When it comes to kids, establishing healthy eating habits is not always the easiest thing in the world. Parents and doctors universally agree that diet is one of the most critical factors in a child’s health and development, yet it’s not always easy for young ones to see the purpose of a well-balanced and nutritious diet. Children often crave what tastes good rather than what their bodies need. On top of that, busy parents are often forced to seek out convenient meal options that aren’t ideal from a health perspective.
What can you do as a parent to put your child’s eating habits on the right track? Consider these four practical methods:
1. Just Say No
As parents, we love to put a smile on our children’s faces. Handing over the cookies, ice cream or potato chips is one of the surest ways to do this. But it’s easy for children to grow accustomed to such foods, and expect sugary/salty treats as a regular part of their diet.
It’s a mistake to think that children are too young and strong to be adversely affected by junk food. If you really want to make your child happy, focus on foods that make them feel alert and happy throughout the day—instead of treats that give a quick buzz followed by a crash. With any luck, they’ll come to crave these foods, and enjoy the occasional treat even more.
2. Overhaul Your Cupboards
Forget cookies and ice cream for a moment—many of the most popular cereals, crackers and juices on the market today are loaded with sugar, additives and carbs! Schools may provide it, and other parents may use it, but that doesn’t mean it’s the best thing for your child.
Children get used to the foods you keep around the house. Parents who make a dedicated shift toward healthier snacks (such as veggies and hummus, fruits, or brown rice crackers) will notice children responding positively. This doesn’t mean your child will never ask for cookies or soda; but it’s much easier to say there are no cookies in the house than to say the child can’t have them.
3. Focus on Mealtime
Life moves fast, especially when you’re busy with work and children. Every parent knows the temptation to throw something in the microwave and serve a casual meal in front of the TV. There are two drawbacks to making a habit of this:
Pre-packaged fast foods are never as healthy as fresh foods, and are often loaded with hidden ingredients.
A haphazard approach to mealtime sends children a haphazard message about eating
Making mealtime a meaningful activity will naturally result in healthier choices and better eating habits. One great way to get your child more interested in eating healthy foods is to safely involve him or her in meal preparations. This is a great bonding activity and gets children interested in what they’re eating, rather than equating food to something that comes out of packages. Also, make sure your child is hungry by the time meals are served! Make it a point to serve only light snacks, such as carrot sticks, in the hours leading up to mealtime.
4. Be patient
Sometimes children need time to get used to certain foods. They also respond to examples from parents and siblings. A child may dislike the vegetable soup being served, and ask for something else. In cases like this, parents who keep healthy alternatives on hand (again, crackers and hummus or natural nuts are good examples) report positive results. Eventually, the child may grow weary of such alternatives and begin to enjoy the healthy food they were avoiding. Being gentle and patient, but leaving no way around healthy eating, is a good way to work with your child’s eating habits instead of against them.
We hope you’ve found this information useful in thinking about ways to encourage healthy eating habits in your child! If you’re in Southern New Jersey and have specific dietary concerns about your child, feel free to contact our pediatricians to set up an appointment.