I’m not a parent but I have 3 nieces and have noticed how “wonderful” it is to see my brother and sister-in-law get them to eat their food. Getting your kids to eat isn’t so much of a chore when it’s food they like. However, food they like and food that’s good for them are not always in the same boat. Children are the epitome of what mother nature has designed us to crave: salty, sugary, fatty, calorie dense foods. Throw in their inability to determine which foods are good for them or their knowledge of healthy foods and you’ve got yourself one heck of a problem. So, how do we get our kids to eat better? Here’s how…
- DON’T PLACE RESTRICTIONS ON FOODS
You’re not perfect and neither is your child. Occasionally, both of you are going to indulge in popcorn at the movies or ice cream on Sunday. That’s ok. However, if you limit their food options they are more likely to develop an eating disorder as they age and develop an unhealthy relationship with food. Encourage healthier options such as lean meats, lots of vegetables, fruit, low fat dairy, whole grains, or whatever is in line with your view on a healthy diet (i.e. paleo, Mediterranean, vegetarian, and so on).
- MAKE SURE YOU HAVE HEALTHY FOOD AT THE READY
You, I repeat, YOU decide what enters the house. If you buy boxes of cookies and sugar-laden candies then don’t be surprised when your child only goes for those foods. This is the one area where I will suggest putting a limit on the amount of “junk food” you keep on hand. Apples, avocadoes, bananas, guacamole cups, and more are quick, healthy snacks that most kids will enjoy.
- NEVER GIVE THE LABELS “GOOD” or “BAD” FOR FOOD
This goes back to having food restrictions. Instead of degrading what you consider “bad” foods, discuss how the benefits of eating certain foods that can help with athletic performance, better grades in school, more energy when they’re in class, and so on.
- COMPLIMENT WHEN YOUR CHILD MAKES HEALTHY FOOD CHOICES
Children need encouragement. While I’m not a fan of “everyone gets a ribbon” mentality I do believe we should compliment our children when they make wise choices. This shows them 1) they have the ability to think for their self 2) they care about their bodies and 3) they are developing the ability to critically think and problem solve. All these characteristics are beneficial in many areas of life aside from healthy eating.
- DON’T DEGRADE YOUR CHILD WHEN THEY MAKE UNHEALTHY CHOICES
We need to look out for our children and use constructive criticism but NOT in the case of unhealthy food choices. When was the last time someone made you feel guilty about indulging at a buffet or eating a whole bucket of ice cream? You probably didn’t stop, did you? What makes you think demeaning your child’s food choice is going to improve things? Short answer: it won’t. If they make a poor decision, don’t mention it. Remember, you were the one who bought the food in the first place.
- RARELY, IF EVER, USE FOOD AS A REWARD
Again, this is another way for your child to develop an eating disorder. Many adults use food as a reward for themselves and, for most of us, it started with our parents using food as a reward. Instead, use something that gets you and the family moving like going to the local theme park or something that’s fun such as letting them pick the next family movie you see. There are plenty of other rewards that don’t involve food.
- EAT FAMILY DINNERS TOGETHER, TV OFF, PHONE OFF
No matter what happened during the day my family sat down for dinner together. Not only is this a chance for your children to see you eating healthy food but it’s a great place and time for the family to catch up on each others lives. Studies have shown families that sit down together for dinner tend to be healthier and the children are less likely to get into trouble as they get into their teenage years.
- PREP PLATES IN THE KITCHEN
This gives you some control over the amount your child will, hopefully, eat. However, don’t be upset if your child doesn’t consume all the food on the plate. The child may not like the food but it’s not something worth starting a fight over. If they get hungry later, and they will, just keep it wrapped up in the fridge to serve later. Most kids in the US are getting fatter and become fat adults so, don’t worry, your child will eventually eat again.
- LET YOUR CHILD HAVE SOME CONTROL
If you have your kids help you make the meal this is very empowering for the child because they take “ownership” of the meal and are more likely to eat the food you prepare. A helpful tip is to have your child take several bites of each food on the plate and have them rate them 1 through 10 with 1 being the worst and 10 being the best. This helps you determine which foods they are more likely to eat in future meals.
- SEE A PEDIATRICIAN….NO, SERIOUSLY.
As I mentioned before, kids are becoming unhealthier as the years go by and they are turning into unhealthy adults. If you think your child is overweight, and in some rare cases, underweight, take them to your family pediatrician. NEVER assume your child is overweight or underweight. With all due respect, most of you don’t have a clue what is considered a healthy weight or body fat percentage for your child. More importantly, don’t tell your child that’s why you’re at the doctor’s office. Just say it’s a routine physical and everyone gets one to make sure they’re healthy.
STAY HEALTHY MY FRIENDS!