Kids: Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits
If your kids are anything like mine, “pizza!” is the most common answer when I ask my son what he wants for dinner. For busy parents, ordering a pizza after a long day of work often seems like a welcome reprieve, and it’s a perfectly fine option every now and then, but it can become an unhealthy habit.
As many parents know, children are notorious for being picky eaters. Over the years, I’ve picked up a few different techniques to get my kiddo to eat healthier foods:
Give them a choice. Letting kids choose gives them a sense of control and makes them more likely to make healthier choices. It may be a bit of a “mind game,” but I’m not above “tricking” my child into healthier eating!
Keep tasting and trying. Experts say we have to taste a food up to 10 times before we acquire a taste for it, so keep trying different cooking techniques and recipes. Praise and encourage kids to try new foods, and let them browse the produce section to pick out new foods to try.
Trade the “clean your plate” rule for a tasting reward. Allow your kids to eat until they are full. This will teach them to more readily notice their bodies’ fullness cues and help them avoid developing a habit of overeating. So instead of the “clean your plate” rule, reward your kids with a sticker or an extra 5 minutes of play time for tasting every food on their plate.
Serve mostly whole foods. A popular tip is to avoid eating anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as being food (e.g., snack cakes or chips). Eggs, nuts, cheese, fruits, vegetables, oatmeal, and lean meats are good examples of whole foods. Processed food such as chicken nuggets, sugary cereal, lunch meat, and frozen dinners contain high levels heart-troubling sodium and sugar, and strange chemicals. If a food has lots of ingredients you don’t recognize, skip it.
Offer fruit or vegetables with every meal. Save room at every meal for a fruit and/or vegetable. This lets children know that healthy food should be eaten regularly. It also gives them more opportunity to taste new foods.
Skip the juice or soda. Offer milk or water instead with a fun, swirly straw. Juice is full of calories and sugar and is simply nutritionally unnecessary for children. They can also be bad for their teeth. Instead of orange or apple juice, offer oranges or apples, which have the vitamins and fiber. Fruit drinks and soda should be avoided—they provide little-to-no nutritional benefit.
Cook with your kids. Whether it’s washing vegetables or measuring ingredients, I find it’s much easier to encourage kids to try new foods when they have a hand in preparing the meal. Likewise, if you have a vegetable garden, let your child help grow the garden. Kids are more likely to try foods if they actually grow them. Plus, it’s a great chance for them to learn where food comes from.
Make it fun. Make meal time fun by arranging vegetables in an entertaining way. I’ve made a game out of using carrots or celery as “fishing poles.” My child dips them into peanut butter, hummus, or ranch dressing for the “bait” and then “catches” little snack crackers or raisins with the “pole.”
No matter what, make meal time a pleasant family experience. Even if it’s just 15 minutes together around the table, keep the conversation light and positive and enjoy every minute because they won’t be little forever. You’ll be proud of your efforts when they are happy, healthy adults.
Find many more examples of how to make healthy eating more entertaining on Pinterest. Also, find healthy tips from the American Heart Association. And while you're building new, healthy habits for your kids, get them started saving with a Kids Smart Smart Savings account now!