Be a Role Model
The best way for you to encourage healthy eating is to eat well yourself. Children will follow the lead of the adults they see every day. By eating fruits and vegetables and not overindulging in the less nutritious stuff, you’ll be sending the right message.
Another way to be a good role model is to serve appropriate portions and not overeat. Talk about your feelings of fullness, especially with younger children. You might say, “This is delicious, but I’m full, so I’m going to stop eating.” Similarly, parents who are always dieting or complaining about their bodies may foster these same negative feelings in their children. Try to keep a positive approach about food.
Don’t Battle Over Food
It’s easy for food to become a source of conflict. Well-meaning parents might find themselves bargaining or bribing their children so they eat the healthy food in front of them. A better strategy is to give them some control, but to also limit the kind of foods available at home.
Kids should decide if they’re hungry, what they will eat from the foods served, and when they’re full, but parents can control which healthy foods are available to their kids, both at mealtime and between meals. Here are some guidelines to follow:
- Establish a predictable schedule of meals and snacks. You could start by drawing a food time table filled with healthy meals, fruits and vegetables. That way kids know when to expect the next meal or snack.
- Don’t force your children to clean their plates. Doing so teaches them to override feelings of fullness.
- Don’t bribe or reward them with food. Avoid using dessert as the prize for eating the meal.
- Don’t use food as a way of showing love. When you want to show love, give your children a hug, some of your time, or praise.
Get the Children Involved
Most children will enjoy deciding what to make for dinner. Talk to them about making choices and planning a balanced meal. Some might even want to help shop for ingredients and prepare the meal. At the market, teach your children to check out food labels to begin understanding what to look for.
In the kitchen, select age-appropriate tasks so your children can play a part without getting injured or feeling overwhelmed. And at the end of the meal, don’t forget to praise the chef(s).
School lunches can be another learning lesson for children. More important, if you can get them thinking about what they eat for lunch, you might be able to help them make positive changes. Brainstorm about what kinds of foods they’d like for lunch or go to the grocery store to shop together for healthy, packable foods.
There’s another important reason why childten should be involved: It can help prepare them to make good decisions on their own about the foods they want to eat. That’s not to say they’ll suddenly want a salad instead of ice cream, but the mealtime habits you help create now can lead to a lifetime of healthier choices.
In conclusion, healthy eating can help your children maintain a healthy weight, avoid certain healthy issues, stabilize their energy and sharpen their minds.