(Written by Emily Rayhonds) Teaching your children healthy eating habits might be the most important thing you do as a parent. However, it might be one of the biggest challenges you undertake too!
If healthy eating habits are learned early, your children will have normal, healthy relationships with food as they mature. If nutritious foods are routinely passed up for unhealthy alternatives, your children might have a lifetime struggle with health concerns, eating disorders or weigh management issues.
Most parents acknowledge the benefits of healthy eating. However, many falter when it comes time to actually enforce those rules. Mealtimes become warzones and even the most determined parent loses the will to fight.
It doesn’t have to be that way though. You can enjoy a relaxing, healthy meal without temper tantrums and crying – from either the child or parent!
1. The first thing you need to do is be a good example. Young children have a strong impulse to emulate. Don’t expect your child to munch on a carrot while you munch on potato chips.
2. Make an effort to eat meals together as a family. If children know they are expected to join the rest of the family at the table at the same time each day, they will gradually accept this habit as a norm.
At the very least, come together as a family for dinner. In a perfect world, you would also meet for a healthy breakfast before going your separate ways in the morning.
3. Save dining out for special occasions; eat the majority of your meals at home. There are two benefits to this strategy. First, studies show people tend to eat more when they dine out. The abundance of choices encourages excessive eating. Second, restaurants tend to include an abundance of salt, sugar and fat in their meals.
4. Always have healthy snack options available. However, you can’t just have the options available; you need to encourage their consumption too! One way to make this easier is to reduce the amount of unhealthy snack options you have in the house.
5. Provide healthy beverages (milk, 100% juice and water) instead of unhealthy options (soda, coffee, and sugary drinks).
6. Be mindful of how your child will perceive food. Never force children to clean their plate. Never use food as an incentive or prize. Never withhold food as a punishment. All of these things will create an unhealthy relationship with food.
7. Getting a picky eater to try new foods can be an extreme challenge. It is natural for youngsters to be selective of the foods they eat. It is their way of exerting control over their environment. Here are some ways you can encourage your child to eat new things:
- Let your children be involved with the meal preparation. They are more like to eat items they helped make.
- Let your children make their own food choices. Keep unhealthy foods out of the mix when making the selection. Prime times to do this is at the grocery store, when packing a lunch box, or selecting an after school snack.
- Only introduce a new food when the child is hungry and well-rested.
- Only introduce one new food at a time. Consider offering on of your child’s favorite foods alongside the new item; the positive feelings about the favorite food might rub off on the new one!
8. Be cautious of salt and sugar intake. The American Heart Association recommends children eat less than 3 teaspoons of sugar per day. One can of soda usually has three times that amount! Children under the age of eight should have less than a teaspoon of salt per day.
* Photo Courtesy of Pinterest
About the author: Guest author Emily Rayhonds is a freelancer who writes for various health and parenting sites. She really enjoys addressing controversial and challenging topics in both arenas.