Kids are notorious for being difficult eaters. With the bombardment of junk food and poor role models on TV, it’s no surprise that getting them to eat right can feel like an uphill battle. However, kids aren’t born bad eaters. These habits are learned, and setting an example and encouraging healthy eating from an early age can create a lifetime of good choices.
Healthy Eating, Healthy Kid
A balanced and nutritious diet is important to every child’s growth and development, regardless of age. Proper eating habits can help stabilize their energy, sharpen their minds, and regulate their moods. It will help them maintain a healthy weight and improve their mental health.
What your kids need varies as they grow. It is a good idea to talk to their pediatrician to find out exactly what vitamins and nutrients are necessary for them at their current age, but there are some basic rules that stay consistent as they grow. KidsHealth has a great diagram of how their plate should look at every meal; about half should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of it grains, the last quarter protein, and it can be topped off with a small side of dairy. Also be sure to limit their added sugar as well as their saturated and trans fats consumption.
Be a Role Model
Children tend to mimic what they see, so it is up to you to set a good example with your own eating habits. Remember, actions speak louder than words. If you talk to them about the importance of eating right but then order a burger at the drive-through, it will undermine what you are trying to teach them. On the other hand, if they see you eating and enjoying a range of healthy foods, they will likely follow suit.
Prioritize Family Meals
Making mealtime about more than food by centering it around a joint family activity will create a positive image around healthy eating. Family meals have been proven to provide comfort. This also gives you a chance to catch up with your child’s daily life and establish a closer bond.
Do Not Restrict or Use a Reward System
As tempting as it might be to simply cut your child off from all junk food or tempt them with cake after they eat three more bites of their meal, resist the urge to do so. These sorts of approaches have a tendency to backfire and can lead to binge eating, according to Psychology Today. Alternatively, work with your kid’s personality to encourage better eating.
Keep Healthy Snacks Available
If you are concerned about your child eating certain foods, the easy solution is to simply just not keep them in your house. Instead, stock your home with healthy snack options. If that is what is available, that is what they will eat. This is especially important if they are old enough to get snacks without your help.
Make Them Your Sous Chef
Instead of preparing a separate meal for your child, which can encourage picky eating, encourage them to get involved in the meal planning. Letting your child help with planning meals, grocery shopping, and preparing the food will make them more invested and therefore more likely to eat it. Let them choose a recipe, then give them easy food-prep tasks, like cracking an egg or measuring ingredients. When it’s time to cook, consider using a toaster oven, which is a safer alternative to a standard oven.
Staying Healthy on a Budget
The easiest way to eat healthily and control your diet is by eating at home; this is often the cheapest way as well. Many thrifty shoppers plan their meals in advance based on what is on sale and what is in season. Once you have your grocery list, you need to stick to it. Grabbing things off the shelves as you shop is the easiest way to drive up that final cost.
Good Habits Start Young
Even for adults, healthy eating can be difficult. However, instead of thinking of it as a challenge, think of it as a new habit to build. This is especially important with children. As they continue to grow and develop, their needs will change, but instilling good habits from an early age can last a lifetime.
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