Trying to get your kids to eat healthier? Parents today are inundated with advice about healthy eating. Is it any wonder we are unsure of what we should serve our families? The common concern is raising healthy kids in a world full of unhealthy food choices. Kids are more likely to eat better when they eat with their families but no kid eats all meals at home and when they leave the house, temptation is everywhere: fast foods, soda, chips, cookies, ice cream and candy. To add insult to injury, our children are bombarded on a daily basis by alluring ads and marketing strategies that encourage them to whine and plead for unhealthy foods. “Look mom it’s Sponge Bob!” “I want the cereal with Scooby Doo on it!” Sound familiar?
This is not going to change, so what we need to do as parents is take the animated bull by the horns. I have taught my boys from day one that their favorite character is on packaging, fast-food restaurant windows, in a “kids meal” or anywhere else just to get you to buy the product. By the time they were about four years old, they understood. They still want this stuff but know that it isn’t the best choice — so it’s always in moderation. We all know it’s not easy to get kids to eat healthy, but you can’t give up — it all starts at home.
Discuss how your children can make better food choices away from home and listen to their concerns and desires. Let them know you respect their opinions but are concerned for their well-being both today and for the future.
The benefits of healthy eating in childhood and adolescence go beyond looking good and weight management. Many illnesses may be prevented through proper nutrition: diseases like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers, to name a few. Research has shown that heart disease begins silently in childhood and the manifestations appear in adulthood. Children need a nutritionally balanced diet that supports optimal growth and development and provides enough energy for physical activity. For optimum nutrition choose a variety of bright-colored fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, beans and legumes, lean meats and whole grains. The quantity of food consumed is as important as the quality. Try to familiarize yourself with portion sizes of a single serving. There is no need for continuous weighing and measuring — just do it a few times and eventually you will be able to “eyeball” the amount that makes up a serving.
Here are my some suggestions for getting your kids to eat healthier for life:
- Teach your children about nutrition from a very early age. Even though you think they don’t understand, they do and it sinks in. Say such things like, “This carrot is loaded with Vitamin A which is so good for your eyes.” “Avocados have good fat in them that helps your brain.”
- Go through your refrigerator, pantry and cabinets and determine what positive changes you could make. As you become more and more aware of which foods are unhealthy, you can reduce the amount of those foods in your diet and within reach. Keep healthy snacks on hand in proper portions. Good options include fruits and veggies, smoothies, low-fat cheese, yogurt, ice cream, frozen fruit juice bars, whole grain crackers, etc.
- Involve kids in meal-planning and grocery shopping. Take them to the local farmers market and pick-your-own farms. This helps them learn about different foods and makes them part of the decision-making. Children look to us as role models and if they see us trying to become healthier, it will likely spark a desire for change in them.
- Make it fun! Get the kids in the kitchen whenever possible, cooking, peeling, picking leaves off of herbs, chopping (with age-appropriate knives of course), anything that gets them in on the action. Ask them what they like and talk about specific foods that are good or not-so-good for them. Come up with creative dessert ideas and whip it up with them.
- Be persistent, but not insistent, when offering healthier foods. Many parents give up a little too easily when it comes to trying out new foods with kids. It can take eight to 15 exposures before a child warms up to a new taste.
- Limit time at the computer, watching television or playing video games. Try using a kitchen timer and when 20 minutes is up, it’s time to go outside!