Raising healthy eaters is about more than just telling kids to “eat their veggies”, though that’s a start. Building a child’s relationship with food into one that is confident, positive, and healthy involves ongoing dialogue and teaching. Here are six places to start.
Let Kids Take Part in the Planning: Studies show that when kids get to make their school lunch decision beforehand, from an assortment of healthful options, they’re more likely to eat more of the good stuff (aka veggies). You can make this work at home too! Offer up some meal ideas for the week and let your kids pick which ones sound best to them, or let them determine which nights the different meals will be served.
Get ‘em Cooking: Kids are more likely to be open to trying foods if they have a hand in preparing them. Offer them the chance to push the button on the blender or whisk up eggs. Depending on their ages, kids will be able to take on varying levels of responsibility and need more or less supervision. The important part is getting them into the kitchen so they feel like they are a part of the meal preparation.
Let Them Shop: Getting kids into the grocery store teaches them lots of great lessons: counting, healthy eating, label reading, and budgeting are just a few of the important life skills learned in the store aisles. Each week, take the kiddos to the grocery store and let them pick out one or two fruits and veggies from the produce section. When kids feel a personal connection to a food (i.e. “This is the fruit I chose this week.”), they’re more likely to eat it.
Be the Change You Want to See: You’ve probably noticed that your kids say certain words just like you or walk just like you. It’s no different when it comes to how you eat, your attitude towards food, and your relationship with dieting. Eat the way you’d like your kids to eat, and try not to talk badly about foods or relate foods to weight. Instead, talk up the health benefits of eating plenty of fruits and veggies. Kids are always listening, whether they react right away or not.
Allow (and Define) Treats: “Junk” food has its place . . . as a treat! There’s no reason to be afraid of, or villainize, treat foods. Instead, teach kids how to fit them into their daily eats in moderation. Whether it’s a handful of cheese doodles or an ice cream cone, it’s important for kids to learn that treats are just that. Make sure that the bulk of the daily food options are nutritious, but include treat foods regularly to teach kids about balance and help encourage them to have a healthier relationship with food.
Stock the Kitchen with Healthy Choices: When there are healthy options front-and-center in the fridge and pantry, you can allow kids more freedom to make their own decisions about which foods to choose for their snacks. You’ll still need to remind them to stop eating when they’re satisfied and to not have snacks too close to dinnertime, but the actual food choices can come from the kids. This teaches them that it’s ok to listen to their bodies regarding what types of flavors they are in the mood for and also lets them learn how to snack healthfully.
Do you have experience eating with kids? Do you have any other tips for encouraging kids to have a healthy relationship with food?