends keeping them in a basket on a higher shelf. That keeps temptation out of hand during moments of weakness.
Bring Healthy Snacks to Kid’s Eye Level
Kids are hungry. All. The. Time. So encourage them to make healthy decisions by keeping healthy food on a low level. If there’s a shelf in the pantry about eye level for little ones, be sure to keep nuts, seeds, veggies, fruit, or whatever kinds of nutritious options your kids enjoy. That way, they’ll feel empowered to respond to their body’s hunger pangs, but do it in a healthy way that makes them feel good.
Be Intentional About Emotional Eating
As adults, we can typically recognize when an emotion makes us grab certain types of comfort foods. Anyone ever drowned themselves in Ben and Jerry’s after a breakup? But with kids, they might not be able to understand what they’re doing and why.
Keep an eye on signs of emotional eating in kids. Are they nervous eaters? Is there something on their mind? Do they head right for the snack shelf if they have a big school assignment, soccer game, or something overwhelming?
If they do, that’s so normal! We all do it! But it’s a great time to sit down and talk with kids. Ask them to recognize the connection between their emotions and the desire for food. Then, help kids healthily manage their emotions and encourage them to choose to eat something healthy that might help their brain and body function better when it comes time for that test or game.
As parents, it can be easy to sit kids in front of a screen while they’re eating. A few minutes of uninterrupted time is so worth it, right? But sometimes, removing those distractions from kids can help them become more mindful eaters. It may also help kids recognize signs of fullness sooner than if they’re distracted by a show or game.
If you have the time, talk to kids about what they’re eating. Have them describe the texture and flavors of what’s on their plate. This can help kids slow down and recognize things they may not have felt before, plus slowing down can also help promote better digestion, which is important for growing tummies.
Find Great Substitutes
If you’re working on getting older kids to transition to eating healthier, you may be having a much more difficult time. At older ages, kids often find their way into a deep, committed relationship with a favorite food (cough, chicken nuggets and mac and cheese, cough). But all hope is not lost. Instead, see if you can slowly start to create healthier versions.
Next time you make homemade mac and cheese, think about subbing in plant-based milk for whole milk, use a fraction of the amount of cheese you usually do, or use gluten-free noodles instead. Small swaps can go a long way in making dishes healthier, and most of the time, kids aren’t even going to notice.
Balance the Sweets
Especially in a season where kids have more sweets than normal, they might ask for them all the time. But as the parent, encourage kids to find a balance. For example, if your kids have a sweet during lunch, remind them they’ve had something at lunch when they ask for something after dinner.
Another great idea is to encourage a balance by alerting kids of upcoming events in advance. For example, when Sylvia’s kids have a birthday party to attend, she’ll remind the kids in the morning that they’re going to a party and they’ll probably want a cupcake. Then, it becomes the kid’s choice, do they want the cupcake at the party or have a sweet now instead. Again, the kids get to choose, so they understand sweets aren’t an all-the-time thing.
The Last Word About How to Raise Healthy Eaters
As the parent, you have the power. You are in control. So it’s up to you to help kids make decisions that are better for their health. Once you commit to creating a healthier relationship with food for your family, stick with it. Healthy eaters are the result of years of support, encouragement, understanding, and guidance. And while it won’t always be easy, it will be worth it.
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