How To Integrate Healthing Eating Into Your Home

One of the most important and challenging responsibilities a parent has is instilling healthy eating habits in their children. Some things, like healthy eating and languages, are best and most easily learned early on in life. Though it may seem impossibly frustrating when your infant is wailing and refusing food even though you know they need to eat, or when your 6-year-old has decided to go on a hunger strike until you agree to provide chicken nuggets for every meal, preserving through the stubbornness has a huge pay-off. Children who have a good relationship with food become healthy, fit adults with fewer medical issues.

Healthy eating isn’t a lesson that can be learned once, and then abandoned. It has to be integrated into a family lifestyle to really be effective. Some doctor-recommended tips include: teaching your child to listen to their body, prepping and eating meals as a family, leading by example, not using food as a reward, etc.

In this video are tips on making healthy, nutritious lunches that help keep kids full all day long.

A lot of adults have held onto the damaging idea that every plate should be finished. This is a concept we’ve heard from our parents, who heard it from their parents, who may have not always had enough to eat. But in a comfortable home, kids should instead be taught to eat until they’re full, while being mindful of balance. If I told my kids to “eat until you’re full,” they would mostly likely eat the chicken and bread from their plates, not touching the vegetables. To avoid this, I provide larger portions of vegetables, and don’t allow seconds of meat, cheese or bread until the vegetables are done. As for snacking, I try to reinforce the idea of eating for fuel, not for fun. If my child approaches me asking for a snack and I offer fruit or yogurt and they refuse, I won’t then offer crackers or cookies. If they don’t want something healthy, they’re not really hungry; they’re bored.

Something my mom successfully taught me, which I think is key, was moderation. While mostly healthy snacks were kept in the house and offered daily, I had “treats” often enough that they did not feel forbidden. She struck a good balance between making sweets and junk food feel like an occasional food, without making it feel like too much of a treat. The balance is hard to find: I’ve seen kids whose parents completely forbid junk food binge on it as soon as they can, a bad habit that carries over into adolescence, when they have more freedom and spending money. I’ve also seen kids whose parents have allowed unhealthy food to become a norm, so when they eat at our house, they’re wondering where the pizza and fries are.

One thing that I’ve begun to do with my kids is to include them in the preparation of our meals. Initially, this seemed like a good way to get frustrated and delay dinnertime, which is often rushed in our house anyway. However, I began trying it on weekends or school breaks, and found my kids loved it, and it had a huge impact on their healthy eating. Naturally, this will depend on your children; some will hate cooking like my kids hate piano, but it’s worth a shot. While I take care of meat and tasks requiring sharper knives, my kids pinch seasoning onto their carrots and grate cheese onto pita pizzas and have a ball. Then, when it comes time to eat, they’re eager to try what they’ve made…even if it’s brussel sprouts. In addition to the benefit to their diet, my children are learning a skill, as well as contributing to the household.

The most effective ways to get children to eat healthy will vary, as is true of all parenting. My oldest is far more amenable than my youngest, and sometimes it feels like a battle, but there are endless strategies, and sometimes it just takes a little creativity. Along with everything else, I try to lead by example. I follow these rules in my own diet, and strive to surround my children with positive associations with food.

Carey Dodd

Carey is a working mom with two preschoolers keeping her busy. She is Editor for Kids Safety Network and contributes to the TODAY Parenting team.

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